I’m glad to be a regular contributor to Paste Magazine’s shiny new Travel section. My first piece for them is 5 Underwater Cities You Can See at Low Tide, where I got to write on my weird obsession with reservoir noir. Check it, comment and share!
Happy New Year folks! Let’s start it off with this interview Mary Ann Thomas did with me about working in travel writing as a person of mixed identities. Check it:
Originally published on Where’s MAT on November 10, 2014
For a long time, I have found it hard to read work by self-proclaimed travel writers whose writing serves to marginalize the people and places where they travel. I found myself scouring the internet and bookshelves for reading to inspire me, but just found myself angry. I was first introduced to the work of Quito-based Bani Amor through Daniel, who linked me to her piece entitled Travel Is Not A White Boys Club (And Never Has Been) Dispatch: Moving Black. Bani’s site, titled Everywhere All The Time, showcases her own travel writing as a queer, mestiza, poor traveler. Here, she also showcases conversations with writers of color who share their experiences in ways I had personally never seen before. From the bicyclist, Erick Cedeño, who recently biked from New Orleans to Niagra Falls on the Underground Railroad Route, to Thy Tran, who shines some light onto how food, travel, and power play with each other in the media, Bani is able to access topics that are often swept under the rug in the travel writing world. While she’s extremely busy and on another continent, I got a chance to learn a little about Bani’s world.
Of your work, I am most familiar with Everywhere All The Time. How did this come to be?
It’s the name I give my blog, zine and social media handles. I was a luddite for a long time, resisting cell phones, laptops and even mp3 players back in the day, so I pushed back against the notion that you had to be uber-connected to be a travel writer. I just wanted a simple website where an editor could see what my work was all about. But I eventually got with it and expanded Everywhere All The Time to become a platform for decolonial travel media, something that doesn’t really exist out there.
How do you describe yourself, to yourself? (Or, what identifiers do you use and why?)
A lot: I’m loud about being queer because cisheteronormative society blows, open about being mestiza because being part indigenous and part Spanish says a lot about my journey as a part of a collective identity, pointed about describing myself as a travel writer because it’s a big fuck you to the powers that be who have been running travel media for centuries that I’m this megamarginalized kid writing my own story instead of letting these tourists do it, and I think that being a poor Latinx from the ghetto connecting to the Earth and making cross-cultural connections with other outliers is pretty radical. You’ll notice that these identities speak to simultaneity and duality. That’s where I belong.
Being able to pay the bills. Most editors in travel writing are white and publishing petty fluff and there’s a lot of competition out there so you’ve got to make sure you angle is tight and storytelling skills on point. It’s slim pickings out there for good well-paying outlets that dig more “controversial” and literary shit. Then I see other travel writers of color writing about vacations and I’m like that’s great, you do you, but it feeds back into that colonialist mentality and I don’t want to align myself with that. All writers complain about shitty pay but the gap is wider when you’re female, of color, born in a poor zip code and writing about things we as a culture would rather not discuss.
One of the best and most recent experiences that helped me develop as a travel writer was being able to attend VONA/Voices, an annual multi-genre workshop for writers of color held in Berkeley. I got to be a part of the inaugural travel writing class with folks who wouldn’t necessarily identify themselves as travel writers; I’ve always held on to the notion that travel writing could be about anything and everything – we all move through places that shape us in myriad ways – and the more expansive and inclusive the genre is, the better.
Who do you ideally surround yourself with?
Artists, immigrants, travelers and queer people of color. There’s a lot of overlap there. I can count my white friends and straight friends on one hand. Other queer artists and travelers of color usually understand my struggle – that big financial one – they understand the otherness, they understand what it’s like to try to live on your art when you’re coming from a poor background. I carry my working-class, immigrant – and to an extant, ghetto – background on my sleeve so if people can get down with that, awesome.
Hey folks! Things have been quiet around here ’cause I’m busy fighting the Disabled Industrial Complex in Ecuador and I’m working on some new exciting writing projects. Have no fear – #Dispatches: Conversations with Travel Writer of Color will be back and be BOMB in 2k15. In the meantimes, check out my latest piece, A Confluence which was just published over on Amy Gigi Alexander’s stunning site as part of her Stories of Good series. It’s the heartfelt story of a 24 year-old bipolar Bani Amor on the edge of a manic attack in the city of Montreal. Highlights include: queer adventures, daydrinking, weed smoking. Read on!
Hola beloved community,
I’m raising some emergency funds for my healthcare. If you could donate or share my story please do! I’m not asking for much, just a few bucks will honestly go a long way. Below are the deets. Make a secure donation by clicking here.
I moved back to Quito, Ecuador seven months ago to have access to affordable healthcare so that I could address my different disabilities, which doctors are still trying to diagnose. But insurance payments, co-pays and medication (not covered by my insurance) all add up, in addition to having to pay extra for tests (cat scans, X-rays, echos) for my pre-existing conditions. Yesterday, my doctor sent me to buy a brace for my right hand, but I can’t afford it. I’m a struggling writer and don’t have the funds to cover these medical costs, so if you could just donate a few bucks, it would go a long way. Donate here.
What up folks,
It’s been a while since we’ve had a legit one-on-one. In the meantimes, I’ve been working hard to deliver you the #Dispatch interview series with travel writers of color, our last one of which featured writer Nandini Seshadri in the talk Traveling While White, Traveling While Brown. Meanwhile, our talk with Abena Clarke, Travel Is Not A White Boy’s Club (And Never Has Been) was recently republished by Matador Network. The comments on there remind me how important this project is and I’m pumped to keep bringing you this suff. If you are someone you know would like to be interviewed, get in touch at email@example.com.
Also also, Nathan Mizrachi over at Life is a Camino interviewed me about traveling on the cheap in his masterpost – Not Rich, Just Savvy: 9 Travel Bloggers Share Their Budget Travel Tips. Actual quote – “Sell all your shit, travel light and go far.” – Me.
Finally, if reading about canines in space, Colorado’s trans community or James Baldwin’s exile floats your boat, you better check out my Legends and Expats series over on Nowhere Magazine, which focuses on diaspora.
And if you’re into showing love, do it with your dollar bills! Click on the Donate button over on your right ’cause I’m cute and broke.
“The virtue of travel is that it purges life before filling it up.” Nicolas Bouvier
All I wanted was to go back home. After spending a dope month in the East Bay for a writing workshop, I had to catch a plane to New York to pick up the rest of my stuff before hopping on another flight to Ecuador, where I live, the next morning. But after layovers in Las Vegas and Detroit, my flight was cancelled. That blasphemy of an airline, Spirit, got me on a plane to New York two days later, effectively making me miss my Ecuador flight, which cost an arm and a leg to reschedule. I had 2 days in the Clarion in Romulus, Michigan to kill, in which I fought and pleaded with airline officials and subsequently downed a case of Angry Orchard in the bathtub.
The only gleaming nugget to come out of that pile of shit was that Avianca, who were flying me to Ecuador, upgraded me to business class, and, as Joan Didion would (probably never) say, the term that came to mind was: BALLIN’. I’ve got a bad back that keeps me from sitting for too long and it’s made flying a nightmare, but my business class seat transformed into a twin bed and I was gifted with a real blanket and pillow, lots of wine and plenty of other free shit.
In the morning I had a layover in Bogotá. In the morning I had an intense migraine and a sinus thing that flared the whole right side of my face up in pain. In the morning I had some sort of muscle relaxer hangover and could barely function. My luck comes in spurts and then reverts back to its default state.
In the morning, our plane curled skyward like a rebellious strand of hair. The flight was short, and we were soon descending into a heavy swell of clouds, thick and amorphous, as if all the shadows in the world had been sucked into a mass in the sky. After a bit of turbulence, a dark city emerged on the underside, glittering in the civil twilight, surrounded by the crooked spine of mountains that make up the Andes. I tried to look for my home amongst the lego-like squares, and then realized, with no surprise whatsoever, that I thought of Quito as home. The words that came to mind were: worth it.
As I sit around a discounted hotel room in Romulus, Michigan, waiting for a storm in New York to abate so that I could fly in, pick up some stuff and head back home to Ecuador, it’s hard to believe that one of the best months of my life has just passed by. My travels in the East Bay for the VONA/Voices travel writing workshop for writers of color were blessed by new friends, old ones, sunshine, Pride, solidarity and love. I wanna say thanks to all the folks who made it possible.
First of all, to Faith Adiele for educating and inspiring the shit outta me, for taking me to a Russian bathhouse when I really needed some healing, for having my back/preserving the sancitity of the workshop experience from day one. To Djoser Imhotep (and Justin), Austin Pritzkat (and Carlos), Mish, Dreu Oko & the Chestnut house for being gracious-as-fuck hosts. To Jake Salt & Kelly for skipping the march and spending Pride Sunday chillin in a kiddie pool with sangria, watermelon, weed and barbeque on the sunniest day of my stay.
To Giovannié Núñez-Dúeñas for smoking me out pretty much every day, to Alan ‘FthemPapers’ for spinning me across the dance floor, rings flying everywhere, while we brought the house down with our salsa dancing at VONA’s quinceñera party (afterward, Junot Díaz gave me two thumbs up and a big smile; who does that?) and to the Ecuadorian crew for representing: Fernanda Snellings, Sonia Guiñansaca, Julie Quiroz and Emilia Fiallo. Mad love to my VONA travel sisters Anu Taranath, Adwoa Gyimah-Brempong, Adriana Páramo, Marie-Francoise Theodore, Lizzetta, Monique Sanchez and the Doctor, Sriram Shamasunder and especially to my affinity allies Celeste Chan and Cristina Golondrina Rose for being Everything. Finally, I wanna thank Kira Allen for them hugs. Really.
Not only was the VONA/Voices workshop a life-changing experience, but one I got to share with lots of beautiful folks in a truly gorgeous setting. I have my work cut out for me. [Hover cursor over photos for captions; click to enlarge.]