A few months ago an essay of mine, Beyond Binary, was published in Archer Magazine’s THEY/THEIRS issue dedicated to non-binary gender identities. It’s the first time my travel photography has been published in a print magazine, and an internationally-circulated Australian one, at that!
It is when I’m moving in between places that I feel the most pressure to be pinned down. As a travel writer and diasporic person of color I spend a lot of time in transit, and it’s this condition that reveals to me time and time again that places, like identities, are always in flux, and that borders aren’t as binary as they’re made out to be. Borders, like the gender binary, cut right through me, through so many of us. They attempt to neatly and quietly delineate difference no matter how much it continues to overlap, intersect and blur. It is between the constructed binaries of place, language and gender that I feel the most at home and most under attack, for it is these in-between spaces that are the most heavily policed.
Get your copy of the magazine here or see where it’s stocked around you here.
People – yesterday, May 16th marked one month since a catastrophic, devastating, merciless earthquake shook the tierra we call Ecuador. My heart has been broken in ways I’m not ready to recount right now, but I will use this platform to ask you to support my people in our time of need. Just hours after the quake hit, while I was still waiting to hear back from family (they are all alive and well) an ad-hoc team of activist and artist Ecuadorian immigrants and Ecuadorians-in-diaspora organized to form the initiative Chicha Radical, to draw attention to the sociopolitical consequences of this disaster and to fund social justice-minded aid to the communities we know would be further marginalized by such a disaster – the Afro-Ecuadorian, Indigenous, Afro-Indigenous, trans, intersex, femme and sex worker communities living in the affected zones.
I personally coordinate with our activist organizers on the ground in Ecuador to ensure that every cent from our GoFundMe campaign makes it directly into their pockets. We are also funding rebuilding efforts for the Echeverria Guerrero and Menendez Ortiz families who lost everything and are homeless right now, making sure that these individuals, who are workers living in rural areas with kids, elders, babies, etc. aren’t overlooked by the mainstream channels of aid that never quite make it to the people who need it the most. We are still about 11k away from our goal and trust me when I say that the situation is still dire and the need is still urgent. Please donate any amount of money and share our campaign link with your networks. If you have ever traveled to my country as a tourist, it’s now your job to give back. You can read about our sister organizations and collectives in-depth on our GoFundMe page as well as find us on Facebook as Chicha Radical and on Twitter @Chicha_Radical. If you have any questions, feel free to get in touch; my e-mail is on my About page.
And let me just say one last thing: if you see anyone insisting that tourism will somehow benefit the people of Ecuador right now, they are dead motherfucking wrong. This is not the time to capitalize off of our suffering.
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.
Bani Amor: Alright so let’s get into it! Please introduce yourself, what you do, what AfroLatino Travel is and your place in it.
Dash Harris: I’m Dash, co-founder and team member of AfroLatino Travel, the travel and culture resource of the African Diaspora in the Americas.
Bani: Can you give us some background on AfroLatino Travel? How it started and why.
Dash: I’ve traveled extensively throughout Latin America over the past six years for my documentary series [Negro: A docu-series about Latino identity]. I’m personally and professionally drawn to predominant Afro-descended communities and regions and I noticed when I would inquire about how to get there, most people would immediately question why did I want to go *there* or remark that it was “very dangerous.” Basically code for too Black.
It was especially jarring when I inquired about how to get to Palenque de San Basilio. I was told it was “dangerous,” so I asked if they knew the reputation that Colombia has on a global scale and if they were perturbed by it, why impose that thinking on a particular town that actually does not even have a police presence as it is tiny and everyone knows everyone. Crime is almost non-existent in Palenque de San Basilio.
To find out how to get to most Afro-descended regions, it was a feat of information-gathering from many many sources, mostly personal blogs, and I thought that there has to be another way for folks to access information, especially other Afro-descendants interested in connecting with the wider Diaspora. Being from one of those “too black and dangerous” regions in Panama, I thought it was time for a way to do tourism that was not exploitative and actually is led by locals who are consistently blocked from access in the industry.
Gabino, my tour guide in Palenque said the only tourists that visit are white, and he would love to have more Afrodescendant tourists visit.
Besides, these regions are always the most beautiful – beautiful weather, great food, great people and with profound and powerful history not only to the greater country they are in but also the Afro root that has sustained its very existence. And it’s more of an “adventure” because these places are hard to get to, which is a blatant exhibition of the marginalization and neglect of the state toward the population that resides there.
Bani: Reaching Black(er) regions in Latin America can be such a relajo.I remember my first time traveling in Ecuador I opened up a Lonely Planet guidebook and was reading the Esmeraldas section. It came with a warning not to visit there and to watch your shit if you go cause you’ll get robbed and in the same sentence mentioned that it was a majority Black area. If we think about the extent to which anti-Black racism affects travel and access, it’s pretty extreme.
Dash: I’ve been trying to get to Esmeraldas for theee longest. Oh yea the anti-Blackness in travel guides. Fun! One time I picked up a few travel guidebooks on Panama and sat down with Lamar to read the section on Colón together to see how obscene they could get.One woman had never heard of the Black christ of Portobelo (Panama) and I was like WHO THE HELL DOESN’T KNOW ABOUT THE BLACK CHRIST? The same with El Chota (Ecuador), a soccer player-making region that the state doesn’t invest in. It makes no sense. Fútbolbeing a religion – invest in that!
Bani: Nope, those are always the most underdeveloped areas, especially touristically. Ecuador’s current #AllYouNeedIsEcuador tourist campaign leaves places like Esmeraldas and El Chota in the dust, for instance.
Dash: Per usual, and it isn’t until our regions are recognized nationally or somewhere else that the state then says “yea that’s us.”
Bani: The fact that folks don’t usually correlate Blackness with Latin America has something to do with how the tourist industry still markets these places.
Dash: Absolutely – BUT wanna partake in Black cultural manifestations – the music, the food, the party. We are allowed to do that, fine, just don’t go beyond that – the sports, the sex tourism. When I was in Managua I was a SPECTACLE which was so mind-boggling to me as there are Afro-Nicaraguans. The mestizos pointed and stared like I had five heads. That never happened to me in my entire life and I’ve traveled to many places with under 10% afro-descendants. In even the whitest places, it didn’t compare to the othering in Managua.
Bani: What did you make of that experience?
Dash: That Nicaragua has a lot of work to do. When I mentioned I was going to the coast, a hostel owner said, “Oh yes, that culture is really about partying and they do the maypole and eat fish but here in the capital it’s more calm, more laid back,” and I’m like, “So they do the maypole everyday or just on May 1st for the annual maypole celebration?” It is severe othering, which is interesting because I saw a lot of afro-descendants among those mestizos.
Bani: Leading into my next question, which I hope is not redundant, what would you say is the significance of what you’re doing with AfroLatino travel?
Dash: Helping to connect the African Diaspora (in the Americas) in ways that benefit all involved. Now of course we’re mindful that not all can travel so we are speaking from a privileged perspective. Afro-descendants don’t own their labor when it comes to their access in the tourism industry and limited access is getting even more limited because of multinationals encroaching on and even running them off their very land. So AfroLatino travel connects travelers to locals because locals can explain and show their own culture better than anyone else can.
Bani: Of course. What do you see as a result of bridging diasporic folks and locals? What change, if any, do you think it brings about?
Dash: That’s the best part!! OK so I have a short anecdote. I was in Orinoco chatting with a Garifuna drummer; my partner is a drummer and I was talking about the Batádrums. I came back with videos I shot in Cuba and it turned into this really dope dialogue about Afro-Cubans, Garifunas and Afro-Panamanians. They were loving it and so was I. All of that is to say: magic happens, man. When you get long lost cousins together, magic happens. I don’t know what else to say really.
When you get long lost cousins together, magic happens.
On a cultural level, socially, psychologically, mentally, and yes, economically, the goods and services paid would be going to the afro-descendant community and not the establishment. That’s the malembo element of AfroLatino travel. (Malembo were the friendships Africans made whether in the crossing of the Atlantic or in the Americas; they were bonds that made them feel a deep obligation to help one another, and that’s just how I feel, serving and building with my community continent-wise, because America is a continent *ahem* as we all know lol.)
Bani: Jaja. I think it’s that affirming of each other’s experiences that’s so powerful, in the face of violent rampant erasure.
Dash: Yes! You’re more eloquent with it lol. I remember one time in Utila, Honduras, I’m sitting on the corner chilling with some elder men and a young girl selling mangos and one of the guys was shocked that I was hanging out with them because tourists never talk to us. They were English-speaking afro-descendants in a Hispanophone-dominant country; my family shares that history in Panama, so it was like, ok, I’m among family. I don’t really feel like a tourist.
Bani: Like I started out saying at the beginning of this talk, white tourism is (generally) mad different from what POC experience when the travel. In your story, you were a part of the community in a way. And from that comes a dedication to tell stories about those places and their people with some justice.
Dash: Absolutely! Yes! Exactly! I said this with the travel guides saying “don’t step foot there” it’s like, um, there are actual human beings that live in these places. It is disgusting. Whites always gotta insert themselves in every corner or crook ever. Just leave us alone!
Bani: And centralize themselves in every single thing. The majority of travel writing books should just be called The White Experience in X Country. Alright, let’s wrap up. Do you have any final thoughts? Plans for the future of AfroLatino Travel?
Dash: Just that aside from our trips, tours and informational content, expect more accessible afro-diasporic travel, cultural exchange and sustainable community building coming to an app near you.
Bani: Can’t wait!
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hey people, last week i mentioned writing for Nowhere’s Magazine’s blog, and i just wanted to expand on that, ’cause i know some of y’all will be down to hear it! i’m working on two different series: Expats, a series on diaspora that focuses on places foreigners form communities, stories about displacement and profiles of people who lived between identities. Legends is a series profiling personalities and places that have left a mark on our social landscape but are on the verge of lore, like communities at risk of endangerment, people with obsolete skills and explorers whose stories ended in mystery.
Here are two examples and excerpts that were recently published on the site. Feel free to like, comment, share & shit. Legends: Flying Circus Balancing a reed flute in one hand and beating out an ancient rhythmic prayer on a small drum with the other, El Caporal stands 150 feet above the ground atop an erect pole, overseeing the flight of four young dancers gliding counterclockwise around him, like a human pinwheel. The acrobats, known as “bird men” among the Totonac of Veracruz, Mexico, are connected to the pole by a cord of rope wrapped around their waists, and slowly uncoiled from the top, the acrobats descending upside down, with arms outstretched, to the High Priest’s unrelenting tune. Expats: Babble On Jackson Heights began to draw in a boom of enterprising immigrants when reforms loosened New York immigration laws in the 1960s, and today represents the city’s second-largest population of foreign-born residents. One can walk through streets like Kalpana Chawla Way, where bearded vendors canvass gold bangles and spangly saris over a soundtrack of Bollywood hits beating from the nearest shop window, while the IRT # 7 “International Line” rattles overhead every few minutes. And a few blocks away on Calle Colombia, you can order a cafe con leche from a Beijing native in the neighborhood’s most beloved Chino-Latino joint.