Category Archives: travel

[Thursday Throwback] Brown and Out of Town: a POC Traveler’s Guide to Racism

by Racialicious special correspondent Wendi Muse

Author’s note: Before anyone jumps all over me, I use “brown” here as a general term for people of African or indigenous American descent, not solely South Asians or Central Americans, though the article discusses issues for all POC travelers, not just the ones with darker skin.

Ah, Madrid.

I had decided that for spring break in 2005, instead of going to Memphis as planned, I’d take a week-long trip to Paris and Madrid instead. After all, in a weird twist of fate, the plane tickets to Europe were only about 100 dollars more than those I had bought to go to the place Elvis and I both called home. I figured as I could speak, read, and understand Spanish and French, I’d be fine. I’d been to Paris before, and loved it, and had heard awesome things about Madrid from my friends, so I thought, “Why not? Just breathe, and take a chance.” So I did, though I wasn’t exactly prepared for the less than warm reception in one of the liveliest cities in the Iberian Peninsula.

Paris was no problem, possibly due in part to the city’s expressed love (read: borderline fetishizing) of black folks (Josephine Baker, anyone?) or the running assumption that I was Moroccan/generally North African and not a black American. Most people just treated me like I was French, before I opened my mouth, of course (despite my perfect French accent, my occasional pause to find vocabulary words from my high school French mental database was a dead give-a-way). No one was rude to me or my friend with whom I went out on occasion (who is half white American, half indigenous Mexican, and clearly “of color”).

Madrid, on the other hand, completely did me in.

On a super basic level, I wasn’t a big fan of the traditional Spanish food, and, instead, flocked to the numerous Middle Eastern restaurants like water in a desert mirage. And though I was only there for three days, these little hole-in-the-wall, family-run eateries ended up being my surrogate safe havens as walking around on the street proved, well, difficult. I would say the city, overall, was far from receptive. While I understood having a pride in being Spanish, or a Mardileño, to be more specific, what I did not understand was why that translated into racism. I faced constant stares, and I mean constant, many of which were steeped in anger or confusion, despite my more than proper attire (I was not one of those fanny pack-wearing, head buried in a map, incapable-of-speaking-the-native-language types of tourists, trust me). I was cat-called, a lot, and though I was conditioned to that from having lived in NYC for four years at that point, what I hadn’t been exposed to was the overtly sexual racist epithets thrown my way (none of which I will repeat here). I tried to search the eyes of other people of color for an explanation. People of Asian descent seemed happy, even moreso there than in Paris. And people clearly from Africa also seemed OK, though I am sure their black skin proved problematic at times (look no further than the Madrid soccer related racism or even the recent Formula One racing incident in Barcelona). It was the somewhat racially ambiguous brown folks who seemed to run into trouble.

El Salvadorans, Guatemalans, Mexicans, and other phentoypically outcast Latin American immigrants (along with black Africans) held lower-echelon jobs and noticeably received stares and a little street harassment as well. Their spoken Spanish was a reminder of Spain’s colonial past that history had erased, glossed over, or simply euphemized, much like textbooks of Japan, the United States, or any nation, and their appearance even more so—typically indigenous and/or African features blending with those of the Spanish conquistadores and settlers of yore rendering many of the Latin American immigrants who had come to Spain in search of work easy to spot. I noticed that Caribbean Latinos and mulatos caught hell too, receiving the same sets of glaring eyes that I did when on public transportation or simply andando a pié.

To put it nicely, it was an awkward existence I led, at best, ceasing my outdoor activities more or less once the sun set because I had been propositioned more than once in the day time, and didn’t want to risk full on sexual assault at night due to my having been assumed to be a prostitute on account of my skin color. The hostel employees (all of Latin American descent) and the falafel bar owners loved me, but they were about the only ones in Madrid who made me feel somewhat human. On the cab ride to the airport, a place where I would later be racially profiled (read: separated from a line of a ton of other people, searched, forced to weigh my carry-on, a small backpack, and made to pay 60 Euros for it being a few kilos overweight on account of an art book I had bought for a friend from the Museo del Prado!), I vowed never to come back and counted down the minutes until I’d return to Paris for my departure to New York.

But during this cab ride, I learned a few things to which I was not initially privy prior to going to Madrid. The cab driver asked me how I liked Madrid, to which I replied, “I liked it, but I don’t think it liked me too much,” which led to our discussing (no kidding) race relations in Spain. The driver, born and raised in Spain, offered a perspective I had not fully considered. He mentioned the abject poverty and limited knowledge of Spanish that plagued African immigrant communities, and in many Spaniards’ minds, the state, as they were paying taxes to support unwelcome refugees. He also discussed the cause for my frequent run-ins with men who had less than Puritan intentions in their approach: that many women from the Dominican Republic and North Africa became prostitutes in Madrid to make ends meet. His explanation for the differing treatment of Asians vs. people of indigenous or African descent boiled down to the ability to assimilate.

“They come here already speaking Spanish,” he said. “. . . and with money” he added. He didn’t agree with how I was treated, and noted that I “seemed fine,” but was sure to note that “a lot of Madrileños aren’t ready for that kind of change. The young people, maybe, but their parents and people my age, not so much. They think they are pure, and forget about the years the Moors were here. They want things to stay the same. Come back in ten years, and maybe things will be better.”

Though I was back in Paris a few hours later, I thought about what he said for a while after that. While comfortably nestled in the plush leather-upholstered seats of the Swiss Air flight back to New York, I wondered if my little trip to Spain would have been different if I possessed a lower level of melanin, or even if I looked noticeably more African instead of bearing an appearance that confused people. Upon returning to the United States, the same friends who had recommended Madrid felt a tinge of regret for not having mentioned “the racism thing” or at least not having forewarned how it may have affected me. In retrospect, they all noted, as whites, they had never thought about it. They had only heard stories, those they had selectively compartmentalized in a place far away in the back of their brains because they didn’t really have to worry about it in Europe or in the United States in the same way, say, someone visually different from the majority would.

The experience and the discussions I had in the aftermath of my time in Madrid made me reflect on the privileges, or lack thereof, we have while traveling. Though I had a bad experience in Madrid, that is not to say every person of color has a comparable story. In fact, I know a few black women who loved Madrid and who have gone back several times, stating that they experienced a few incidents of racism, but mainly that it was more an issue of mistaken national identity than anything else. I think, too, of what the cab driver expressed in relation to his (and, arguably, the city’s) impression of Asians. Even my white friends had expressed a considerable sense of alienation in Madrid at times, not due to language, but mainly in relation to cultural differences or even physical ones (being super tall or Nordic in appearance, you name it). In looking back on the experience and after hearing those of others, I was able to put things more into perspective.

Even I am “privileged” (in a physical sense) in some locations, notably northern and central Brazil, where my appearance did not garner unreasonable attention, many assuming that I was just “one of them.” I even thought of my experiences in the United States. I didn’t feel as if my physically assigned racial characteristics made me stand out in some Brooklyn neighborhoods, whereas my white or Asian-American friends expressed extreme discomfort on account of stares and even statements geared toward them. I find myself losing sight of how powerful my appearance can be at the right place and at the right time, but never forget how much of a burden it can be in other situations.

In reflecting on my previous travel experiences as I prepare for an upcoming trip to Portugal, I began thinking about how many additional things I have to consider as a woman, and, in particular, a person of color before I travel. It’s amazing how many things travel guides leave out when it comes to the treatment a person of color may receive in a certain country, how to react to incidents of racism, or even whether or not what you are experiencing has nothing to do with race and all to do with cultural miscommunication. Though maybe I should expect it by now as many of the travel guide writers are white. Then again, only white people travel, right? (kidding, though on average, whites DO travel more widely and frequently than blacks, at least.. . though, given, this could be due to a series of factors that would lead me into an entirely new post, so I’ll shelve this for now).

Besides consulting the Minority Travel Forum on Rick Steve’s Graffiti Wall with posts from travelers of color (including people involved in interracial relationships, who have adopted children of a different race/ethnicity from their own, etc), which I highly recommend, it’s worth considering the following:

1. The travel guide will most likely leave out information about the reception, or lack thereof, you may experience as a person of color. This includes common words/sayings with which you may not be familiar, but that are actually not racist (i.e. if someone in the Dominican Republic were to call you “negrito” or “indio,” it would not be meant as a racial slur, rather a term of endearment based on your skin color and/or heritage).

2. Expect the unexpected, and don’t go into the situation assuming your experience will match those of your white peers and/or friends and family of color. Your command of the native language, body language, familiarity with the culture, style of dress, etc can alter how you are perceived and treated.

3. Don’t always assume racism is at play. As a result of the history of the United States, people of color and whites alike have been rendered into sensitivity machines, often analyzing things at a level of sociological sophistication that may not be of issue in some other countries. Also, bear in mind that every nation has its own respective history and deals with race and ethnicity accordingly. Don’t attempt to color their history with your own. Think of these things before you jump the gun.

4. Find out what you can do if you ARE a victim of racism. There are several anti-racist groups (i.e. SOS Racismo in Spain and Portugal) that hold workshops and do outreach based on race-related issues. Sites like this may be worth checking out prior to taking a trip.

5. Reconcile your prior experiences with those of the present. The United States and/or your home country more likely than not has witnessed acts of racism, many of which continue. Don’t assume that it’s only the country you are visiting that has problems. If we think of the Amadou Diallo case or the Jena 6 or Vincent Chin, the U.S. is a scary and ugly place for POC too. It doesn’t make racism here or elsewhere any better, but it definitely makes you realize that every country has its problems, so you can’t let a few instances of racism frighten you away.

6. If traveling by yourself and feel threatened as a result of your race/ethnicity, try to remove yourself from the situation, if possible and find a place where you feel more welcome. You may even want to try to get to know other people like yourself in that country, depending on the duration of your stay, to get tips on places to avoid, how to behave in the case of a threat, etc.

7. Do your homework. Before traveling anywhere, ask around and look up information detailing the experiences of people like yourself. As I mentioned before, their experience may not entirely mirror the one in which you are about to partake, but it may offer some helpful advice.

8. Have a good time, despite any adversity you may encounter. If anything, I learned to laugh at the experience in Madrid in retrospect, and in a weird case of Stockholm syndrome, have considered going back one day, though with a friend this time. If you have spent the money to go somewhere else, you might as well try to get as much out of it as you can!

The Evolution Of Hula: Traditional, Contemporary, And Hotel

By Guest Contributor Sarah Neal, cross-posted from Sociological Images

Earlier on SocImages, Lisa Wade drew attention to the tourism industry’s commodification of Polynesian women and their dancing. She mentioned, briefly, how the hula was made more tourist-friendly (what most tourists see when they attend one of the many hotel-based luaus throughout the islands is not traditional hula).  In this post, I want to offer more details on the history and the differences between the tourist and the traditional hula.

First, Wade states that, while female dancers take center stage for tourists, the traditional hula was “mostly” a men’s dance.  While it has not been determined for certain if women were ever proscribed from performing the hula during the time of the Ali’i (chiefs), it seems unlikely that women would have been prevented from performing the hula when the deity associated with the hula is Pele, a goddess. Furthermore, there is evidence that women were performing the dance at the time of Captain James Cook’s arrival in Hawai’i.

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The Perennial Plate Visits India And Sri Lanka On Its World Tour

by Guest Contributor Pavani Yalamanchili; originally published at The Aerogram

Chef Daniel Klein and co-producer/filmmaker Mirra Fine are the creators of The Perennial Plate, a weekly online documentary series that tells the stories of food and the people who make it, with a focus on socially responsible and adventurous eating. The first season took place in Minnesota, and the second took them across America. For its third season, the series is going global and traveling to China, Japan, India, Sri Lanka, Spain, Morocco, Italy, Turkey, Argentina, Mexico, South Africa and Ethiopia.

In recent months, the series has been posting episodes from the South Asian leg of their world tour, including a fast-paced and musical montage video “Day in India.” It compiles footage from their Indian stay during which they filmed several episodes, including “Dabbawalla” and another featuring an interview with environmental activist Dr. Vandana Shiva. The film-making pair, who recently announced their engagement, also spent time in Sri Lanka where they visited an organic tea farm, a coconut plantation and met a fishing family.

The vegetarian co-producer of Perennial Plate, Mirra Fine, took time from her packed itinerary to entertain a few questions by email from The Aerogram.

What’s involved in making a popular montage video like “A Day in India”? 

For a montage video such as that one, we spent three weeks in the country and filmed everything we saw, ate, and experienced. We came home with at least 15 hours of footage and had to try to figure out a way to condense it into three minutes. We figured that creating “one day” from all the footage would be a great way to do so. Sometimes videos with “themes” have a better chance of going viral. Pretty much, we had to comb through all of the film and take just the beautiful shots, and then find an amazing song (or songs), and then sit for 3-4 hours putting the images to music.

How long were you in Sri Lanka?

We were in Sri Lanka for two weeks (we went there straight from India). We filmed three stories there: “Tea Farmers”“Coconut: Nose-to-Tail” (about a family on a coconut plantation), and “Do Not Blame The Sea” — which came out on Monday and is about a stilt fishing family who lost six members in the tsunami but still fish every day. It’s quite beautiful.

The “Tea for Two” episode offers an intimate look at a Sri Lankan couple who farm organic fair trade tea, and you mention that you didn’t expect to be so taken with their relationship. What kind of video were you expecting to end up with? 

When filming a new story, we never really go into it with a clear vision of what the story will be. We just have a vague idea. Especially when filming overseas, we have limited access to information due to lack of a common language, internet access etc. All we knew about Piyasena and Ariwatha (the two farmers) is that they were part of the Sri Lanka Small Organic Farmers Association meaning they were organic and fair trade.

We went to the farm hoping to see a day in their lives… hear about what it’s like to be an organic tea farmer in Sri Lanka, and hear about their lives. When we got there, we saw that there was something else even more powerful going on — and that was the relationship between the two of them. So we decided to focus on that. I’ve got a TON of footage on the editing room floor with information about tea farming, etc. But this story just touched us. So we went with that. I think we spent four hours with them.

The Perennial Plate has a video on How to Make Chopped Roti and Dal. Did you learn to make any other foods in Sri Lanka? Which foods were your favorites to eat there? 

We actually didn’t learn how to make chopped Roti in Sri Lanka. Instead, we just ate it a lot and then came home and Daniel tried to make it. (He’s really good at that sort of thing). We did visit a family who showed us how to make string hoppers, which are delicious. Have you tried them? String hoppers are amazing with curry.

Sri Lankan food is really incredible. Rice and curry is the main staple, but the street food was also wonderful. Daniel loved the fried fish in chickpea flour (I didn’t try it as I’m a vegetarian). We both loved this chickpea dish that we happened upon when we saw a man in Galle selling it from a cart on the street. It is warm chickpeas with fresh chili, coconut, and spices. It was presented to us on a piece of folded up newspaper. It was amazing.

Is there any particular South Asian ingredient that you enjoy using when preparing food?

Daniel is a chef who trained for some time in India, so he loves all the spices that go into Sri Lankan and India cuisine. And he does say that the most prized ingredient that is the most difficult to find in the US is the fresh curry leaves.

Brixton Village Market: The New Brixton [Travel Diaries]

by Guest Contributor Kiratiana Freelon

My dream of visiting the black mecca of London in 2009 ended because of the Tube, when the Victoria line was out of service and a London underground employee convinced me it would take two hours to get to Brixton by bus.

So when I arrived in London early 2012, a voice in the back of my head kept saying, “I must get to Brixton. I must go to Brixton. I must get to Brixton.” After tweeting about my desire, Olympian Andrew Steele tweeted the following to me:

Thankfully, the Victoria line was working, and my journey was a straight shot from Oxford Circus.

As I emerged from the Brixton Tube Station, a steel drum band greeted me on the corner. I stayed to listen to the music, but as it was cold, I finally started walking.

The first thing I spotted was the open–air market, which reminded me of a typical African or Caribbean market—lots of starchy tubers, grand pieces of meat, exotic veggies and fruits, and a ton of random stuff, from socks and bedding to key chains?

But where was the covered market?

Before I headed toward where I thought the covered market was, I spotted a stand selling fresh juices and Jamaican snacks, including beef patties. I decided that a patty would be my introduction to food in Brixton.

I would later regret wasting my appetite.

As I entered the covered market, the first eatery that caught my eye was a small cupcake shop. Then I saw a diminutive gourmet brick oven pizza joint. Then, a Caribbean food and goods place, a hamburger restaurant, a tiny shop selling hair weaves, three Colombian restaurants, a braid shop, a vintage clothes shop, and finally a home-style Thai restaurant. And that was just the beginning. Continue reading

A Racial Profiling Victim on 9/11 Shares Her Story

By Arturo R. García

On Sunday, three passengers at Detroit’s Metropolitan Airport were detained after someone reported “suspicious activity on board.” Not long afterwards, one of those three passengers’ story has gained national attention after blogging about her treatment by Homeland Security officials.

According to The Associated Press, Shoshana Hebshi and two men were detained and questioned after the crew on their Frontier Airlines flight “reported suspicious activity on board.”

Hebshi, an Ohio resident who identifies as half-Jewish and half-Arab, wrote on her blog that she was sitting with two Indian men from Detroit when the flight was first diverted to a different part of the tarmac, then boarded by armed personnel. She and the two men were subsequently “pushed off the plane” and detained. Hebshi wrote that she asked, “What’s going on?” but did not get an answer.
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Daughter of The Great Migration

By Guest Contributor Tami Winfrey Harris, cross-posted from What Tami Said

Over the course of six decades, some six million black Southerners left the land of their forefathers and fanned out across the country for an uncertain existence in nearly every other corner of America. The Great Migration would become a turning point in history. It would transform urban American and recast the social and political order of every city it touched. It would force the South to search its soul and finally lay aside a feudal cast system. It grew out of the unmet promises made after the Civil War and, through the sheet weight of it, helped push the country toward the civil rights revolutions of the 1960s.

During this time, a good portion of all Black Americans alive picked up and left the tobacco farms of Virginia, the rice plantations of South Carolina, cotton fields in East Texas and Mississippi, and the villages and backwoods of the remaining Southern states–Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina, Tennessee, and, by some measures, Oklahoma. They set out for cities they had whispered about among themselves or had seen in a mail order catalogue. Some came straight from the fields with their King James Bibles and old twelve-string guitars. Still more were townspeople looking to be their fuller selves, tradesmen following their customers, pastors trailing their flocks.

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson

Reading The Warmth of Other Suns, I am reminded again that I am a member of a soon-to-disappear group–children and grandchildren of The Great Migration.

I was trying to explain to a friend–a 40-year-old white guy–how I really want to travel with my nieces and nephews to Mississippi, so they can experience going “down South” in the summertime, something they have never done. He replied, “Yeah, my family used to head down to the beach in Florida all the time, when I was a kid.” And I had a hard time articulating that what I am speaking of is different. Here in Central Indiana, it seems every white family clears out of town to the Florida beaches come Spring Break or summertime. But what I’m talking about is different.
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Kakum National Park and Cape Coast Castle in Ghana: A Personal Essay

The canopy walkways of Kakum National Park

By Guest Contributor Eccentric Yoruba, cross-posted from Beyond Victoriana

Our next guided tour was to the Kakum National Park and Cape Coast, which is home to several colonial castles. Once more we woke up really early in the morning and got into a bus with other Nigerians and off we went on our two hour journey to Kakum. The national park is famous for its canopy walk, which has several hanging walkways above a thick forest. Apparently, some people find the canopy walk challenging and cannot go through it, that is totally understandable. It took a while walking through the forest until we reached the walkways. One by one, we were guided to them, but not before we were warned not to swing the walkways and to refrain from such behaviour.

There are seven canopies in total. I took the shortcut, which means I walked through only three. “Are you scared?” one of the men– presumably a safety guide–asked me when I turned left for the shortcut.

“Yes, I am absolutely frightened,” I replied even though I had a huge grin plastered on my face and had paused to take a picture a few moments ago. As I walked hastily through the shortcut, I heard the man say behind me, “You’re lying.” In front of me a little girl was crying while her mother told her not to be scared: “We’ll soon reach the end.” I felt sorry for her.

Part of the reason I had chosen the shortcut was because I wanted to see Cape Coast. To be honest, I was dreading it at the same time because I’d heard stories; of the slave dungeons and the Door of No Return, of people breaking into tears while there, and I wasn’t ready to be caught unawares by several strong emotions and end up crying in public.

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Epic Fail Of The Week: ‘Black Out Korea’

By Arturo R. García

Call this a more loathsome counterpart to Sleeping Chinese.com: There’s actually a blog dedicated to posting images of drunk, passed-out Koreans, and, frequently, the people who find them on the street.

In an interview with Matador Nights, the blog’s anonymous owner, an American man teaching English in South Korea, had a blunt response to concerns about his subjects’ privacy. (Note: that’s not him in the picture posted above)

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