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Telling It Like It Is: My Time At A Travel Writing Workshop for People of Color

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“All marginalized communities need spaces where their work will be affirmed, a place where it will not be considered niche, where we are not told “There is no market for this,” or “Translate that,” or “No, where are you really from?” Most of us have had damaging workshop experiences in the past, where someone, in some way, questioned the validity of our voices. So yes, we need to write our stories in a space that is safe outside the white gaze, the male one, the heteronormative one. Without that, our voices can become weak echoes of the dominate narrator’s. Without that, we can become isolated in our struggles. Without a space like VONA, a lot of us might have just given up on writing altogether. I think of the writers who have pushed me to bring pen to page, and shudder at the thought of the absence of their work. VONA taught me to quit playing, to show up as myself, sweaty palms and all, in the world and in my writing, and tell it like it is.”

The Revolution Will Not Be Industrialized

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“When Spanish conquistadors first landed on Ecuadorian soil, they were so astonished to be greeted by indigenous leaders adorned with precious emeralds that they named the region Esmeraldas. Centuries later, the name still suits it. From its stretch of the Pacific to the dense, endangered mangroves that spread north toward Colombia, and hills feathered by palms and other flora endemic to the Chocó biogeographic region, Esmeraldas is recognized throughout Ecuador as the “Green Province.” But despite its wealth in natural resources, the area remains neglected in terms of basic infrastructure and vastly marginalized at the expense of its 70% Afro-Ecuadorian population, the greatest concentration of blacks in Ecuador.”

Expedition Denali: The First All-Black Team to Climb North America’s Tallest Mountain

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“In the years I’ve spent climbing mountains, descending into canyons, and generally getting into all sorts of adventures, I’ve rarely run into another person of color in the outdoors. Skimming through the travel glossies that so captured my young imagination revealed images of white people doing what society defined as white people things: hiking, camping, climbing. This vague and at once startlingly direct message from travel media and society at large left an impression on me — a Latino city kid — of total exclusion.”

Travel Is Not A White Boy’s Club (And Never Has Been)

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“Travel writing has a troubled history. The tradition of travelers’ tales is deeply rooted in the period of imperial expansion in Europe. It is closely linked to colonialism and ‘scientific’ racism. Travel writing, like early anthropology, provided evidence of white superiority through its representation of the exotic as barbaric, or lascivious, or simply ‘other’. It played a key role in creating a popular imagination in which people are sufficiently characterized as so different, their lifestyles and cultural practices so alien, that they’re not fully human, and thus, with their humanity diminished bit by bit, story by story, you arrive at a world where brutal barbaric invasions are romanticized as bringing civilization! Cruel, inhumane exploitation is barely thought of as unfortunate because it also involved ‘modernity’ or ‘Christianization’. There is a lot of blood on the hands of travel writing. Then and now.”

What Mainstream Travel Media Still Gets Wrong

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“There was some active exclusion of people of color in travel up until the late 1960s, at least in the US. You still had segregated airports, bus terminals, buses, trains, beaches even. Then, there was the prohibitive cost of air and sea travel. Couple that with the very real need for steady employment within the community, and you can see a built-in reticence to just drop it all and travel. First, I think it took a minute for people of color to get into the blogging game in general, and, specifically, travel-related blogs. I think as a demographic, again, speaking generally, we spent more of our computer time focused on money-earning endeavors, and it was only when we began noticing the dearth of writing out there that spoke to our particular experiences that we began to write in earnest.”

The Rainforest Is Not a Big Mac (And Other Lessons Learned in Puyo, Ecuador)

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“Puyo is the biggest city in the Ecuadorian Amazon — or, as deep as you can get into it on four wheels, making it a crossroads for rivers, roads, and indigenous communities of El Oriente — “The East.” The chronological history of oil exploitation in Ecuador can be traced from north to south, with Puyo sitting symbolically in the middle, like the unexposed inch of film between ‘before’ and ‘after’ shots. The northern Oriente is full of devastated oil towns crawling with crude businessmen and a generation coming of age with cancer. Here, at the headwaters of the Amazon, an average of over one oil spill a week occurs. In the south, remote territories continue their now-legendary resistance against that kind of future, under the cover of the rainforest.”

Land of 1,000 Lakes: Backpacking in Ecuador’s Cajas National Park

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“It seems Cajas is an example of extremes, as the intense solar radiation in the area is of great value for plant, animal, and human life. We didn’t know this at the time, and often took our breaks lying on the grass, fully exposed. Walking away, an odd sensation would linger in my skin that I can only describe as ‘cooking.’ I would run my fingers through the soft strawgrass that dominates the region, sometimes pulling on its threads to help me up a steep climb, or just for fun. Its feel was reminiscent of a horse’s mane, and we became insignificant in its midst. My longing for this experience is what brought me to Cajas, a particular beauty that it offered in abundance.”

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