All posts by Bani Amor

Bani Amor is a queer travel from Brooklyn by way of Ecuador who explores diasporic identities, the decolonization of travel culture, and the intersections of race, place and power in their work. They've been published in Teen Vogue, Bitch Magazine, and Paste Magazine, among other outlets, and is a three-time VONA/Voices Fellow. Bani also has an essay in Brooklyn Boihood's anthology Outside the XY: Queer Black and Brown Masculinity, which was shortlisted for a Lambda Literary Prize. Follow them on Twitter @bani_amor.

The Empire Travels Back: Troubling the Travel Genre with Shailja Patel

If and when colonialism is acknowledged in mainstream narratives it is often done in the past tense, exposing one of its key functions: forgetting. But more and more, women and nonbinary writers of color are telling stories that disclose the colonial trauma that moves with us from generation to generation, from place to place. Migritude, by Shailja Patel, is one of those stories.

Hey people! Thanks for being patient with me while I moved from NYC to Ecuador to NYC to Montreal. I’m settling in Montreal with my four-legged twelve year-old and tryna catch up with my huge life and workload. If I owe you a message, please be patient! #TravelingWhileDisabled is hell on the body, mind, and spirit.  

The above quote is the lede to my talk with Kenyan poet, performer, and activist Shailja Patel for my series of interviews with women of color authors of travel-ish tomes on On She Goes. Her book, Migritude, is the first one we read in the POC Travel Book Club! (We just wrapped up our talk on I Wonder as I Wander by Langston Hughes, if you’re on the fence about joining…) Our talk touches on so much of what I’m fascinated by and trying to do with my work, so I’ll highlight just two more bites before you go and read the interview in full. [TW: Sexual abuse.]

In your performance of Chapter 10, “The Sky Has Not Changed Colour,” on the Maasai rape victims of British soldiers in military training, you rip out pages from a tourist photo book of the Maasai and hand them to the audience as you say, “They are the noble savages, staring out from coffee table books. Africa Adorned. The Last Nomads. Backdrops and extras for Vogue fashion shoots. Stock ingredients for tourist brochures. The Maasai are a global brand.” What are you asking of the audience in handing them all of this?

First, I’m breaking theater’s fourth wall—the wall between the stage and the audience. That makes them a part of the piece, no longer just spectators. Second, I’m making them complicit in the commodification of a people—by having them consume the images. They’re holding the brand, in their hands. It’s a visual, material object. What are they going to do with it?

Travel media may be getting more ‘diverse,’ but it ain’t getting any less colonial. Here’s where the title of this post originated from:

What do you think would be different about travel writing if more migrant narratives like yours were given space within the genre?

The phrase that comes to mind is “The Empire Travels Back.” I think it would trouble the genre, as it needs to be troubled, by creating critical discomfort in readers and writers, in publishers, reviewers, booksellers. It would force us all to think harder about the economics and geopolitics of what we call “travel”: who gets to define it, to pursue it, to write about it, and how.

Let us trouble what needs to be troubled.

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Here, Queer, Going Everywhere: #FlyingWhileTrans and Remembering #Pulse One Year Later

Hey people. I hope that, wherever you are, you’re being extra gay, whether you’re gay or not. (Yes it DOES make sense.) Today I wanna share two works of mine that went live last week. The lighter one is an up-to-date, well-researched, comprehensive guide to navigating air travel across different trans identities. Save a trans person some stress and share this one with ’em.

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Via Cheapflights.com

The other piece is a personal essay reflecting on the one-year anniversary of the #Pulse massacre that I wrote for Bitch Magazine. I traveled back to the times in my youth that I spent in Orlando and mused on safety, solidarity, queer Latinidad, loss and mourning, and the importance of the LGBTQIA+ movement.

Silence can only be used as a tool for survival in the short term, elsewise you’ll get gangrene of the throat. I had chosen sanctuary over blood, to live unapologetically like the other sociocultural rejects who paved the way before me, even if it meant living under attack—at the end of the day I could return to a home of my own, even when that meant no home at all.

Give it a read, share it if you’re into it, and most importantly, understand, uplift, and join the radical efforts taking place by POC and trans+ folks in pride marches across the country this June, like the #NoJusticeNoPride protest in DC last week. Corporate, mainstream, pro-police prides belie the history of Stonewall and oppress people under attack by those powers today, and they have no place in our movement.

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I’ll be back Monday to share an interview I did with the one and only Shailja Patel. ‘Til then, take care of each other and raise hell. They’re not mutually exclusive!

We Belong Here: Women of Color Write Travel

Hey people. So last week, a new travel platform for women and nonbinary people of color launched called On She Goes, and I’ll have a recurring column up there on travel books authored by women of color. A lil background on the series:

People who look like us are often relegated to the backdrops of travel narratives as smiling spiritual guides on the white woman’s journey, or as nameless bodies warming the beds of the heroic, white, male adventurer, which makes taking up space in travel writing a radical act for women and gender-nonconforming folks of color. This series will speak to writers of color about their novels and memoirs of navigating lands, languages, and themselves—and most of all—about taking up space everywhere we go.

My first talk is with Nia Hampton, author of Cicatrizes, a book about a young Black woman leaving Baltimore for Brazil at the height of the Baltimore Uprising. About the book, Nia says:

I would describe Cicatrizes as an offering. It’s a book of poetry, prose, essays, pictures, and even a spell. It’s something whimsical at times and unbearably heavy at other times. It’s an experience, really, of what moving to Salvador from Baltimore was like for me as a young Black girl.

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Cicatrizes cover art by Maya Rodriguez/image courtesy of Nia Hampton

Read our talk in full here. Full disclosure: I edited this book! Working on a blog post, essay, narrative, or manuscript and looking for feedback or an editor? Check my Services page and get in touch.

Writing About Ecuador’s Feminist Movement for Teen Vogue

Hey people, today I’m sharing my op-ed for Teen Vogue on the Glorious May Revolution of 1944, a day when radical Ecuadorian women overthrew the sitting fascist president of the country. The takeover of the government palace was led by communist Nela Martinez, and almost a century later, I found myself in her home, which her daughter had opened up for Marcha de las Putas – Ecuador’s answer to the Slut Walk movement – meetings. Here’s a bite:

Nela was a communist, an Indigenous ally, and extremely critical of colonization. She and Cacuango, along with others, founded the country’s first Indigenous rights organization and started the first Kichwa-language newspaper. Nela also started the first feminist newspaper of Ecuador, Nuestra Palabra, or Our Word. In her 91 years, La Nela founded a number of groups for women and workers in Ecuador, as well as the Continental Front of Women Against U.S. Intervention, and an anti-Nazi group formed to eradicate totalitarianism in Ecuador to expose dangerous ideas as fascist and combat the spread of false propaganda. La Nela also once said, “Women are the memory of time wasted and reconquered.” What a badass.

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Portrait of La Nela by Pilar Bustos

Growing up, I felt like I had nothing I could read about in Ecuador in English at all, and what was out there was messed up or misinformed in some way. Not much has changed, you just got white guys writing academic papers on us like they’re some sort of authority – and then there’s travel writing. ::Deep sigh:: That’s a chasm that needs to be bridged. Since I started writing travel, I’ve constantly struggled with how I depict my (other) country to largely white, Western audiences, and it’s real. But I’m also proud to be doing this work and exposing a few more folks to what Ecuador means for Ecuadorians. Read the article in full here, and if you’re into it, go ahead and share that shit, or tip me. And as always, if you got thoughts, you can find me on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. I’ll leave you with this:

The Women’s March crowd could learn from the radical feminist history that we in Ecuador honor. As in La Nela and Cacuango’s day less than a century ago, the threat of fascism is again spreading across the map, and we’re going to need more than pussy hats to fight it. I look back to the spring of 1944 and feel the weight of the baton pass to my generation. The fate of these lands still rests in the hands of young women and nonbinary visionaries, and if we want to avoid another world war, we’ll need to heed La Nela’s words — reconquer wasted time, and bring about a more feminist future.

Living for the Legacy: On Misogynoir and Climate Disasters

[Feature image from the 5th annual Congress of Afro Ecuadorian Women, 2016]

Hey people. I’m in the midst of packing to leave Ecuador for EcuaYork, my home-away-from-home-away-from-home in Queens, rather reluctantly, but also ready to see my people and eat all the things and enjoy la primavera. My knee is all messed up and my back is already aching at the thought of having to endure two flights tomorrow, but that’s #travelingwhiledisabled for ya. FYI: Yesterday’s POC Travel Book Club talk was riddled with tech issues I’m still tryna resolve, but we will be rescheduling so wait up for the next newsletter.

Today I’m sharing part four of my series on climate disasters and oppression for Bitch Magazine: Misogynoir and Climate Change: How Disaster Relief Fails Black Women. Mad thanks to France Francois and Jeri Hilt for talking to me about their experiences and thoughts on these issues. Jeri’s piece, Marine Botany and Standing Rocks, which is accompanied by video footage from a spiritual retreat for Black women in Puerto Lopez, Ecuador, absolutely blew me away, as did her piece in Bitch Magazine, There Are No Survivors Without Scars, that I pulled from for my essay.

I decided a few years ago to live for the legacy and not the details, to build for three generations ahead because some battles have already been lost.

Jeri Hilt

With this essay I focused on the cumulative effects of environmental racism against Black communities coupled with the heightened levels of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) that women, feminized, and gender non-conforming people are often exposed to in the wake of climate disasters, all which further burden Black and Afrodescendant women whose businesses, families, incomes, and livelihoods are put in jeopardy due to climate change. I also point out how the institutions in charge of distributing aid to those in need during and after disasters are flawed as fuck, and finally, stress how important it is to support environmental and climate justice work led by Black women if we really care about you know, the future of the planet. Read the essay in full here.

Also also: this series was just featured in Longreads’ Rising Up Against Climate Change: A Reading List, which was put together in response to the Science and Climate Marches. I’ve been hoping (for a while now; gotta get my shit together) to put together a comprehensive list of E+CJ groups led by BW to throw your dollars at instead of the goddamned ACLU and SPLC and probably Greenpeace or whatever liberal white folks are pushing at the moment. Stay tuned.

Pray For [Blank]: Climate Disasters & The Narrative of Place

I can hear the water trickling back up through the pipes. It’s been off all day, probably ‘cause it rained like a motherfucker last night. They don’t call it a rain forest for nothing. We generally don’t realize how precious water is until our access to it gets interrupted, which brings me to today’s topic. My essay, A Country Within A Country: Climate Change, Privilege, and Disaster Survival was published in Bitch Magazine last year but I’m only now just getting around to sharing it with y’all, and, unfortunately, it’s relevance hasn’t waned in the slightest.  This Sunday will mark the one year anniversary of the major earthquake that devastated Ecuador last year, the event that sparked this series in the first place. It brought me to write this:

The disastrous effects of Hurricane Katrina and its mismanagement were broadcast across international media for all to see, and while the hurricane took many lives and will impact the Gulf region for generations to come, the media spectacle showing the hurricane’s effects didn’t translate into solidarity. New Orleanians were abandoned, almost as an example for what we, the underprivileged in the most privileged place on the planet, have to look forward to.

With #45 and a bunch of dudes who get rich off of shit like this in office, I think it’s safe to say that we’ve got a lot more Katrinas on the way. But the focus of this piece is how the narrative of climate disasters (and tragedies in general) shift based on where they happen and who they happen to, and particularly how this plays out on social and mainstream media. For example:

“If you turned down the sound on your television, if you didn’t know where you were, you might think it was Haiti or maybe one of those African countries.” – Soledad O’Brien’s reaction to Katrina on CNN. Then there’s Nancy Gibbs in Time magazine: “These things happened in Haiti, but not here.”

If Katrina taught us anything, it’s that those things do, in fact, happen here. They continue to happen and they will not stop. So can we retire this awful tendency of comparing tragedies on US soil to ones in “those African countries”? And what do they reveal to us about the myth of American exceptionalism? I turned to author Edwidge Danticat’s incredible essay, Another Country, to try to answer this. From her work:

“It’s hard for those of us from places like Freetown or Port-au-Prince, and those of us who are immigrants who still have relatives living in places like Freetown or Port-au-Prince, not to wonder why the so-called developed world needs so desperately to distance itself from us, especially at times when an unimaginable disaster shows us exactly how much alike we are.” Let’s be real: This kind of rhetoric is a coded way of saying, “We deserve better. They don’t.”

Nope, the US isn’t disaster-proof, and being shocked that it isn’t operates from a flawed understanding of how shit works here. Because those folks in New Orleans probably have more in common with people in “those African countries” than they might with the wealthy hotel owners downtown in the French Quarter. Did we really believe that the resources the US has looted from the rest of the world, a primary driver of climate change, were equally distributed among the people of the US? That Tio Samuel is really gonna have our backs when disaster strikes?

I don’t think people like O’Brien or Gibbs consciously believe this, though. I think this is the message the United States sends to the rest of the world on a daily basis, from the events and ideals at its foundation, to its current foreign policies, to the way it treats migrants of all kinds right here in the god-blessed U.S. of A. I think people like O’Brien and Gibbs represent so many in the American public who feel the need to help craft a revisionist fairy tale about their country to boost its self-esteem and to swallow the reality that one in eight households here live in hunger (or “food insecurity”) according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They treat the Story of America like a child crying home to his parents because the kids at school called him racist. The revisionist consoles the child, saying, “Now now, son, tell them you aren’t racist, you’re alt-right.”

Nothing will bring you back to your senses like a climate disaster. They lay bare the ugly reality of how things work here, and since we’re going to be seeing a lot more of these, we have to be real about who’s going to be hit the hardest, and why. (Hint: it’s race.) We’ll need more than Facebook filters that are usually reserved for majority-white victims of tragedies, more than a fake story about a shitty dream to unite us; more than a flag. Because what use is all of that when you don’t even have water?

Read the full essay here.