For you New York area folks, come out to the Queens Book Festival to see a million brilliant, diverse and famous authors do their thing at Kaufman Astoria Studios next weekend! I’ll be on the 5pm publishing panel talking about DIY culture; reserve your seatshere. It’s free, just a first come first serve type thing. The line-up is incredible; I’m personally *mad* excited to see Edwidge Danticat, Nicole Dennis Benn, Daniel Jose Older, Taye Diggs, Ibi Zoboi, JP Howard and Zetta Elliot, among others. If you’re not in NYC, you can follow the fest on social media at #QBF. I’ll be tweeting as much as I can from @bani_amor. And if you are in NYC, come say hi. See you there!
hey people. I hope you’re enjoying your summers as much as possible because #2k16Problems are real as fuck. I especially hope that, if you’re non-Black like me, you’re working on ensuring that #BlackLivesMatter in terms of your actions, projects, organizing, art, community engagement, interpersonal relationships, volunteer work, putting your money where your mouth is, etc. Let’s get our shit together.
Directed by Bruno Brothers Media wth the help of Queens Nation Films, this teaser for a mini-doc about my work as a diasporic writer, photographer and activist exploring the decolonization of travel culture is being released in conjunction with my crowdfunding campaign. With your donations and shares, I’ll be able to do produce more exciting projects that really delve into the issues I bring up here, because struggling with meeting my survival needs complicates that. The full doc will be released soon! Donate here and thanks for your support!
hey people, thanks for being patient during this lapse in posts. I left nueva york and am back in ecuador but instead of living in Quito like before I’m just traveling around for the next two months. I spent a week at Alas de Luna – encuentro de arte femenino in Cuenca which was organized by one of my best ecua feminist panas. The city has been freezing and gorgeous and I’ve gotten to chill with mad ecua women artists doing rad things in dance, theater, music, film, writing and activism. A highlight was splitting a tab of acid with one of my favs – rapper Black Mama – after her set that closed the encuentro. Then I took a bus back to the selva amazónica with a friend and spent the week chillin’, writing, taking little trips, being queer in nature, dreaming up big plans for the revolución with my friends, and swimming in the river.
I didnt mean to photograph her, but she walked into my photo of the door
So I’ve been planning and mobilizing over the last few months and I’m excited to announce some cool projects, namely a WEBSERIES on street food and decolonization, an online roundtable discussion on decolonizing travel media with dope panelists, a live event in NYC along the same lines, a new column for Chica Magazine, a new zine, and other things I do for very little credit and basically no pay. I’m excited that our next #Dispatch interview – my series with travel writers and personalities of color – will be a roundtable discussion on Traveling While Trans. Three trans or nonbinary writers/activists/travelers of color will share their experiences in crossing borders, boarding planes, TSA fails and why they travel. So stay tuned for that! And if you’re a traveler/writer/activist of color and got shit to say about place with an intersectional and critical lens, get in touch! (e-mail is in about page)
Next week I’ll have a post up about my second time at the nation’s only multi-genre workshop for writers of color, VONA. Read about my experience at #VONA14 and the importance of travel writing by and for people of color here. In the meantimes, like our FB page to get mad stuff in your feed daily and to join in on some thoughtful convo, follow me on Twitter cause I’m constantly raging against the machine over there, and follow me on IG cause y’all like pretty photos and that’s what IG is about, I guess. For now, I’ll leave you with some sweet travel moments over the past few weeks.
A historical tour of Cuenca, Ecuador from the Cañari resistance to Incan subjugation to Spanish colonization and historical markers in the city today.
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.
Paula Young Lee: Your body is a foreign country: foreign to you, unintelligible to others. You may find resolution by narrating it. The first novel, The Princess of Cleves, was written by an aristocratic woman who discovered the now-expected convention of the interior voice. She was writing about her thoughts, the miracle being that she had some. Now, I think the task is to narrate our bodies, not as colonizers but native inhabitants. It sounds odd because “of course, we inhabit our bodies!” But increasingly, with avatars and the internet and media projections of our perfected selves, we don’t.
I have been thinking about female body as a territory to be claimed, but one that women have difficulty claiming as their own, even when it is their own body! Narratives, reflexive gazes, these get in the way. But pain exposes the junctions.
Bani Amor: Yes, girls grow up with distorted visions of themselves.
Paula: Exactly. So what is a girl supposed to look like, be like, act like? One of the advantages of traveling is that it shows you how others perceive you. It lifts the veil of one culture and tosses out and shrouds you with another…but just for a split second, you get to see behind the curtain. If you are paying attention.
Bani: I feel like, as a person of color or second generation immigrant growing up in the States, I’ve always felt like a foreigner, always aware of how others perceive me.
Paula: It can feel like a hall of mirrors trying to sort out self-perception from others’ perceptions of you. I’ve always felt like two people in one body. But I don’t think it’s a consequence of growing up a minority in a very white state. It is just the way my mind works.
Bani: I grew up in this hardcore multicultural neighborhood in New York City, very queer too. It wasn’t until we moved to Florida and then began traveling around the United States and Canada that I realized how “othered” people perceived me as. It just can feel uncomfortable not seeing those mirrored images of yourself in others, in your community. In parts of the U.S., it was downright violent. I think it enabled me to be able to travel to other parts of the world and stick out and be OK with that.
Paula: I tend to respond to the emotional states of others, without expectation of help or harm. When I think about it, I have had quite a few harrowing experiences, traveling alone, but those stories aren’t the ones I want to tell. Danger and safety aren’t my focus. I’m more interested in finding out it there is hope in the world. Also, food.
Bani: There is hope in food.
Paula: I think so. Or, at least, there can be. There is also a great deal of truth. Bullshit tastes bad. Because I like getting back in the kitchen, I have made friends around the world. There is a real difference between expecting to being served, even as a traveler, and being a person who asks you to show her how to make it herself.
Bani: That seems like the low-impact way of traveling. Food is one of the first worlds to be affected in a tourist economy.
Paula: That’s what happens when you’re poor! Can’t take your universe with you…must adapt to the way the regular folks live. One of my dreams is to be on a cooking show that lets me travel around the world, get into home kitchens, and cook with ordinary people at home.
Bani: And you were vegetarian for a while, how did that affect the way you ate on the road?
Paula: I was vegetarian for a very long time, and I am allergic to all seafood. Every time I visited a new country, I would end up with a whole new set of food allergies. So I mainly ate rice. Which isn’t sustainable over time. This is partly what prompted my interest in wild food. Traveling widely also impresses you with the importance of culinary diversity. This is the opposite of the food mall, which is actually the reverse: a monolith masquerading as a motley assortment.
A bee sting will kill me. This is probably the reason why I don’t much care to dwell on danger, because if I did, I would never leave the house. My allergies ensure that I cannot take my relationship to food, or to nature, for granted. So I think about these negotiations all the time, and then wonder how to translate them for people who don’t have similar obstacles preventing them from living carelessly on this earth.
Bani: So how did you go from traveling in Europe to hunting in rural New England?
Paula: The mechanism was online dating! I was in Paris, France, trying to find a suitable man for my friend in Boston. As I was looking, I stumbled across John’s profile — no photo, two sentences describing a bourgeois life that didn’t interest me one bit. But I felt a tingle up the back of my neck that I have never felt before, and it wouldn’t go away. So I sent him a message. He replied right away. And that was that.
Paula: The trick is being confident in yourself and trusting your emotions. At first, my friends were appalled because he’s a Republican who wears a suit and tie to work. Now they all want to know where they can find one like him. For them, it was a lesson in looks that deceive. Having preconceptions about people that later proved wrong. So eventually, a few years in, we bought a house together in Paris, Maine. The house is the subject of the next memoir.
Bani: Were you hunting before you moved there?
Paula: No. In the memoir, I tried to convey a sense of the patience that hunting requires. Between John and myself, it took years of me running away, leaving the country, going off and doing my own thing, and him being willing to wait. (For my sister, this period remains a source of much hilarity because she likes to remind me how hard I made him work.) The dynamic is much like that between a hunter and the quarry, which is not the predator/prey axis so often touted by lad mags. The quarry is not passive, and hunters must be honorable, setting the highest ethical standards in order to land the one they want. That one is not interchangeable with others that might happen to be bopping around. Distilled, the underlying sentiment is both profoundly romantic and incredibly raw.
John says he can hear me when I think. I suspect that animals can too. You have to empty your mind. This happens when on a hard hike, for example. You can’t plot your novel, worry about the bills, or think about recipes. You end up focusing entirely on where to place your feet and moving ever forward. Sometimes I think this is how wild animals function. Feet, food, sleep, poop.
Bani: Would you call your work travel writing?
Paula: Not in the conventional sense of the genre. But as a short and round woman of color, it is sort of impossible for me to adhere to the conventions, yes? My perspective is just too different. I don’t so much travel as I take up residence, in the manner of a hermit crab, and snap at passers-by trying, literally and figuratively, to pick me up when all I want to do is hide quietly and study the local fauna.
Bani: You’re an anthropological traveler.
Paula: Yes, I would agree with that. So in Deer Hunting in Paris, I basically inverted the genre by observing, then writing about white rural Americans as if they were a curious tribe practicing strange customs.
Paula: The construct of leaving the country, then coming back to the state where I grew up, is a way to describe the disconnect between two forms of self — the one shaped by culture (Paris, France), and the one born of nature (Paris, Maine). White rural America is where I was raised, yet it is a struggle to call it my home.
I was instantly comfortable in France. At the time, being in Paris fed many needs. However, I wrestled with the idea of moving to France permanently, as had many of my friends — some of whom got married to a French person, others who just stayed illegally. My reluctance to take either step was evidence enough that it wasn’t for me. The city was ultimately too restless, jostling with seekers.
Bani: What are the challenges of living in Paris, Maine?
Paula: The renovations to the old house have turned it into a giant construction zone which feels as if it will never be done. The next memoir was supposed to be an American version of a Year in Provence. Unfortunately, it is starting to turn into a Decade in Paris (Maine).
Bani: Haha, I’m sorry!
Paula: It’s okay. It is a minefield for situational humor. I want a cat and John hates them. There is the woodpile to stack, wood to split, and the plan to hopefully set up for sheep. But all of this while a pain, is also fun and good. I want to keep doing this until I am too old. The people who used to supply our mutton were in their 90s before they finally retired from sheeping.
Bani: You def need some mutton and a kitty.
Paula: I think so! They make me happy, but like everything else, they require a commitment to staying in place.
Bani: Which you may have now more than ever?
Paula: Yah, my relationship is rock solid and everything, now, builds up from it. So, on some level, going out into the world on my own made me throw out the superfluous bits, forcing me to figure out the core values I carried everywhere instead of things. He’d gone through something similar due to his divorce. So we were both very aware of and honest about who we were, and what we wanted. Which isn’t the same as having a blueprint for the future. More like quality ingredients for a potentially fantastic dish that you have to make up on the spot.
Bani: Amazing analogy. I think we’re going to wrap up soon, do you have any final thoughts?
Paula: My usual advice is this: be honest with yourself about who you are when you are all alone, in the dark, and the rest will follow. It’s not very deep, I realize, but it’s surprising how far it can get you.
Bani: It brings it back to what we started talking about, the way we see ourselves, and how easily that can be distorted by external eyes, but being honest is definitely the first step to anything and everything, including healing those distortions.
Paula: Yes. Sometimes we think we are seeing ourselves through our own eyes, when it turns out we’re still seeing (and judging ourselves) through our mother’s/teachers’/society’s eyes. That’s the episteme in operation, to use a big SAT word. Part of being a woman of color is having to fight through the insecurity that comes from constantly feeling as if you don’t have the power to assert yourself or your opinions inside a whitewashed space. Leaving the country helped me develop a thicker skin and to rid myself of those kinds of doubts. Now I am trying to shed the armor of my intellect. Which is why I am now writing novels.
Bani: Traveling and writing can do wonders. ■ If you’ve enjoyed this or other #Dispatches, which we work on for free, feel free to donate via Paypal to firstname.lastname@example.org or by clicking on the ‘Donate’ button on the top right column of this page. If you’d like to donate using something other than Paypal, get in touch.
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:
Bani Amor: Writing Her Own Story
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.
What barriers have you found in promoting POC visibility in the travel writing arena?
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.
What have been the most powerful experiences or influences in developing yourself as a travel writer/blogger?
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.