Tag Archives: Travel Memoir

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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Getting Real About Decolonizing Travel Culture

Hey denizens of everywhere,

I wrote an essay on decolonizing travel culture as the introduction to Muchacha Fanzine’s Decolonize Travel issue and just published it on Medium. Give it a read, print it out and fold it into your passport books, critique and analyze it, share or shade it, or comment below. A slice:

How we move through the world, whether it’s how we or our ancestors came to be where we are now; a trip to the bodega as a visibly trans woman of color at night, or to countries we have no connections to but are guests in, varies phenomenally from person to person, but those journeys are all informed in some way by capitalist imperialist cishetpatriarchal white supremacy.

In “getting real” about this topic, I wanted to reiterate some points that I see getting lost in posts and such about “decolonizing travel” that are necessary to the discourse. I don’t want this to be some sort of trend or shorthand for “diversity.” Central to this is…

If communities don’t have sovereignty or the self-determination to shape how they want their cultures to be consumed or communicated, their economies to be governed and their environments to be treated, then tourism and travel culture are only a continuation of imperialist practices.

Read the essay in full here.

LISTEN: Traveling (and Eating) Better with Bani Amor

Hey people.

If you’ve yet to be blessed with the opportunity to hear my mousy voice chase an idea in circles in search of a point to make, then you’re in luck, ’cause the good folks of the Racist Sandwich podcast recently had me on their show to talk food, travel and power. For the uninitiated, the Racist Sandwich podcast is the best podcast, according to me (and many others). Hosted by journalist Zahir Janmohammed and chef Soleil Ho, both Portland-based POC, they tackle food, race, gender and class with guests doing dope shit in the food world, all while being cute, witty and smart. Listen to my episode here and if you’re down, back their Patreon here.

In other news, I’m officially one year older and am spending ~ me ~ time in Ecuador playing with kids and dogs, chillin’ with friends, cooking, and writing like a motherfucker. For those of you anxious about missing my birthday and scrambling to send me a belated fruit basket, step away from Amazon and put some change in my piggy bank instead. ‘Preesh!

I’ll check in with y’all next week with some more updates. In the meantime, make yourselves useful and punch some Nazis while I’m away.

 

Come See Me Read in NYC December 15th

Hey people, shit’s been quiet around here because I’ve been writing like a motherfucker. I’m excited to have a wealth of new pieces get published over the next few weeks and will share them all right here. If you’re in New York, stop by Apogee Journal’s eighth issue (which you can pre-order here) launch party at the Asian American Writer’s Workshop next Thursday, December 15th at 7pm to see me read a story of mine and say hey. If you weren’t supporting diverse publications and spaces like Apogee and AAWW (and the work of diverse oppressed peoples in general) before, you def should now, before El Cheeto-in-Chief exiles us all to an island somewhere.

In other news, the POC Travel Book Club’s talk on bell hooks’ Belonging: A Culture of Place this past Sunday was dope. We discussed running away and going home, searching for severed roots  and the trauma of displacement. We talked about our relationship to the land as people of color and the possibilities that come with staying put, of not traveling. Sign up here to join us for next month’s talk (book TBA).

Bringing the POC Travel Book Club Back

hey kids, remember when we started a monthly, online book club to read travel literature by people of color earlier this year? Well I got caught up with Lifing so we had to cut it for a few months but since I conducted this Twitter poll last week and autumn is settling in, it’s a good a time as any to bring it back.

We will be reading bell hooks’ Belonging: A Culture of Place which is available for order both electronically and in print at the link above (though it’s easy to find alternatives to Amazon). These usually take place over Google Hangout on the last Sunday of each month, but seeing as that holiday where we pretend Native Americans and their colonizers got along great is happening that weekend, I’m moving the talk to Sunday, December 4th at 1pm EST. It should take a little over an hour, but you’re free to stay or leave whenever. If you’re not already on the list from earlier this year, RSVP below and I’ll invite you to our chat at a quarter to one. Try to be early (if possible, of course) so we don’t have to waste too much time on technical issues. About the book:

What does it mean to call a place home? Who is allowed to become a member of a community? When can we say that we truly belong?

These are some of the questions of place and belonging that renowned cultural critic bell hooks examines in her new book, Belonging: A Culture of Place. Traversing past and present, Belonging charts a cyclical journey in which hooks moves from place to place, from country to city and back again, only to end where she began–her old Kentucky home.

hooks has written provocatively about race, gender, and class; and in this book she turns her attention to focus on issues of land and land ownership. Reflecting on the fact that 90% of all black people lived in the agrarian South before mass migration to northern cities in the early 1900s, she writes about black farmers, about black folks who have been committed both in the past and in the present to local food production, to being organic, and to finding solace in nature. Naturally, it would be impossible to contemplate these issues without thinking about the politics of race and class. Reflecting on the racism that continues to find expression in the world of real estate, she writes about segregation in housing and economic racialized zoning. In these critical essays, hooks finds surprising connections that link of the environment and sustainability to the politics of race and class that reach far beyond Kentucky.

With characteristic insight and honesty, Belonging offers a remarkable vision of a world where all people–wherever they may call home–can live fully and well, where everyone can belong.

Sign up here!

LISTEN: What Does It Mean to Decolonize Travel Culture?

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.

With regards to that, I’m working on some BLM-related projects in Ecuador, so stay tooned. But for now, I’m sharing this talk I had* with the ever-dope Amy of Bitch Magazine on their Popaganda podcast about issues around tourism and power, the colonial tradition of travel writing and my feature essay Spend and Save: The Narrative of Fair Trade and White Saviorism that’s in their latest issue. Your engagement here and elsewhere on social media is always welcome (unless it’s a racist diatribe, of course) as are your shares and donations. Don’t forget, I’m running a crowdfunding campaign to help meet my survival needs while I work on multimedia community projects over the summer. Check out the teaser for a documentary about how traveling as a QTPOC writer led me to ask the questions I do in my work, then donate!

*My gender pronouns have changed since the podcast, where I’m referred to as she/her instead of they/them

POC Travel Book Club

hey kids, so I was chillin the other morning and thought, a casual online monthly book club focusing on travel books by people of color would be awesome! to gauge interest in such a club, fill out this form and share it with other folks you think might be down. all you gotta do is be a person of color and have an interest in travel writing and social justice.