People eat, breathe, dance, create, work, start families, raise children, love, cry, celebrate and build lives there. It is more than your relaxing destination.
By Angely Mercado
Tropical parts of the world are in full-blown hurricane season. Homes and businesses all over the Caribbean have been flooded or razed to the ground by tumultuous winds and water. People have been injured and have died. And despite all of it, I continue to see posts about people saying that they’re sad about potential vacations and beach side resorts being ruined.
There are valid reasons to be upset when a vacation has been disrupted by a natural disaster. Those who come from far away have to pay even more for a plane ticket, making a lost vacation a financial loss as well. It’s also horrible for anyone who doesn’t have the disposable income to take a yearly vacation outside of their hometown. I’ve had plans cut short due to illness and lack or even loss of money — it feels awful.
But some sentiments communicated online have been from people lamenting not being able to visit the Caribbean for future vacations or bemoaning damages done to beaches and resorts that they thought were pretty. It has triggered some arguments amongst a few women’s travel groups that I’m a part of online and posts had to be taken down since they mainly consisted of people saying that it was horrible that the beaches were ruined instead of providing links to where people can donate food and money to help those affected by the disasters.
I cannot emphasize how frustrating it has been to try to remind people both in person and online that the Caribbean is more than one big resort, people are from there. People eat, breathe, dance, create, work, start families, raise children, love, cry, celebrate and build lives there. It is more than your relaxing destination.
There are many ways in which tourism in various parts of the Caribbean is beneficial to local economies — this is especially true if tourists avoid large chains and use locally owned hotels in lieu of all the large (non-local) corporate businesses. This is also true if tourists are able to attend events and shop outside of the tourist trap areas or if they search for locals as guides and artisanal vendors instead of relying on large hotels to provide that.
In Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic where my family is from, there are year-long art, food, and music festivals that have products mainly produced by locals. If tourists and locals alike go, they feed the local economy. They foster the creativity that can potentially expand in those areas by supporting small businesses and learning about the cultures as they are, and not an over simplified version inside a resort.
When tourism profits only the colonizers in (formerly and presently) colonized parts of the world that are populated by people of color who have may still be facing issues after years of corrupt governments, neglect, and colonialist mentalities — it doesn’t benefit residents of those islands. It commodifies the cultures, the people, and dehumanizes them. It continues the cycle of making some parts of the Caribbean dependent on tourism, or having other parts of the world see people from tropical places as just a part of an attraction, and not as people.
It makes it so that majority brown and black populations will continue to bear the brunt of dealing with imperialist decisions. Often times, it also seems to reinforce stereotypes that have made black and brown people from areas of the world like the Caribbean seem subservient and even in desperate need of outside populations. It’s been frustrating to explain to people who don’t know much about the history of the Caribbean why it can be problematic and how mindful tourism is appreciated, but overrunning a location and affecting quality of life is not.
Not too long ago, my uncle told me that he was waiting in an airport in the Dominican Republic and several European tourists sat in the waiting area practically screaming because they were drunk. The tourists were openly drinking in an area where it wasn’t allowed and so my uncle went over and asked them if they would dare to do that in their own countries. One of the tourists told him no, that it’s not allowed in their country. He had to explain that it wasn’t allowed in Dominican airports either. His biggest frustration was that the airport guards didn’t call them out on it. They were afraid to offend the foreigners because they probably had money and didn’t want to start a scene.
It’s frustrating to see that places that are dear to my heart — and the hearts of many other communities here in New York City — are only seen as people in desperate need of richer outsiders. I know I’m amazingly flattered when people say they’ve gone to visit my parents home countries and that they liked the culture and food. But there’s a difference between appreciation, and running all over the place without being mindful of people who live and work there. Go to places. See the world. But understand that in the face of all these hurricanes, residents of the Caribbean have a lot to lose.
If you’d like to help with hurricane relief efforts and volunteer, you can get more information and donate at these links:
Author Bio: Angely Mercado is a Dominicarican from Queens who writes about Latinidad, NYC news, culture, and more. Her work has appeared in The Lily, Lenny Letter, and Brooklyn Based. Her goal in life is to be draped in gold and to write a novel that’s at least ok. Find her on Twitter @AngelyMercado