I have always traveled. As a young teen traveling with my father, I spent most of my time people-watching and not really interacting with the world.
As I got older and started traveling on my own, I realized that the people were what I most enjoyed from it all. As a Black Latina, I also realized that many of the travel experiences that I had weren’t the kinds that the media talked about. In 2008, when I started writing about travel, you would be hard-pressed to find anyone talking about the black experience traveling through rural France, or Fiji, or Montana. Even as more travel bloggers and writers of color began to gain the spotlight, most were reluctant to rock the boat by highlighting the details unique to our communities’ travel experiences so as to not be seen as too ‘controversial’ or unappealing to the ‘general public’. Though it took me some time to find my voice, I knew earlier on that those were exactly the kinds of stories I wanted to tell.
Starting at home
My first travel pieces weren’t about places far away, to picturesque locations and exotic destinations. Instead, I chose to start writing about life as a mother of three young children in an increasingly gentrified New York City. I talked about the most kid-friendly and beautiful parks in Washington Heights, and what it was like to be ignored by the newly-arrived mothers who confused me for the nanny of my biracial boys. I talked about touristy Rockefeller Center, and how few people knew that Mexican artist, Diego Rivera had originally painted Man at the Cross Roads there. How it was destroyed by Nelson Rockefeller as a protest for what he viewed as a depiction of communist leaders and how Rivera snuck his assistant in for a secret photograph to later reproduce the painting which is now on display at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City.
I talked about my home of New York City with the pride of someone excited to share their hometown with others, but also with the unwillingness to pretend that erasure of our communities and cultural identity wasn’t simultaneously taking place.
This desire to hold travelers accountable, to educate and motivate them, while also giving them useful travel tips accompanied with beautiful photography was one I wanted to take with me and share in every travel piece I wrote. But, it was a bit more challenging for me when I went international because now the tourist was me and so I needed to find a way to share a story that wasn’t just based on my experience, but also one that related to those whose home I was talking about.
Travel with intention
This forced me to overcome inhibitions, whether it related to language barriers, preconceived notions on racial acceptance and tolerance, or simply just talking to strangers about anything, even their own preconceived notions of me, as a tourist, a woman, a person of color, and an American. (The stereotypes of Americans is pretty much what one would think: we like our burgers, our guns, and lots of television watching.)
The vulnerability and humility that comes from putting oneself in the new and uncomfortable experiences needed to make these personal connections possible are how, despite experiencing racism in places like Memphis and Sicily, I was still able to step far back enough from those moments to see the broader view of a place and its people.
It is why I love to travel so much, and why I seek it out anytime I feel like I am getting too caught up in the stuff that doesn’t really matter. Or I am losing sight of how vast and beautiful the world is. Or I start to lose hope in humanity.
As a young kid, I spent most of my travel watching people interact with each other and the world around them. Now, as a writer and professional traveler, I want to connect and share not only my experiences but tell other people’s stories whenever I am allowed to do so. As long as we are respectful and humble, I believe that this is one small way that we, as creatives, as writers, and as travelers of the world can help contribute a little bit of good to the world. It is also how we can shift the narratives not only of others, but also of how we, as people of color, are represented in the media, in our communities, and around the world.