Tag Archives: Journalism

Sky’s the Limit: On Bourdain, Memoir, and the Pitfalls and Potential of Travel Lit

Hey People,

Happy Pride! I’m here, I’m queer, let’s get into this new update.

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Bustle is running a series called Have Books, Will Travel, featuring essays by non-normative travel writers on the genre, so of course you know I had some things to say. I wanted to focus on how this genre is crafted in such a way to weed out commentary that isn’t 100% sunny, as in, of a leisurely or commercial nature, and how that can suppress certain necessary stories and voices. Writing memoir should seemingly rectify that, since it’s all about being vulnerable, having perspective, and being reflective of one’s actions. But let’s be real—we can do better.

Travel writers lie to themselves and their readers when they front like visiting a place makes them authorities on it, because the average white American doesn’t know many people from that place, but does have a few friends who went there once. They lie when they add a touch of self-deprecation to their stories, because humility seems smart in hindsight, and because all those people who witnessed them being annoying tourists are still in that place far away and can’t attest that these tourists haven’t learned sh*t. And too often, travel writers lie when they write like race, gender, and class are foreign concepts that exist outside of the scope of travel writing when they’re actually located at the heart of it.

I originally wrote the paragraph above using “we” instead of “they” but it was changed, and now I wonder if the hate I’ve gotten for writing this would be less so if those who are allergic to conversations about race and travel had read the original. But I immediately know the answer is no. Race is just one aspect of this dialogue and this essay isn’t even about whiteness or racism so if for some reason you feel personally attacked, figure it out I guess.

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So I was on the radio the other day and was asked about Anthony Bourdain, may he rest in peace. I thought about him in relation to this essay because it’s about honesty, about being real about your positionality in a place and as a person writing about it, even when you’re unsure about what that is, or feel uncomfortable about it. I feel that as travelers and travel writers, people who are always foreign somewhere, what we do is all about getting comfortable with the unknown. Bourdain didn’t always have easy answers or perfect politics, but he did always seem—to me, at least, and I started watching from the very beginning—to be honest about this. To ask questions he didn’t have the answers to, and to tread into other people’s homelands and homes ready to be schooled, to learn. We need more of that. And that’s all I’m tryna say here.

I try to identify the colonizer in my writing in an attempt to reach a deeper truth about how I move about the world, because from a different perspective, I have the normative voice, and I’d be a liar, and thus, a sh*tty writer, if I didn’t acknowledge that.

There’s so much revolutionary potential in writing stories about what is lost and gained in the process of migration to adhere to outdated story structures that deny the depth and complexity of our experiences. I think the way to write decolonized travel narratives is to pursue our truths, the truth, so doggedly that it leads us off the path of tradition and into terra incognita. From there, the sky’s the limit.

So what travel writers or books do you think get this right, or close to it? What do your manuscripts look like? Have you thought about any of this stuff while writing or reading travel? Do tell in the comments. You can read the essay in full here.

 

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We Belong Here: Women of Color Write Travel

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

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

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

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

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

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

Living for the Legacy: On Misogynoir and Climate Disasters

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

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

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

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

Jeri Hilt

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

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

Going Beyond the Binary

Hey folks,

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!

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Archer Magazine Issue #7

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.

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Get your copy of the magazine here or see where it’s stocked around you here.

Article 71: From Ecuador to Standing Rock, Water is Life

(Image of Nélida Ayay Chilón via Vimeo)

“Drop by drop, the world is ending.” While Indigenous water protectors were being attacked in Standing Rock Sioux territory from Spring into Winter, fighting to keep the Dakota Access Pipeline from being built through their lands, the folks at Apogee Journal were curating a folio of literary and visual artwork in solidarity and resistance. The result is a staggering compilation of over 20 voices (including mine) entitled #NoDAPL #StillHere: Native and Anti-Colonial Craft Against Dispossession. It is a must-read, a must-see and a must-share! And it is more timely than ever. An excerpt from my contribution, Article 71, on page 1:

I was hunched over a cup of instant coffee, half-awake after pulling a night shift at the hotel, when I saw half the street in front of the breakfast spot fill with protesters marching, mostly elder campesinxs, Pachakutik flags in hand. Most foreigners confuse them with gay pride flags, since they both weave together the colors of the rainbow, but they’re the flag of the left-wing political party that many Indigenous Ecuadorians see as sellouts, though they can still be seen waving triumphantly across the country. Perhaps this is an ode to the time Pachakutik rallied to change the constitution in 1998, making Ecuador the first country in the world to recognize the Rights of Nature, or Pachamama, amongst other progressive wins. Being queer and mestizx, the Pachakutik flag hangs in my room as a testament to my both-and-neitherness.

Article 71 focuses on Indigenous water struggles in Ecuador and throughout the Andes, my personal experiences with water and some film critique on the issue. Apogee gave me the freedom to transgress genre a bit and I’m honored to have the piece included among so much vital and powerful work, mostly by Indigenous artists. Know that the struggle at Standing Rock is not over. Know that water is life, and must be protected at all costs.

LISTEN: Unnatural Disasters, Climate Change, Ecuador and Beyoncé

Hey people. So while I was in Ecuador this summer writing about the earthquake in Ecuador this spring, an earthquake hit. I was fine, but it exacerbated the urgency I felt in writing about disasters brought about by climate change and how they affect the most marginalized among us who don’t usually benefit from aid, but instead are all the more oppressed by the disaster capitalism that props up in the aftermath. I talked about all of this and more on Bitch Magazine’s Popaganda podcast. Listen below.

Subscribers to Bitch can look out for my essay Unnatural Disasters in the Chaos issue while the rest of y’all can just chill ’til it goes live online or hits newsstands over the next few weeks.

April POC Travel Book Club

hey peeples,

Our first virtual book club meeting was ten kinds of awesome. We discussed Shailja Patel’s Migritude which led us to talk about migrating as queer/women of color, our family/ancestor’s migrations, leisure travel and solidarity, and more. If you’re interested and haven’t signed up, you can do so here. (FYI, this is a POC-exclusive space).

In other news, my next #Dispatch interview with community organizer and non-stop traveler India Harris (@VagabondDred on Twitter) will be a breakdown of the ABCs of Not Cool language commonly used in travel writing, and there’s so much colonialist fuckery that goes down in that space that it will be a two-parter! Words like exotic, authentic, g*psy, paradise, etc. will be discussed, and if you wanna add your own, do it in the comments.

Finally, I’m putting together a Press page to showcase lil’ mentions of Everywhere All The Time in the media. Stay tuned.