Category Archives: Dispatches

We Are Everywhere – Imagining Diverse Travel Communities #Dispatch: Nomadness

I’VE BEEN CHATTING with travel writers, activists and personalities of color about their experiences navigating the media industry and the globe with an intersectional lens, while exploring themes like power, privilege, place, and identity, themes that are rarely touched on in the mainstream travel space. Read previous #Dispatches here.

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In September 2011 Evita Robinson created the Nomadness Travel Tribe, an online social community for travelers who have the similarity of an urban background and were looking for likeminded travelers to connect with around the world. Based on the success of her business, Evie was named one of Clutch Magazine’s “11 Black Women Inspiring Us To Travel”, and the Tribe’s first ever NomadnessX group trip to Panama was featured in the July 2012 Issue of Ebony Magazine. She now serves as a keynote speaker, crowdfunding consultant, and continues her love of travel photography and seeing the world with Nomadness.

Evita Robinson:  I’m the creator of the Nomadness Travel Tribe. A Crowdfunding Guru of sorts. International Dweller. Why? Passion. I have been lucky enough to recognize and accept the responsibility associated with my purpose in life.

Bani:  How did Nomadness come about?

Evita:  Nomadness started as a blog and video web series of me traveling around the world. Nomadness TV was the first time people heard the brand name. This was back in Feb. 2010 during the last two months of me living in Niigata, Japan. The Tribe came about in September 2011 as an answer to a problem I was having in not finding a diverse travel community I wanted to engage with on the internet. No one in my immediate network and family traveled like me, so it was hard finding people I could relate to in the travel lifestyle.

Bani:  And you were like, why not start my own?

Evita:  Exactly. I’m like that with everything in life. If it isn’t what I want or need, I do it myself.

Bani:  I think we’re living in this age now where creators of color have the tools and access to be able to start brands, social networks and projects themselves and are getting these big audiences because of it. There’s definitely entrepreneurial spirit there but it’s also kind of radical, to create spaces for ourselves where they don’t exist, and should.

Evita:  I agree with that. I also think we are fulfilling many needs that mainstream media simply isn’t.

Photo by Pete Rivera
Photo by Pete Rivera

Bani:  Why do you think mainstream travel media lacks so much diversity? Were you surprised that Nomadness took off and became what it is today then?

Evita:  I think mainstream media is full of fear and grossly out of touch with how diverse the world truly is right now, especially for millenials. Fear in that they are scared to do something different and ‘outside the box’ for them. The world is changing and the risks are being taken by people who approach the industry with nothing to lose. These companies are shook to put it all on the line.

Nomadness surprised me in that I simply didn’t know what I was creating. Didn’t know I was going to be doing trips, have an online store, do an RV Tour, build a conference, have 9000 members…I didn’t know this was what was being created.

Bani:  Word. So I heard you just signed a deal with Issa Rae Productions. Can you tell us more about that?

Evita:  Yea we signed a few months back. It’s a distribution deal so they can broadcast out travel web series ‘The Nomadness Project’ on her Youtube Channel. Issa’s a really great supporter of ours and vice versa. We’ve been having meet ups around the States for her book tour this month. She’s met so many of us.

Bani:  That’s so awesome! So what’s in store for the future?

Evita:  September 2015 kicking ass with our new #NMDN ALTERnative Travel Conference in NYC. Continuing to galavant around the world with the Tribe to show that we are everywhere, and we do this – our way. Strategic partnerships with other innovators and influencers that truly get the concept of pushing the envelope (i.e. Issa Rae). Our own travel television series breaking stereotypes on who travelers are. Moving off of Facebook and creating our own platform that, in itself, is unlike anyone else in our sector.

Bani:  Why is it important to break the stereotype of what a traveler looks like, who they are?

Evita:  Because it is currently invalid. There is a whole, large section of the story missing. Ours.

Bani:  Are there obstacles in the way for folks trying to rectify that?

Evita:  I mean…generic red tape but honestly that depends on which route you are trying to take. Mine involves unique avenues because I have specific goals for Nomadness and myself. But that is going to be something that varies across the board.

Bani:  Well it seems like you’ve been able to avoid a lot of bs, and that’s great.

Evita:  Can’t say I avoid it. We just don’t showcase it. Telling me ‘no’ is the same as telling me ‘yes’. I don’t hear ‘no’. Maybe ‘not now’, but not ‘no’. I also don’t take ‘no’ personally. I am told ‘no’ wayyyyyyy more than I am ever told ‘yes’. That comes with the territory. Fail better. It means you are actually taking chances.

Bani:  Fail better. My new new year’s resolution!

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Photo by Kali Blocker

Evita:  A ‘no’ has just never had the power to stop me. I could hear ‘no’ on Monday, and so many dope ‘yes’s’ pop up on Wednesday and Friday, no one remembers the beginning of the week.

Bani:  Last question: do you think it’s important for poc to have our own travel spaces? Why or why not?

Evita:  I think it’s important for people of color to be an actual part of the conversation more than anything. We haven’t been, so we have had no choice but to create our own spaces. And yes, it is important, because it’s ours. Too many times we give up ownership of our culture and talents too freely. Having something that is ours is so important. I also like that you use the term ‘people of color’ because that’s just it. We are an array. One of the things I love about Nomadness, that differentiates us in this ‘black travel movement’, is that we are representative of all people of color, not just black. We scale about 80% African-American beautifully, but we also have Latino(a), Native American, Caucasian, Asian, Pacific Islanders, the list goes on and on. We more accurately depict the world we live in and travel through.

Bani: And that’s what’s so refreshing about it. Any last thoughts you’d like to add? (btw, an egg account on Twitter wanted me to ask you why Nomadness is elitist!)

Evita: Nomadness isn’t elitist and I addressed this in the #NMDN chat about membership. People frequently misconstrue us having requirements as being elitist. Your job has requirements. I would think your friendships and relationships have to meet personal requirements of yours. Every social media platform you are on have requirements you have to abide by. Nomadness is no different. You have to have one 1 passport stamp to get in. That’s lightweight.

Bani: Agreed.

Evita: Last thoughts are just that we are excited and amped like all hell to get this year in gear. So many amazing things are happening and we look forward to going for it full throttle. We appreciate all the support from the inside and outside the group.

Bani: Word. I think it’ll be a truly incredible year for y’all, and thanks for making it all possible!

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Disrupting the Dominant Voice of Travel Writing #Dispatch: Brian Kamanzi

I’VE BEEN CHATTING with travel writers, activists and personalities of color about their experiences navigating the media industry and the globe with an intersectional lens, while exploring themes like power, privilege, place, and identity, themes that are rarely touched on in the mainstream travel space. Read previous #Dispatches here.

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Brian Kamanzi is a Cape Town-based spoken word poet and staff writer for Abernathy Magazine committed to the social upliftment of his fellow people. He is a budding Pan-Africanist eager to make contributions to the movement and form cross-cultural connections with others in the struggle. Follow his writing online and on Twitter @BrianlKamanzi.

Bani Amor:  Tell us about yourself. How would you describe your work, your identities, and how they interact?

Brian Kamanzi:  My name is Brian Ihirwe Kamanzi, I grew up in town called Mthatha in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. My father is a patriotic Ugandan national and my mother is a South African Indian. My identities lie tied in between that of my parents. I feel an affinity for Uganda; I see myself in the people. At the same time, just by looking at me, you can see that India is represented from the tones of my skin to the darkness of my eyes that I have inherited from my beautiful mother. I have struggled between these identities.

Growing up I never felt like I had ownership of the South African identity. I still have difficulty claiming it for my own to this day. I feel like the gift of my ancestry has shown me just how arbitrary national borders are. I am an African – emphatically so. My work, through writing and  spoken word is an effort to assert myself in a world that denies me.

I write to seize control. I write because I see my story, my feelings tied with those who are denied in their own ways. I hope for my work to form part of a broader project. A Pan-African project that will give voice to the former souls who were denied that choice.

Bani:  Writing, in that sense, is kind of an aggressive act, don’t you think? I think Didion said that. I definitely think of my writing in that context, however, voices that have been historically silenced might not think like that. I think it’s something writers of color try to balance in a way

Brian:  Without question. This is an act of aggression. This is an acutely political act. I can no longer be silenced. I take great strength from the strong people all over the world who share their stories everyday. We needn’t be overlooked any longer. I have to believe that. You know?

Bani:  Def. Marginalized writers tend to have these internalized voices in their heads, the Dominant Voice, doubting that they even have the right to write. Does that make sense?

Brian: Oh yes. That rings so true. In fact I feel that pressure from other marginalised voices as well. There is a sense that you’re not good enough if you’re not a budding Toni Morrison. There is so much doubt. One is afraid to speak about Africa if you haven’t read all the major authors. It’s silencing and it’s a battle to look past it.

There is a fear that we are not good enough and I can’t deny that I don’t feel it but again I take so much strength from seeing the ordinary folk who express themselves through writing. The internet has really been such a gift for that.

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Bani: I struggle a lot with self-doubt and my work and it’s a real killer. You’re about to put pen to page and then this invisible hand stops you. All writers/creators deal with this, but for multiply-marginalized folks, it’s epidemic. Finding work that speaks to me (not at me) is like panning for gold. And what I don’t find in books, I see in social media. It’s rejuvenating.

Brian:  I feel very much the same. There is a raw sense that these are people’s emotions. Virtually unedited. Live. If not alive.  It’s incredibly affirming. It also gives the words so much dimension. I mean take your writing for example. I can only dream of Ecuador but to read your piece and to have an interaction with you about your work is amazing. It makes me feel like I can reach you. It makes me feel like indeed we are connected. Those subtle everyday thoughts from folks on widely different contexts show us that in fact maybe we aren’t all that different.

Bani:  Yup. I didn’t really care about social media until I (recently) realized how much it’s used as a tool for cross-cultural communication, allowing us to engage in conversation with other disenfranchised people, and allowing us to organize across our differences.

Brian:  I really agree on the social media front, the amount of intersectional feminists on Twitter for example is phenomenal and I really enjoy their engagements online. There is so much scope for cross-cultural dialogue.

Bani: I wanted to talk about your creative influences, folks – whether in print or not – who have helped you “find your voice.”

Brian: When it comes to creative writing, there are two figures that really gave me the strength to assert myself – Malcolm X and Steve Biko. Particularly Malcolm. His confidence, tactfulness and almost rhythmic way of speaking & writing leaves me smiling and with a fire in my chest. A fire that makes me want to raise my voice. Be productive.

With Poetry, Mama Maya Angelou is such a muse. I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings hit me in places I never knew existed. Talking about Pan-African feminism, Minna Salami who is also a blogger and a writer has been such a great affirmative find as well. Straight talking, direct in a way that makes me feel like she’s talking to me. Encouraging me to do better. It’s amazing.

Bani: Mami handed me her copy of The Autobiography of Malcolm X when I was 13…and the rest is history.

Brian:  Haha what an age to read his words! Malcolm is one of those figures that makes you feel uneasy about the way things are. It feels more real. Uncomfortable but closer to the truth.

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Bani:  Let’s get into travel writing. What are your thoughts on the genre?

Brian: I think that particularly in our generation, where things have opened up globally, somewhat, there is a feeling that we are now allowed to dream and have wanderlust for far away spaces and places. Unfortunately many of the stories that, personally, I’ve been fed, are told by travellers who don’t know a thing about my experience. They don’t have the capacity to experience Ghana or India the way that I do. So many stories in travel writing speak from a place of abject objectivity where all else in front of his gaze is granted colour and is sexually exoticised at his will for his aesthetic function.

I see the need for a shift and it is definitely happening. A shift that allows a more diverse array of writers to share their experiences of different contexts that doesn’t feel…let me call it “colonial.”

There is almost an invisible hierarchy of experiences. One goes to Europe for the “culture” and one goes to Africa to self-actualise in Nature. I don’t see myself in either experience. I have no desire to conquer the savanna with trophies of lions. At the same time I see no reason to hail the cultures of Europe above the great multitude that are in front of me right here. At home.

I love reading travel writing, though when it’s done through an appreciative lens. There is really nothing more satisfying than imagining far away lands and different ways of life. It sets the mind on fire. Everyone should be able to experience that. And the next generation of travel writers will open up the doors for experiences that dominant voices will never be able to hear until they check themselves.

Bani:  You touched on the ‘marketing of place’, how we’re sold these concepts of places – Europe=culture, Africa=nature, etc. Travel writing has been and continues to be the way this marketing – branding, really – gets out to the masses. How do we disrupt that tradition? I’m very much a part of the movement trying to get more people of color to share their travel experiences, but how do we do so in a way that is not so colonialist as the genre generally is?

Brian: I think it’s a fundamental problem. When we frame our travel stories as products to be marketed in a conscious manner we are commodifying each others experiences. When writers of colour engage in travel writing we have to resist the trap of emulating the existing trends. As I understand it the goal is not to colour code the status quo – it’s to change it.

The problem is that the broader tourism industry feeds off limited harmful, frankly colonial, perceptions of cultures because at the moment economic and political capital is still very much tied along those lines. Travel writing from writers of colour then must surely act disruptively in that space. We are fighting against the very exploitation of our identities. For many of us we are fighting for a right to exist in the globalised world beyond the exotic tourist depictions that our nations now represent. Travel writers of colour must write to protect spaces like Thailand. Like Zanzibar. Spaces that become overrun by wealthy white folk from across the globe who run off to the 3rd world whenever the exchange rate is low.

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Bani:  Word, word, word. So we’re gonna wrap up. Do you have any final thoughts you’d like to add?

Brian:  Well in closing I’d like to mention the need for coalitions. I think we need to forge strategic connections across the globe and open our homes to one another to break the cycles that are really not working in our favour. In this the age of information there are really all the means and opportunities in the world.

For example, Africans and Latin Americans have so much shared history. We need to arrange more opportunities for us to meet and exchange stories. We need more deliberate attempts to speak to one another. To engage with one another. To welcome one another as the family that we are.

That’s my hope for this generation of writers. Let’s see how things unfold.

Remembering A Forgotten Language #Dispatch: Latino Outdoors

I’VE BEEN CHATTING with travel writers, activists and personalities of color about their experiences navigating the media industry and the globe with an intersectional lens, while exploring themes like power, privilege, place, and identity, themes that are rarely touched on in the mainstream travel space. Read previous #Dispatches here.

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José G. González a.k.a the “Green Chicano” is an educator, environmentalist, artist and the founder of Latino Outdoors, an organization which serves as a storytelling platform for defining the ambicultural identity connecting Latino communities and the outdoors, among many other functions. Latino Outdoors exists to connect cultura with the outdoors.

Bani Amor:  Tell us about yourself. How would you describe your work?

José G. González:  I would say I’m Mexican by birth, Chicano by identity, Latino by culture and Hispanic by census count. An educator by training, illustrator by interest, and conservationist by pursuit. I’m very much a mestizo and ambicultural in many ways.

What that looks like now with the Green Chicano identity and Latino Outdoors is to work on the storytelling of what these identities mean/look like and what they say about carrying these identities in relation to outdoor spaces, nature, and conservation.

So when I’m admiring the beauty of Grand Tetons National Park, I’m also thinking about the history and culture of the space in relation to who’s there, who’s not, and why that may be. I look at natural spaces with the eyes of a naturalist, artist, and historian.

Bani:  Amazing. How did Latino Outdoors come about?

José:  Latino Outdoors came about with several threads. During college I was an instructor for an outdoor program specifically for migrant students in CA, mostly Latino and English Language Learners. As a teaching team we traveled throughout the state and saw all these amazing outdoors spaces, from the desert to the redwoods, and I noticed how rare this “work” was in terms of the instructors, the students, and the places we were working. I thought, “Why aren’t there more programs like this?!” Basically, where are all the Latino outdoor professionals in this field and how they connect? How do they know about each other? Because I wasn’t finding them.

That experience further connected me to the outdoors and after teaching for a few years I went to get a Masters in Natural Resources & Environment. And the question was, where are the Latino-led and Latino-serving organizations in the environment and the outdoors? Especially those that are not framed solely around environmental justice. It was then that an instructor from the same migrant outdoor program asked, “José, I want to pursue this as a career, who do I talk to? Who do I connect with?” And I didn’t have a great answer for him, I didn’t have a community to connect with. And it made me think of visiting all these state parks and national parks and remembering how awesome they were but how much of a privileged opportunity they were in many ways/cases.

Lastly, I was asking people to tell me where to find this unicorn of an organization and they would tell me, “Great idea, tell us too!” So I thought, well, let’s do it!. Because there are a lot of stories, travelers, and programs that I know are doing great work, but we don’t really exist in a community or are connecting with a shared identity.

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Bani:  What do y’all do?

José:  We center around 4 things. First, the professional community. We want to identify, connect, and amplify the leadership infrastructure of individuals that exist with this identity. They bring their culture on the trailhead and they use it in positive ways to connect their work as conservationists/outdoorspeople with the community. I’ve found many that say, “I’m the only one doing this work…” and I want to say “You’re not, let’s exist and collaborate in community. Let me share with others the awesome stuff you do.” 

This community is a precious resource that allows us to get to the other three things. 2) The youth. Beyond just getting youth outdoors, we want to show them that there are role models and possible mentors in this field for them so that they can follow in this work knowing that their culture is an asset and that it’s valued in this field. We’re also finding that youth in their 20’s are the ones that naturally want to connect with Latino Outdoors, that they are looking for ways to have their culture be positively represented in the outdoor experiences they already enjoy. 

3) Family. We want to showcase the value of family and community-oriented outdoor experiences because it connects parents with their kids and it naturally taps into how many other communities like to enjoy the outdoors beyond the solitary backpacker. We do this through day hikes, outings, and other events partnering with parks and conservation orgs.

4) Storytelling – we wrap this all together by finding ways to say, “Yo cuento” – to show what the story looks like as a Latino/a in relation to the outdoors – and how diverse that is in terms of identity and experiences. We have “Xicano in the Wilderness,” “Chicano in the Cascadias,” “Chasquimom,” and so forth – people identifying in many ways but highlighting their culture in the outdoors. We’re doing this through interviews, narratives, social media, and just starting with video.

Bani:  Awesome. What are some strategies you’ve found effective in inspiring urban-dwelling Latinos to care about conservation issues and to also get out into the outdoors?

José:  Good question. The “urban Latino millennial” is one demographic that is high on many lists for parks and open spaces. Which is no surprise, since they like to be out in a group with a social experience. It can be shared through social media or at least documented with a smart phone. But we know that it’s also a matter of how the outdoors in your community is viewed and supported. How your local park is a connection to outdoors farther way.

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People can identify with a well-known national park farther away and not know they have a fantastic national wildlife refuge nearby. So one thing is to just go, let the place speak for itself and show each other how accessible all these places are. Then once we’re there, we have the programming be flexible so that we learn as much from the community as we want to share. So it’s a not a lecture about the outdoors or a class in conservation.

I may say it’s like learning English if you only know Spanish. We don’t want you to not know or use Spanish and have it be replaced by English. Same with the outdoors. What is the language you already know about these experiences? Tell us! and we’ll share “new words” to add to that. It makes it challenging, exciting, fun, and so rewarding.

Bani:  That’s amazing. Using that analogy of language-learning, I think that it’s more like remembering a language that we were taught to forget. For me, communities of color being separated from nature is a part of the process of colonialism.

José:  Exactamente! That can be hard for many people and there is a lot of anger and hurt that sometimes comes out, but I keep my hand out to people to say, I understand. Especially if you are “Latino” and you have a history of colonizer and colonized. Many public lands in the Southwest used to be land grants that were taken away from Hispanos and Chicanos. But those lands themselves were carved up from indigenous communities.

Bani:  I wonder how Latinos in the U.S. can connect to the outdoors while also confronting our place as both settlers on indigenous land and displaced mestizos from our own lands across Latin America.

José:  It’s both a complex and simple process but it takes time and understanding. I find that people, and especially young people love to connect to their culture. Especially in college when they take a Chicano studies class or the like and they say, “Wait, how come nobody told me about this?!” I use that frame to share how there are many reasons to be proud of our history, and especially with our traditions and heritage of conservation and the outdoors.

We have it, but often need to rediscover it, and much of it comes from our indigenous roots. So we elevate that as much as it was torn from us or as it has been forgotten. But a reality is that so many of us are mestizo and that has been a process too. Indigenismo did not just happen. People looked into their history and said, wait, there is a lot to culture and tradition here that we tried to get away from thinking that just European values were the way to civilization. 

Bani:  Yup, it goes back to education. We’re kind of forced in this country to adhere to the popular immigrant narrative – we came here for a better life, etc. – instead of learning how we were really, a lot of the times, displaced politically and ecologically. 

José:  So I say, are you proud to be Mexica? Did you know they strived to be a zero-waste society? Yeah.

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Bani:  You came up with this word, “culturaleza.”

José:  Yeah, that’s another example of mestizaje. Connecting cultura and naturaleza to show that the separation of people and environment is one frame and often one that alienates many of the communities that many conservation organizations want to reach. One perfect example is food. Food is a cultural trait that is with us all the time from when mom and grandma made tamales and nopales at home and when we’re looking for the right taqueria.

So if we’re having an outing in the outdoors, instead of me just saying “I’ll bring the sandwiches, or let me run to Trader Joe’s” (which I do anyways, jaja) we try to ask people to make it a potluck and they love bringing something they like and want to share. Some favorite memories of mine are having nopales, tostadas, and mole in the sequoias with moms that love to cook that at home.

Bani:  That’s what’s up. 

José:  People have asked, why “Latino Outdoors”? Isn’t that exclusive? Or, isn’t that giving in to a colonized identity? I say that I intend for it to be an INCLUSIVE starting connective point. It’s to bring in communities and people that maybe we haven’t reached out to let alone just expect them to join in and be valued in this space. And we are open to all “shades” of Latino including those that stress nationality, or being Chicano, Hispano, and so forth. Because one thing that can connect us besides often having shared Spanish/Spanglish language is that we also have a connection to land and space in our roots, and that is important.

Bani:  Word. 

José:  Ah, and to make sure we are kind to each other, because in some of these beautiful spaces are ugly human experiences. Very short: while visiting Grand Tetons National Park, we once stopped at a small town for ice cream and I was given one of the worst looks of “You’re not welcome here” that sticks to me to this day. So yeah. 

Bani:  I know that look very well. Our presence in natural spaces is radical. 

José:  Bien dicho.

On The Cusp of Dual Identities #Dispatch: Afropean

I’VE BEEN CHATTING with travel writers, activists and personalities of color about their experiences navigating the media industry and the globe with an intersectional lens, while exploring themes like power, privilege, place, and identity, themes that are rarely touched on in the mainstream travel space. Read previous #Dispatches here.

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Enter a captionJohny Pitts is a writer, photographer, and broadcast journalist interested in issues of Afro-European identity.  He won a Decibel Penguin Prize for a short story included in the ‘The Map of Me’; a Penguin books anthology about mixed-race identity. He recently collaborated with author Caryl Phillips on a photographic essay for the BBC and Arts Council England dealing with London and immigration, and curates the online journal Afropean.com, for which he received the 2013 ENAR foundation (European Network Against Racism) award for a contribution to a racism free Europe. He currently hosts a youth travel show for the BBC and recently finished the first draft of a travel narrative about a five month trip through ‘Black Europe’, due to be released in 2015. john@afropean.com

Bani Amor: Tell us about yourself. How would you describe your work and the impetus behind it?

John:  Well, I hold American and British passports, I was raised between London and Sheffield, in the UK.  My Father is black, my mother is white, and I was born on the cusp of Capricorn and Aquarius, so even my star sign dual! So I identify with W.E.B DuBois’ double consciousness stuff. I feel as though I kind of grew up in that liminal terrain between cultures, races and spaces,  and I suppose my work is all about trying to find some kind of coherence in that liminal space. Instead of seeing myself as half-this or mixed-that, I try to solidify the cultural ground I walk on as something whole. And that is where this term ‘Afropean’ comes in.

It is a platform to engage with-and acknowledge the duality of- my influences, whilst bringing them together as something new. I didn’t create the term Afropean, so in a way I’m working off the backs of a Generation X who came of age in the 90’s. People like Neneh Cherry, Zap Mama, Stephen Simmonds, Les Nubians…artists and musicians who brought forth new aesthetics that were a mix of African and European influences. The word was being used, but it hadn’t really entered the popular lexicon, so I snapped up afropean.com and tried to create a community around that. See if there was a way for Afro-Europeans to get a sense of themselves in the same way I feel African Americans did.

Bani: Do people use the word in real life? I mean, outside the internet.

John: I’m hearing it more and more. They seem to be most comfortable using it France. To be honest, though, I don’t necessarily use it in on a day to day basis. It’s more an inclusive platform from which we can all engage in the idea of a Europe more in tune with its multi-cultural, multi-racial population. I’m seeing it online more and more though and, in a way, for better or worse, the line between ‘real life’ and our digital lives is getting ever blurrier.

Bani: Of course.

John: So to see it growing online, must be to see it growing on the streets, and in people’s minds. Our community on Facebook and the subscribers to the website is growing exponentially.

Bani: Which speaks to a great need for this type of platform.

John: I think so. It’s weird – growing up in the 90’s, as a young black person, there were very few celebrations of black culture. At least, it never entered the mainstream really. Anything mainstream that could be called ‘black’ came from the States. It’s still that way now, to a certain extent, but things are changing. I think Afropean is one of many outlets taking advantage of this wild-west era of the internet, where we have the opportunity to cut out the people controlling the media, and tell our own stories.

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Bani: Which is a main obstacle in trying to build (cross-cultural) community – the representation in media (or lack thereof) sends a message to marginalized people that they don’t exist, or do, but in limited, stereotypical ways.

John: Exactly! I work in TV, and also as a writer, and the classic thing you hear is ‘oh, we already did a show or book about black people 15 years ago, we don’t need another one…”

Bani: Because a black person can’t tell a story in the mainstream without it being an “identity narrative”.

John: Exactly, and as you know, it isn’t just ethnicity, but also gender, sexual orientation and so on.

Bani: The default narrator is a straight white male.

John: For sure.  And within the sphere of ‘black culture’ it can sometimes feel that the default narrator is African American.  Something that I’d like to make clear though, is that I don’t really see myself being part of that whole African American hegemony argument. So often you’ll see a division at black-consciousness conferences between African Americans and Afro-Europeans. Afropean is about being inclusive, and encouraging dialogue, and even though there was/is more room made for black American culture in Europe than black-European culture, I think the contribution of African Americans is certainly valuable and, at times, even a template to how we might be able to get a bit more unity and exposure in the afro-European community.

Bani: Word. I mean that it’s interesting to me that black-American history tends to overshadow Afropean “consciousness” but more so that in other regions (Asia, Latin America) black-American “culture” has been commodified and exported like a lifestyle that can be bought and sold. Yet when we look to local movements to progress black communities, it’s like, a completely divorced thought.

John: Yes. One of the funny things I noticed on my voyage through ‘black Europe’ is that very often you’d find Ghanaians or Nigerians talking and dressing like parodies of African Americans because it’s more culturally acceptable to be African American around the world, and especially in Europe, than it is to be African.  And they tend to assume that very commodified and exported idea African American culture you’re talking about.

New Europe

Bani: About your travels, you took a five month trip through “black Europe” to document Afropean culture across the continent, is that right?

John: Exactly. After seeing these interesting Afropean images creep through the stereotypical black images in the media…in places like Trace magazine, and in some of the great Afropean soul and Hip-Hop, I wanted to see where this stuff was born…was there a community to liaise with? What does it mean to be Afropean? Is there any point in trying to bring the black European diaspora together, or are we all too different? These were some of the questions I sought to answer on my travels.

Bani: What were the results? I’m sure it’s too long and nuanced to answer here (that’s why you have a book-type project in the works, no?) but did you feel a sense of collective identity? Were there communities to liaise with?

John: Yes, it is complicated, but ultimately I did find commonality through people living life on the margins. We were similar by virtue of facing the same problems: old, stubborn European countries clinging on to outdated self-images and national identities. That’s the thing about Europe – it is so old, and  obviously its colonial history heavily shaped the way many European countries view themselves and ‘the other’. And it’s a case of teaching an old dog new tricks.

Bani: Do people create problems for you in reading your identity outside of Europe? As in assuming you’re not from there? Does that happen within Europe too?

John: I had an interesting chat with a black British friend living in New York recently and he told me that I’d have no problem with white people in America at all, as soon as they heard my accent. Because when they heard me speak with a British voice, the blackness disappears. It is a blackness that Americans don’t have a shared history with, so they feel more relaxed. I thought that was interesting, and during the many times I’ve been to America, I’ve never been victim to any overt racism.

Because of my background, which actually also has Scottish, Irish and Cherokee America roots, I find that half the world actually looks like me. When I was in Fiji, they thought I was Fijian, when I was in Morocco, they thought I was Berber, when I was in Japan, people even thought I was part Japanese.

Bani: Same.

Black Guard

John: But I would say that there is a certain ‘Afropean’ sensibility.  Look at and listen to Sade, Les Nubians, Zap Mama, Seal, Stephen Simmonds, Baloji, Joy Denalane and you get a sense of it.  I very much feel Afro-European and I think people sense that more and more – the way I talk, act, dress…it is all connected to blackness and Europe. Or, rather, a response to being black in Europe.

Bani: Was there something you learned about the diaspora that you hadn’t known/realized before your trip?

John: So many things, but because I’m not a historian, it was finding out about people like Severus Septemius, the African Roman Emperor, and, in racist Russia, learning that possibly the most famous Russian, and the Godfather of Russian literature, Alexandr Pushkin, was an Afropean, and even wrote a book about his great black grand father entitled Peter The Great’s Negro. So many stories I wasn’t taught at my British school, which led me to believe black people’s contribution to history was slavery and the Blues.

Bani: Sigh

John: So it was that the diaspora isn’t some new phenomenon. Immigration isn’t new. The Moors practically created Southern Europe.

Bani: Right, how can people express their identity when they’re taught it doesn’t really exist. Schooling + media = erasure.

John: Exactly. I often say that my identity is something I’m constantly in the process of inventing.  Maybe it is a human condition, but it isn’t made easy when you’re told you have no history or place, really, in the country you call home.

Bani: It’s funny. On Facebook, some folks and I shared a link for a round-up on the best being Latino-in-New York movies and one of us lamented on how we gotta make an Ecuadorian-NY film ’cause none exist! Yet there are a zillion Ecuadorians in NYC. Anyway, that’s just my background.

John: But it’s true. You need to do it! I’d watch for sure! Ha!

Bani: It would be epic! And I never use that word

John: Ha! It’s interesting, I literally just came off the phone with Angelique Kidjo before this interview and she said that she loved New York because the whole world is there. I don’t mean to make light of the struggle of people in New York but the whole world is in London too. In fact, I think a recent census said that more languages were spoken in London than anywhere else on earth.

Bani: I came from that background, of being in the most diverse town in the world, and not seeing reflections of that anywhere. That shit is internalized.

John: But here is the problem – London still exports this image of itself – the Queen, Big Ben, London guards. The UK isn’t a democracy. We still have hereditary peers in the house of lords. 1/6th of hereditary peers are required to be male. That shit still exists here! NY has the advantage of being relatively new so it is a little easier to shape in one’s own image.

But London is still controlled by a small elite, who are often aristocracy, often went to the same private schools, the same universities. They are the people who don’t just control the country, but also the very idea of what it means to be from that country. Most of Europe is the same. It is an old, stubborn class-based continent.

Europe has been written about so much, but travelling through the continent and looking with new eyes really shed light on new landscapes…new stories. We think the world is small, but it is only small if you look at it with one pair of eyes. I would love to read the story of a Guarani travelling to Norway, or an Eskimo journeying to Brazil. If you feel that you are living on the margins of society, it’s your duty to help edge your story onto the pages of the narrative, and turn what society calls niche, into something everyone can understand. Travel and tell your story, whatever your background. Oh, and checkout afropean.com! 🙂

Bani: Word!

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Retracing The Freedom Trail by Bike #Dispatch: Erick Cedeño

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Over the past three years Erick Cedeño has traveled long distances by bicycle: from Vancouver, Canada to Tijuana, Mexico and from St. Augustine, Florida to New York City. But in August of 2013 he embarked on a different kind of trip, one measured not only by miles but also by history. He rode from New Orleans, Louisiana to Niagara Falls, Canada along The Underground Railroad route, developed by The Adventure Cycling Association using the spiritual slave song “Follow the Drinking Gourd”, which relays directions for escaping to freedom by following the North Star. One known path followed waterways from Alabama north to the Ohio River — and this became the basis for his route.

Bani Amor:  Tell us about yourself. What do you do and why do you do it?

Erick Cedeño:  My dream is to see the world by bicycle. In 2011, I did my first trip – 2,300 miles from Vancouver, Canada to Tijuana, Mexico. Then in 2012 I rode from St. Augustine, Florida to New York City. My last trip was from New Orleans to Niagara Falls, Canada retracing one of the original Underground Railroad routes by bicycle. I do it to challenge myself mentally and physically, but also to learn about history and people. After my first bicycle trip, I fell in love with traveling by using my own power.

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Photos courtesy of Erick Cedeño

With traveling by bicycle, you get to smell, see, and feel like no other method of transportation.You engage with and discover people, nature, yourself. I learned that traveling by bicycle gives me an inner peace. You learn to stay in the present moment and not to think about the challenges in the past or the future. You learn that you have only the few miles ahead.

Bani: Sounds mad Buddhist. When did you first experience the urge to travel?

Erick: When I was 5-6 years old my mother would take me walking to a restaurant every Friday. We would walk about a mile and half to McDonald’s and walk back home. One day, my mother (who did not drive and depended on public transportation) saw me walking by myself past the McDonald’s about almost 2 miles from my house. She stopped the bus and got off. She asked me where was I going. And my response to her was – I just wanted to see what was past McDonald’s. I had a love for traveling and exploring at a very young age. She never was upset with me from that incident, as a matter of fact she encouraged me to travel and explore.

Bani: Yesss, I was the same exact way

Erick: I always said that I was born to the perfect mother because she would never limit me. She would travel everywhere and I always wanted to go with her. One time, we dropped my mother off at the airport and I said to her, “I want to go with you”, and she said you can’t because you do not have clothes or your passport, and I replied, “I do, they are both in your suitcase”, which I had placed there myself. She bought the ticket at the airport counter and I got to travel with her.

Bani:  jeje

Erick:  One time, when I was 11 years old, my mother took me on a two-week trip to see the pyramids of Mexico, and that had such an impact on me and my love for travel. I believe it came from having been born and raised to a mother who always wanted to travel and see the world. She always told me when I was young…when I die, I will die happy because I will not have any regrets. My love is to travel and that brings me happiness. Those words have stayed with me ever since.

Bani:  She sounds like such a badass!

Erick:  She was fearless…

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Bani: Back to your cycling adventures, what inspired the Underground Railroad trip?

Erick:  One day, I was having lunch and thinking which route to travel next and it came to my head…I wonder if I can retrace the Underground Railroad. From that moment, I got home and started researching to see if it was possible to travel, ride and visit historical sites of what is known as the “Freedom Trail”.

Bani:  Why did it appeal to you?

Erick:  I find traveling by bicycle physically and mentally challenging. But when you travel with a purpose it is more enjoyable.

Bani:  Did you come out of that trip different than you were before? How?

Erick:  Every trip teaches you different lessons and you always come out different. This particular trip taught me many lessons – how previous people who had traveled the same route endured many sacrifices to reach freedom. It taught me that when we travel with a purpose we can endure challenges. My bicycle was stolen in Buffalo, NY, only 15 miles from reaching Canada after traveling more than 2,100 miles. I did not want to give up on reaching Canada. I wanted to experience the same feeling the previous freedom seekers felt in crossing Niagara Falls. I was able to borrow a kid’s 10 speed bicycle to finish my journey.

Bani:  That’s incredible. So what’s next for you? I heard you wanted to bike from Florida to Panama, and across Africa.

Erick:  I would like to retrace the Trail of Tears from North Georgia to Oklahoma. The Trail of Tears was the forced relocation of Native American nations from southeastern parts of the United States following the Indian Removal Act of 1830. I would also like to ride from Miami, Florida to Panama City, Panama, where I was born. My goal is to travel through Mexico and Central America to learn about the ancient civilizations, speaking to elders and shamans along the way.

I just want to encourage people of all ages to travel and discover their world by bicycle. It could be their neighborhoods, towns, cities, countries or the world, but when you travel by bicycle you will definitely learn something new. Every single time.

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Closing The Adventure Gap #Dispatch: James Mills

I’VE BEEN CHATTING with travel writers, activists and personalities of color about their experiences navigating the media industry and the globe with an intersectional lens, while exploring themes like power, privilege, place, and identity, themes that are rarely touched on in the mainstream travel space. Read previous #Dispatches here.

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Enter a captionJames Edward Mills is a freelance journalist, independent media producer and founder or The Joy Trip Project. Working in the outdoor industry since 1989 as a guide, outfitter, independent sales representative, writer and photographer, his experience includes a broad range of expeditions that include mountaineering, rock climbing, backcountry skiing and kayaking. He is currently a contributor to several outdoor-focused print and online publications that include National Geographic Adventure, Rock & Ice and Alpinist. His first book, The Adventure Gap (Mountaineers Press) is available here.

Bani Amor: Tell us about yourself. How would you describe your work?

James Mills:  I’m a freelance journalist specializ[ing] in creating stories about outdoor recreation, environmental conservation, acts of charitable giving and practices of sustainable living. I also have a direct interest in issues of diversity and environmental justice.

I recently decided that I’m not a travel writer. I’m a writer who happens to travel. I don’t think they are the same things. Travel writing is a very specific genre of literature that doesn’t often include the things that I write about. The same goes for adventure writer but to a lesser extent. I definitely write about adventure, but not for adventure’s sake. My focus is primarily on individuals whose work includes a higher purpose in adventure or exploration that has a humanitarian focus or an interest in environmental protection.

For example I’ve written a lot about Shannon Galpin who has done quite a bit of work in Afghanistan on behalf of the empowerment of women and girls through the creation of the first national female cycling team. Travel, adventure definitely, but in the pursuit of a much higher cause.

Bani:  So what was the spark that got you in the outdoors in the first place?

James: When I was 9 years old my brother and I joined a Boy Scout Troop in Los Angeles that was heavily into backpacking and mountaineering. From then on through high school I spent at least one weekend every month camping somewhere, primarily in Southern California. When I graduated from college I took up rock climbing and then got a job doing outdoor retail at REI in Berkeley. From there I worked for the North Face in sales and started my own agency in the midwest in 1992. I’ve been here ever since.

Bani:  Awesome. Was there a particular instance that inspired you to start writing with a “higher purpose” in mind?

James:  It was right after 9/11 when I decided I wanted to make a career change from sales into journalism. At the time I felt like no one was really doing much to tell the stories of people trying to save the world while there seemed to be plenty of those trying to destroy it or capitalize off of the suffering of others. Since I started writing professionally those are the topics that I’ve felt most drawn to and passionate about.

Bani:  Which leads us to your first book, The Adventure Gap. Could you tell us more about how the project came about?

James:  I’d been writing about diversity in outdoor recreation for a while. I produced a documentary for an NPR program on the Buffalo Soldiers as well as several magazine stories. I was working on a piece about diversity in the National Park Service when I became acquainted with the newly appointed director of diversity and inclusion at the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) Aparna Rajagopal-Durbin. I was originally interviewing her on her role in making the most prominent outdoor education institution more relevant to people of color.AG-Cover003

That conversation led to a much deeper discussion on what practical steps one could take toward achieving the goal of great inclusivity. A few weeks later I got an email from her asking me what I thought about putting an all African-American team on the summit of Denali.  I naturally thought it was a great idea and asked what I could do to be a part of it. I knew right away that it would make for a great story and of course a book.

Bani:  Expedition Denali was a game-changer! What are your hopes in how the book is received?

James:  Well I hope that it will sell a million copies! But the reality is I’m concerned that it will fall on deaf ears. Our modern world is too full of people today who simply won’t understand why this was such a landmark event. Even though the team didn’t summit, it set in motion a conversation about a critical issue that each of us, regardless of race, will have to face at some point in the future – a profound lack of support for environmental protection among the majority of the US population. But because there are so many people prepared to deny that diversity in outdoor recreation is important, we’re going to face an uphill fight to create a movement toward greater inclusion. I can only hope that I succeeded in writing a compelling enough adventure story that will captivate readers’ attention long enough to make them think about the book’s primary message and overall theme.

Bani:  Addressing the whitewashing of adventure media is one thing, but how do we effectively continue a conversation around environmental and conservation issues within our own communities of color? You’re challenged with getting white outdoorsy people and urban-dwelling people of color to agree on something.

James:  As a person of color by definition if I continue to travel, adventure and write my way through life I’m contributing to the diversity of outdoor recreation. I can also try to tell the story of people of color out there pushing the boundaries of the field and illustrate their efforts to defy notions that suggest that these are things the black and brown folks don’t do.

I’m pretty cynical to the belief that I’ll ever convince anyone to think differently about these issues. As a writer and a journalist all I can really do is tell the truth as I see it. As an athlete, now that both my legs work properly again, all I can do is push the boundaries of my abilities and do it with style.

Bani: Why do you think that lie – that black and brown folks just don’t care about nature – is so pervasive? Do you think that’s just the fault of poor representation in media or an intentional notion of white supremacist thinking?

James:  Unfortunately it’s a lie that we perpetuate among ourselves. Young people are given a very clear message that unambiguously says, “black people don’t…” There are stereotypes that we impose upon ourselves and people in our community that are so thoroughly entrenched that to do anything contrary to this common belief is to be “less black” or trying to “act white”.

The consequence of going against the accepted definition of what it means to be black in America today is to be ostracized by one’s peers or even one’s own family. Who wants that? So we perpetuate the lie in order to fit in, but we deny ourselves the opportunity to experience something that is not only wonderful but part of our birthright as human beings, spending time outdoors in pursuit of something extraordinary, an ecstatic experience in the natural world.

Bani:  What are your plans for after the book release?

James:  Sell, sell, sell! I’m coming full circle on my career, but now I’m pushing a product of my own creation. I want to write popular fiction and hopefully create compelling characters – people of color – who exemplify the best qualities of stewards dedicated to protecting and preserving the natural world.

Bani:  Sounds like a plan!

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Honey, Food is All About Power #Dispatch: Thy Tran

I’VE BEEN CHATTING with travel writers, activists and personalities of color about their experiences navigating the media industry and the globe with an intersectional lens, while exploring themes like power, privilege, place, and identity, themes that are rarely touched on in the mainstream travel space. Read previous #Dispatches here.

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THY TRAN is a San Francisco-based writer and chef-instructor who specializes in the history and culture of food. Her research into how diverse communities grow, cook, sell and eat has taken her from Seoul to Singapore, Cusco to Kochi. In addition to contributing features in publications such as the Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, Saveur and Fine Cooking, she co-authored Asia in the San Francisco Bay Area: A Cultural Travel Guide, Taste of the World, Essentials of Asian Cooking and The Kitchen Companion. Thy is a founder of the Asian Culinary Forum, a nonprofit organization that hosts multidisciplinary symposia exploring the forces that affect Asian communities and their  cuisines around the world.

Bani Amor: Tell us about yourself. How would you describe your work?

Thy Tran: Firstly, I’m a freelance food writer and editor, with an emphasis on providing historical and cultural context in nonfiction culinary reference books (cookbooks, food encyclopedias & dictionaries, travel guide books, etc.). I’m also a chef-instructor (I was trained as a chef and used to work in restaurants), so I teach a range of cooking classes, for both youth and adults, lots of nonprofit cultural centers, culinary academies, and the like.

I started a nonprofit, Asian Culinary Forum, to try and address the media’s messed-up representations and narratives of Asian communities and their food. But that’s definitely a labor of love — all volunteer work but extremely rewarding, too.

For the work itself, I veer strongly away from trend or lifestyle topics. I’m mostly interested in how people cook in their own homes, the kinds of decisions they make for their themselves and their families, and how what we eat is a living thing, always changing, no matter how hard we try to imagine it as “true” or “right” or “authentic.”

I didn’t start out specializing in Asian cuisines (I was trained in “classic” French traditions), but once I started freelancing, it was obvious that people expected me to address Asian cuisines and would, more importantly, pay me to do that. I do LOVE what I do, so no complaints. But there’s definitely some pigeonholing that happens in the professional world.

Bani:  How do power dynamics play out in the ways we read and write about food?

Thy:  Oh, honey, food is ALL about power!

Photos courtesy of Thy Tran
Photos courtesy of Thy Tran

Cookbooks that are meant to be sold to travelers as souvenirs will still have a bit of romanticizing of history, rural communities, mother’s kitchens, etc., and then set up a dichotomy between imperial dishes (which are the ones that tend to become famous in other countries) and “country cooking” of the peasants.

Take any classic cuisine, from France to China to Thailand, and it’s the flavors and stories of the court society that is served for special occasions, including upscale restaurants for travelers. Parallel to that, people like to “discover” and experience rural food off the beaten path. The cookbook industry reflects that tendency to think of food in those two categories. Normal, everyday food regular people eat is not what most people think when they think of the flavors of another country.

There’s a difference between power and privilege. The two are related, of course, and as international travelers and women and people of color, we negotiate them in complex ways.

When I was a student and traveled low budget in Europe, I had trash thrown at me and learned the racial epithets for “Asian” in various countries just by walking down the street. Now, in business dress, people assume I’m Japanese or Chinese, and so they treat me very well, to my face at least, because they think I’ll spend lots of money.

Bani:  Then it shifts when we look at who’s marketing whose culture for which audience and who gets appointed the authority on a country’s cuisine.

Thy:  Ahh, yes. And hence the reason that it was three women of color, all of whom worked in food publishing, who founded the Asian Culinary Forum. We were so tired of seeing others determine the narratives.

Bani: That’s dope.

Thy:  Some would say it’s “the market” who determines what ends up in cookbooks. For example, editors will say that people will want, for example (a real one), a story about clay pots in Vietnamese cooking, because when they go to the restaurant, they always see on the menu clay pot catfish or tofu or whatever dish.

You will try to explain to the editor that NO ONE in Vietnam or no Vietnamese immigrants use clay pots. It was used during times of war and poverty, when the military needed metal or when a person can’t afford modern cookware. But the editor will say: well, we already shot the photo, and the food stylist used a really beautiful clay pot, and so…please write a few paragraphs about this “traditional” method of cooking.

Notice that the readers are always assumed to be white, or at least not of the ethnicity of the author of color. That’s a seriously huge assumption that deeply affects the voice of travel and culture (including food) writing.

Bani:  Yes, the default reader remains white, even though statistics show otherwise.

Thy:  So, how can you argue with “the market” which is a stand-in for “majority” which is stand-in for “white”?

Bani:  And the writer must twist their voice to suit the white gaze. The result in a lot of food and travel writing is you end up getting a lot of white people tryna sound like each other.

Thy:  I used to joke that Saveur magazine had three basic narratives for their features:

1) Back in college, I visited this completely alien country and fell in love with it immediately. I wandered the alleyways and discovered amazing places with real people serving real food. I revisit as often as I can, and I now consider it a second home. Here’s a great recipe for paella.

2) When we fled the war, the only thing we took were the clothes on our backs and our grandmother’s recipe book. Now, join me as I return to my homeland and learn how to make dumplings while reconciling with past devastation and modern development. [Insert requisite description of boy using cell phone while riding a water buffalo.]

3) When I was little, our nanny/cook/farm hand would let me sit on a stool in the kitchen and she’d sing while grinding corn. Here is her recipe for tamales.

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Photo by Myleen Hollero

Bani:  Terrible, please stop!  Is that what you meant by pigeonholing in the industry – getting sicked with the Asian stories, as long as it’s in their voice?

Thy:  I could go on for hours about voice, whose voice becomes expert and why, and the way money becomes a part of that equation. It’s a very touchy topic among my colleagues, and I can tell you that there are many Facebook debates about this among food writers.

Well-meaning white writers feel real confusion and, depending on their personality, varying levels of anger and grief about why we writers of color are upset at the invisible expectations. I should say, invisible to them.

Pet peeves — like anonymity in photo captions (“sidewalk vendor serving up delicious soup”) or tired tropes (“her grandmother’s recipe”) — sound like petty complaints and apparently should be dismissed in the face of a world traveler’s good intentions to explore and educate.

Deeper issues, such as who can become instantly an expert in anything outside of their own experience gets lost in things like “the market” or by explanation of passion being the most important part of travel and writing.

Bani:  Their delicate feelings always gotta come first.

Thy:  I think the privilege of being a blank slate — that any interest can become an expertise (and one that earns you money) — is something still very much taken for granted. On the other hand, I can assure you that there isn’t a single editor who would sign me up for an article on traditional uses of olives, even if I traveled in the Middle East for a summer and read a few cookbooks — which is what many white writers can get away with.

Bani:  Shit. Seems bleak.

Thy:  Actually, I think the whole abundance of unique personal approaches to cooking on the internet now is a good thing for this. When you have gatekeepers, the stories are obviously much more controlled. There isn’t money in internet writing, but then, that’s a good thing for the larger picture.

Bani:  Yes – fuck the gatekeepers. The larger the picture, the better.

Thy:  I also make a point of holding editors accountable for terrible decisions. You don’t want to burn bridges if you plan to keep making money, but there are ways of letting the editors and others in the industry know about irresponsible, unprofessional practices. Once, an editor decided to change my submitted article drastically without letting me know. I wrote a piece on Sikhs and their tradition of serving free food to everyone regardless of race or religion in their gurdwaras. I mentioned a festival in California’s Central Valley where 90,000 people shared food with all-volunteer labor and no money exchanging hands. The editor decided that couldn’t possible be right, and so she just downgraded the attendance to 9,000.

She also shifted the entire article into first person, and even made up some conversations at the temple, in order to make it more “authentic.” This resulted in me seeming to talk while everyone was cooking in the langhar, which would have gone completely against the practice of meditation and silence in that particular kitchen. The article ran that way.

The changes were so egregious that, years later, I mentioned them when I was a speaker at a major food conference in front of nearly a thousand other writers and editors as an example of what needs to change. So, never stop fighting, but you just have to think carefully about where you can make the most impact.

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