Tag Archives: Tourism

When the Sex Tourists are White Women

Hey folks, I Storified some thoughts I tweeted about white women who exploit and fetishize men (and boys) of color when they travel, and how flawed reportage on this usually frames the situation as a temporary phenomenon rather than a symptom of much larger structures. Clink on the image to read the whole thingy in full and feel free to share. Send me your thoughts in the comments or on Twitter.


Also, I’ve been reworking the website a lot so if you have trouble viewing some things that’s why! If you’ve noticed, I recently added a Services page, where I detail my feedback and editing side hustles backed up with some client testimonials. I specifically recommend this for travel writers concerned with ‘decolonizing’ their work. As always, my tips jar is open and tips are much needed (my recent leg fracture is draining me of money I already don’t have.) Thanks to my readers for all your support!

The Link Between Tourism & Settler Colonialism in Hawai’i #Dispatch: Maile Arvin

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.

Maile Arvin is a Native Hawaiian feminist scholar who writes about Native feminist theories, settler colonialism, decolonization, and race and science in Hawai‘i and the broader Pacific. She is currently a University of California President’s Postdoctoral Fellow in Ethnic Studies at UCR and will be officially joining the department as an assistant professor in July. She is part of the Critical Ethnic Studies Association working group and a member of Hinemoana of Turtle Island, a Pacific Islander feminist group of activists, poets, and scholars located in California and Oregon. You can find some of her academic writing here.

Bani Amor: Tell us about yourself, the work that you do, and how your identities play into that work.

Maile Arvin: So I’m Native Hawaiian, and my family is from Waimanalo, a small town on the windward side of O’ahu. I’m an academic – I research and teach about race and indigeneity in Hawai’i, the larger Pacific and elsewhere. Being Native Hawaiian grounds my work, motivates me to write about Native Hawaiian lives and histories in complicated, respectful ways.

One of my current projects is working with Hinemoana of Turtle Island, a group of Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander feminist women, many of whom are also academics but also poets, activists, artists. We support each other in the academic world and are accountable to each other. We talk to each other a lot about current issues that affect Pacific Islanders, usually in news that erases the existence of Indigenous Pacific Islanders altogether, and sometimes write up responses on our blog, muliwai. We’re currently working on a response to the movie Aloha. Or maybe more about the criticism of the movie that is entirely focused on Emma Stone’s casting.

Bani Amor: Word. That leads me to my next question: I often find that travel media and tourism are complicit in settler colonialism, in that it still purports an archaic, false image of indigenous peoples as smiling caricatures who are ready, willing and able to serve at the beck and call of the (white) tourist. Any idea why this is especially the case for Hawai’i?

Maile Arvin: For Hawai’i, because it is actually a U.S. state, there is this incredible sense of entitlement that white Americans in particular feel to being at home in Hawai’i. Since World War II in particular, and the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, there was this narrative of Hawai’i as being the place that militarily makes the rest of the U.S. safe. And along with that, there is also a need to justify and naturalize U.S. military occupation of these islands that are over 2000 miles Hawaii-postcard--OTRCAT.comaway from the U.S. continent. So Hawai’i becomes this feminine place in need of the masculine U.S. military to safeguard both Hawai’i and the rest of the U.S. And Native Hawaiian women in particular become these symbols of a happy, paradisical place, a place where white military men will have fun, will get their own Native Hawaiian girl.

Then there’s just the economic situation of Hawai’i. The two biggest industries are the military and the tourism industry, so a lot of Native Hawaiians have to work for one or the other. So there will be a lot of Native Hawaiians working as performers, staff, etc. in Waikiki hotels. And they are asked to project a certain image, which is in line with this old but also current colonial idea of Hawai’i as a carefree place, a vacation place for white people.

I think there is also sometimes a sense that the U.S. has “helped” Hawai’i and Native Hawaiians, through “civilization” and through conferring statehood status on Hawai’i. So Native Hawaiians are supposed to be grateful to white Americans for those things. Which actually signify settler colonialism and genocide.

Bani Amor: Right! Travel media – mainstream and “indie” alike – seem to hold on to this theory that the tourist presence = savior presence, that indigenous people somehow *need* tourists to better their economy, keep things “civilized,” i.e. colonization is progress. In Hawai’i, does the tourist presence ever feel like another form of occupation?

Maile Arvin: Absolutely. Which is not to say that Native Hawaiians hate all tourists. But just that tourism is this structure that furthers U.S. occupation of Hawai’i. One example is that Waikiki, the site where most hotels are clustered on O’ahu, can often be actively hostile to Native Hawaiians who look out of place there. The City Council keeps passing these resolutions to ban anyone from sleeping or lying on the sidewalks. Which is a blatantly anti-homeless measure that forces Native Hawaiians out of sight of most of the tourists.

0245df7f927adca0db31a24729f65474I live in California, and a lot of people who live here go on vacations in Hawai’i. Sometimes they ask me where to go, or they just want to tell me about where they went. And usually they go to outer islands, not O’ahu where I’m from, to Moloka’i or Kaua’i islands, where I’ve actually never been. I’m glad many people love Hawai’i, but it’s hard not to feel upset sometimes when it seems like my Californian neighborhood has seen more of Hawai’i than I have. But then again I wonder what they really see, and think about how much they must miss.

For Native Hawaiians, it’s really important to try to have a relationship with the places you visit, or at least to acknowledge the relationships that other people from that place have with that land. So it’s not really about just seeing as much of Hawai’i as possible but having relationships, honoring responsibilities to places.

Bani Amor: Yes, and it’s hard to communicate that to (white) people who want to visit our lands. It took me 21 years to be able to get to Ecuador, where my fam is from, and leading up to that time white people would like to tell me how many times they’d been there, what they did, what I should see when I finally go. It was torture! And when I’m living in Ecuador (white) people are always talking about the Galapagos, a mostly inaccessible place for actual Ecuadorians. I’ve never been, nor has 99% of my family.

Maile Arvin: Yeah! It’s really hard to get people to truly acknowledge how much privilege structures their ability to travel places. To not just try to explain it away, but to sit with that however uncomfortable it may be. It’s also hard to get them to see the ways their comments are often structured by the expectation that Indigenous peoples are tour guides or that there is one authentic Indigenous experience that they can casually ask for and receive.

Bani Amor: Yup, it’s a transaction. Places are sold to tourists as brands and their consumption of place forces indigenous Hawaiian_rights_activists_line_Kuhio_Highway_alohaanalyticspeople to become culture hustlers, in a way. Getting back to perceptions of tourists – do you feel that there’s a sentiment that some or many Kanaka Maoli/Native Hawaiians have towards tourists that the media is intentionally erasing?

Maile Arvin: I definitely think the media (local or national) does not see Native Hawaiians as a primary audience, and so even when there is reporting on Native Hawaiian issues, it is often very shallow and tries not to make any non-Native person uncomfortable.

For example, the best coverage around the Kanaka Maoli protectors of Mauna Kea blocking the road to the summit where a thirty meter telescope is proposed to be built has largely come from international media outlets or just from folks using social media to get information out. Local and national media often tries to present “both sides” in ways that are disingenuous and don’t acknowledge power dynamics. Then Native Hawaiians get called out for being “uncivil” for disagreeing with the priorities of Western science.

Mauna Kea is a very sacred site within Hawaiian epistemologies. It is the piko, or umbilical cord, signifying the birthplace of our people. But the protectors are not fighting simply to preserve the site for Native Hawaiians. They are also fighting to stop environmental destruction, and the possible poisoning of the water aquifer that would effect everyone who lives on Hawai’i Island. But the media rarely acknowledges that, they represent the “Native Hawaiian side” versus everyone else, which is a false binary.

mauna-keaBani Amor: So often, the consequences of tourism directly lead to environmental racism, is complicit projects that natives actively fight against. I’m wondering how that binary is false though, can you clarify?

Maile Arvin: I just mean that the media often treats Native Hawaiian views as this specialized, boutique kind of opinion which is relevant only to a very small number of people. When actually the knowledge Native Hawaiians have to share, and the struggles Native Hawaiians are engaged in, often impact everyone. Especially in regards to the environment. So it seems false to me to tokenize Native Hawaiians into this one box that is sometimes acknowledged, but is set up as necessarily being against the needs/desires of the larger public, when that isn’t even always the case. Does that make sense? Maybe false binary isn’t the right phrase for it.

Bani Amor: Yes, thanks for clarifying. Seems like the media has done a lot of work to invalidate those “boutique” opinions. My final question is just about getting some resources up in here so that people can do work that continues after this conversation ends: For folks looking to balance their perceptions of Hawaii, can you name drop some Kanaka Maoli/Native Hawaiian activists, groups or creatives that are working towards decolonization?

Maile Arvin: Gladly! This is a really wonderful blog, He Kapu Hehi Ale, written by a group of Native Hawaiians and others in Hawai’i. It covers a lot of current issues in the Pacific, including Mauna Kea, and it is really creative and just great writing. To keep up to date on Mauna Kea, you can follow Sacred Mauna Kea Hui on Facebook. Another blog I love is by Teresia Teaiwa, an academic and activist working in Aoteraroa/New Zealand. And finally Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, a poet and activist from Micronesia who has a blog. Also she gave a killer speech/poem to the UN recently.

Bani Amor: Awesome, thank you!

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2nd Generation Immigrants, 1st Generation Travelers #Dispatch: Desi Globetrotter

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.

In Paris
Enter a captionParm Johal is the Founder and Editor of Desi Globetrotter, an international travel blog with a focus on independent travel through a South Asian lens. Based in Vancouver, Parm is a freelance travel writer with articles published in Conde Nast Traveller India, Huffington Post Canada, AsiaRooms.com, Mybindi.com and MasalaMommas.com. Parm’s favourite travel moments include backpacking solo in Spain and Portugal, exploring the streets of Mumbai and experiencing the magic of travel with her husband in Turkey, Europe, Thailand, Japan, Argentina and Uruguay.

Bani Amor: Tell us about yourself. What do you do and how would you describe your work?

Parm Johal: I’m the Founder and Editor of Desi Globetrotter, a travel blog with a focus on independent travel through a South Asian lens. My travel articles use Indian cultural references, slang, pop culture, Bollywood and a bit of humour to connect to Indian travellers around the world. My passion for travel writing began when I launched Desi Globetrotter in 2012 – really from a need to find a creative outlet around my passion for travel.

My second passion is Arts & Culture – I’m also a full-time Arts Programmer at a community centre near Vancouver, BC where I plan and develop arts based workshops, build community partnerships, plan community festivals and organize public art and community art murals. My two passions intersect when I travel as well – I love checking out the local street art scenes when I’m travelling whether it’s in Buenos Aires or Havana. I’m very grateful for finally designing the life I want and following both of my passions.

Bani:  That’s awesome! What prompted you to start Desi Globetrotter in the first place?

Parm: I felt there was no travel blog online that really spoke to my experiences and interests as a South Asian traveler. Although I’m born and raised in Canada, I still have a very strong affiliation to my culture.

I’ve been inspired by travel bloggers worldwide, but there are very few travel blogs written for a South Asian audience. Although the spirit of travel is universal, the way we view the world is often defined by our cultural background and many young South Asians tend to struggle with their Eastern traditions and Western upbringing. For example, a gap year, where you take a year off to travel after high school or university is a common concept for Westerners, but not for South Asians. Try explaining a gap year to Indian parents – good luck! Desi Globetrotter aims to bridge that gap and be an online travel resource and a voice for South Asian travellers.

For instance, when I was in the souks of Fez, Morocco, seeing an Amitabh Bachchan (legendary Bollywood actor) DVD being sold on the streets is what caught my attention. I would not have read that in a mainstream blog. Also, when I was Buenos Aires, I read about a Sikh temple in northern Argentina. No mainstream travel blog would cover that. Nor would they cover how Turkish Kemal Pasha dessert is very similar to Indian Gulab Jamun. Desi Globetrotter readers are wanting to read more targeted content – and Bollywood, Indian food, similarities in cultural traditions is what helps bridge that gap.

Bani:  I feel that. When I’m traveling, I’m always looking for other Spanish-speakers, and get super excited when I meet other Ecuadorians!

Parm: It’s so funny. My parents barely travel so one of the few things my mom always asks 1) Did you meet any Indian people 2) Is there any Indian food 3) Did you talk to any Indian people.

Bani:  Haha!

Parm:  I guess it’s that connection we’re after.

Bani:  True.

In Paris
Parm in Paris

Parm: The other reason I also started Desi Globetrotter is that all eyes are on the Indian globetrotter as well as the Chinese tourist. South Asian from India are travelling more and especially young Indians are looking for independent, non-packaged options as well.

They are connected, tech savvy and very different from the parents generation. My parents for example barely travel and I know they are uncomfortable eating non-Indian food or venturing outside of their norm. Younger Millennial South Asians are exploring cultures, eating like the locals and trying to understand the local cultures. But slowly the parents generation will evolve a bit as well.

Bani:  But isn’t there a part of South Asian culture that’s always been about travel, always someone in each family who has traveled abroad, some who’ve stayed there?

Parm: Yes, immigration or studying abroad for school has always been a part of our culture. I mean come to Canada, US and UK and South Asians have made a home. Vancouver has a long history of South Asian pioneers making their way here as far back as the early 1900s.

My dad came to Canada in 1960s and my mom in the 1970s. Back then it was always about travelling to make a better life, working hard and sending money back home.

Bani:  Did these earlier generations of travelers influence you at all?

Parm: No, I don’t think the earlier generations influenced me, but what did was two things – 1) independence and growing up – leaving my small town for the big city of Vancouver to go to university and earlier travels with my mom to visit family in UK and India when I was young.  2) Growing up in a small town in the 80s where there was a lot of racism.

When you’re 18 and in small town BC you have to leave and thankfully I came to Vancouver, a very multicultural city. Although racism still can exist, it’s more covert, and going to university and meeting so many new people was awesome. Many of my close friends were an influence in my travels. That’s where I came across the idea of a gap year. Trying to explain that to my parents that I wanted to work on cruise ships was tough!. They were like “What?!”

In terms of issues that people of Indian descent face when traveling I would say there are lots of stereotypes like those I mention in my post 9 Things Not to Say to Indians When Travelling or Anytime. Things like “Do you Speak English?” or “I heard Indians smell bad because they eat a lot of curry” or “Did you have an arranged marriage?” It’s okay to ask questions out of curiosity, but I find the way it’s asked is almost always insulting.

Bani:  So fucked up!

Parm: Yes, sometimes I’m so dumbfounded that I don’t even have a response and then I’m kicking myself afterwards.  I think now with the world forever changed by technology, POC have a voice more than ever and can help shape and change those perceptions.

Bani:  Especially when it comes to travel media. White people are just the gatekeepers in most industries and they get to tell the world’s stories. Even good white travel writers can’t speak up on things you or I talk about. It’s specific to our experiences as POC. And it’s saddening that most travel media is specific to white people’s experiences. It locks out all this potential.

Parm: Yes, that’s exactly it. Although I’m a newbie in the travel writing world, I’m trying to educate myself on how to use words properly and in context. I never know if using the word “exotic”* is ever appropriate.  There’s also another dynamic as well – I’m born and raised Canadian. I didn’t grow up in India. I never faced the hardships my parents have so I do come from a place of privilege. But I’m still viewed as a minority and my skin colour, name and interest in South Asian culture puts me at a disadvantage.

Bani:  Same. I’m from the States and living in my fam’s homeland, Ecuador. It definitely puts privilege in perspective. Then it’s uncomfortable to be lumped in with these other USian expats, who are white and way privileged. Yuck.

But folks like you and I are becoming the majority in many first world countries. Looking around, our stories are mad normal to me, not some sort of exception to the dominant narrative. I just think we need bigger platforms for talking about these specific experiences – traveling abroad as POC.

Parm: Yeah, I hear ya. Even when I visit India, locals there have a way of just picking up that I’m Canadian. As a travel writer I didn’t even flinch when pitching to Conde Nast Traveller India – I didn’t even think of pitching to the US version.

Bani:  Ha!

Florence, Italy
Florence, Italy

Parm: We need to start a POC travel conglomerate. The tourism boards are picking it up and are going more targeted. It just sometimes ends up being more about $$$ POC tourists bring than the stories themselves. In local Vancouver media, every summer during tourism season the media picks up on how much money was spent locally by Indian and Chinese gobetrotters and speculate whether the numbers are up or down.

Bani:  Yup, at the end of the day, it’s all about money. This is why travel writing vs. straight up tourism propaganda is brought up so much these days. And at times, I think POC travelers should be especially wary of who they’re throwing money at, because colonialism and neo-colonialism have fucked with our histories most and it’s intricately tied up with tourism.

Parm: Yah, neo-colonialism is still very much in tact. I always feel stuck with this – on one hand my blog is geared to South Asian travellers and I want to work on opportunities that come with working with mainstream travel brands that can help out my readers, but at the same time I want to be careful in what info I’m putting out there.

I just try to be as authentic as possible and talk about my experience in that moment rather than trying to speculate on another culture. Colonialism and neo-colonialism are so complex and so ingrained that sometimes people aren’t aware of it. Voluntourism can also be a form of neo-colonialism.

Bani:  Absolutely.

Parm: Part of it is what we’ve been fed in the media and part of it is the education systems in the West. With the world so connected right now and people learning from other cultures without borders, it helps to bring out our stories more to enhance understanding.

I would like mainstream travel media to listen and observe and to peel back the complex layers, histories, and experiences of POC as travellers and travel writers. To give a balanced view of the world, these voices need to be heard.

*-Use of the word “exotic” denotes Othering language, turning the subject into the foreign, often inferior “other’ and the user as “normal”, common, accepted.

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