As a LALACS major (and a Latin American) I have been aware of issues that affect Latin America and its people through second-hand journal articles and academic sources that explain situations in a language unlike the colloquial Spanish that is spoken by the people it affects. These explanation are thorough and reliable based on scholarly research so I am able to analyze the roots and causes of the socio-racial instances that plague this region. These words however are not the words spoken by the people affected and the longer that I’ve taken courses at Dartmouth I’ve grown detached (although not uninformed) from the real life implications of corruption, colonization, and race issues throughout the Americas.
Being in this course has genuinely opened up my mind to the real world issues that affect Latin America. Through dialogue with my peers, conversations with people from Bridges, and personal research for my final project I feel like I’ve been able to return to a real world understanding of my studies. Issues with the proposed canal, ecological concerns, and historical context has allowed me to piece together theory and recent implications and gain a deeper understanding than I ever have before. It is because of the knowledge that I have gained from this course that I look forward to possibly joining CESP next year and travel to Nicaragua to finally see everything that I have learned so far in motion.
Until then good luck to everyone going to Nicaragua this year! Have fun, be safe, and be in the moment. Remember everything we’ve learned about development and being a self-less traveler. And don’t forget….
Another aspect of Gringo Trails that really made me think about my own experiences abroad was the concept of authenticity. Throughout this documentary all of the tourists visiting abroad constantly brought up their want for an authentic experience. They didn’t, however, bring it up in a respectful way, but in a demanding whiny way. Because they were paying for these experiences in places so far removed from their homes the tourists in this documentary seemed to believe that an experience that met their expectations of an “authentically ethnic” experience was owed to them.
I understand why this may be important to many travelers. Living our everyday lives amongst modern technology and stressful lives furthers us from the realities of simple and earthly lives of yesteryear. But what does this say about the expectations we place on other cultures when we visit them? Do we have certain caricatures in our minds of what we expect to experience when we leave the confines of modern life?
The absurd need to meet the expectations of what we want to see when we travel, I feel, actually works against us. By demanding to see and do what we think is authentic based on information we read or see through second-parties I feel that we often keep our selves from experiencing the real authentic experience tourists travel for. Basing off of the countless tales of tourist in Gringo Trails these experiences actually ended in tourists disrespecting the places they were visiting (because they were so focused on getting what they paid for) and take part in experiences that were ultimately un-authentic.
One of my favorite parts of this course has been watching Gringo Trails, a documentary about the unintended consequences of eco-tourism. This documentary was so interesting to me because it allows the watcher to see how tourism, even something as benign sounding as eco-tourism can have negative impacts on the communities and environments it takes place in. This was striking to me because eco-tourism seems like a better alternative that traditional tourism that often tears apart landscapes in order to build hotels, restaurants, or leisure businesses (stores, museums, bars, or even bowling alleys/entertainment venues). The “eco” part of eco-tourism made me believe that this form of tourism was conscious on environmental impacts, but I was outstounded by how much money can incentivize changes that undermine eco-friendly tourism.
A party at the Haad Rin beach area in Thailand, one of the locations visited in “Gringo Trails.” Credit: Icarus Films
This film was necessary to this course because it visually showed me and my classmates the ways in which tourist can change the health or well-being of a community (indigenous people living on the land) and the land itself (animals and ecology of the beaches, deserts, and rainforests that were visited). A lot of these unintended consequences stemmed not from bad intentions but from selfish intentions on behalf of those visiting these areas and governments that cared more about profit and the needs of tourists than the care of the land people wanted to visit (ie the salt desert in South America). The countless examples shared by this documentary helped me think more clearly about my own trips abroad and how I will choose what places I will visit and how I will behave when I come to these areas.
Check out the trailer!
Gringo Trails Trailer
“So if voluntourism is as bad as you say then am I not allowed to help?”
Volunteer work is one of the most selfless activities a person can do. It genuinely aims to give back to people or communities that are in need of assistance or attention. In the perfect world trips to developing countries (….even though calling something developing ultimately makes it inferior to the institution classifying it…but that’s another rant) selflessly enrich the community without burdening with any more issues. However, we don’t live in a perfect world and traveling to any part of the world leaves footprints regardless of whether you tried your hardest to keep mud from soiling the floor. We have to be conscious of these repercussions even if they’re not intended.
Likewise problematic is the fetishization of poor brown people. Unfortunately we live in a world that fetishizes the third world as a disabled exotic haven that needs to be repaired by more advanced (often white) foreigners. I’m all for helping (when asked) but this also creates a skewed relationship that can make volunteers look as if they’re suffering from the white savior complex.
While assessing the dynamic of wanting to help and the repercussions of going into a country that has been historically raped and pillaged by white nations here are some things you can do stateside:
*Become involved with local volunteer organizations: I know this sounds basic, but service in our communities is as important as it is abroad. Being a first world nation gives the off the erroneous impression that everyone is well-off and connected to all of the resources that will ascertain that they are living a decent life. However, that is far from the truth. Here in our country millions go hungry, suffer from homelessness, or are oppressed by institutional discrimination.
*Become involved in your government: This may sound cheesy, but as individuals going to a foreign country you are limited by what political power you can use to help people in countries like Nicaragua. As American citizens, though, you have gigantic power within the confines of our government. Become more involved in foreign policy issues that affect or work against nations like Nicaragua. I’m not saying that you should run for office or president of the United States so that you can have the authority to make laws that will solve of the problems of poor oppressed people in the world (even though that would be super nice). However, do educate your self about politicians that are elected by other citizens like you. Learn about their views on foreign policy issues that affect countries like Nicaragua and pass that information along to others so that more just legislation can be passed by representative that believe in the same things you do.
In thinking about “voluntarism” I want to touch on the other part of the word that I haven’t touched upon: tourist. Personally, I have not had the experience to a well traveled person. Despite the fact that I was born in Mexico, the United States has been the only country that I’ve ever lived in. While living here I didn’t have the opportunity to leave the U.S. because of my legal status. By being undocumented I was essentially barred from exploring beyond the borders of this country, not because of laws that prevented me from leaving, but because returning from my travels would be impeded. Thus, for a very long time embarking on tourism meant that I wouldn’t be able to see my family, friends, or home for a very long time, if ever.
Unlike the millions of undocumented Americans in this country , I had the connections that enabled me to be able to go through the process of attaining legal status. Not everyone has this access, and I recognize that this ambiguous process seals more doors than open them. Through the broken immigration system that governs the flow of immigrants into this country I was able to receive American permanent residency a few years back despite being in this country for almost twenty years. This gigantic privilege freed me from the previous restrictions that barred me from leaving the country.
(Check out John Oliver’s epic rant on the broken immigration system for the knowledge and for the witty sarcasm)
When I was given the right to leave and enter the United States I immediately began planning to return to Mexico and reunite with grandparents, aunts/uncles, and cousins. Never in my mind, though, did I relate the act of leaving the United States to equate me as a tourist. I saw my self as solely returning to my home. Retrospectively, though, I wonder if it truly was just that or whether I was unknowingly there as a tourist. Because I had not been there for many years, I spent most of my stay visiting tourist attractions, historical and entertainment. I never contracted any tour guides, but my cousins became my quasi-guides as they showed me what parts of the city I should see and what ecological sights I should make it to. In some circles that makes me a tourist and after returning to the United States I began to understand that argument.
Now, after reflection and the experience of moving around more freely, I’ve come to the conclusion that being or not being a tourist is in the experience you choose to create when you leave your home. The choice to be a tourist or not is up to you. Choose wisely.
Photo credit by Bamba Express
During our discussions in class we have debated on issues that center around the positive or negative aspects of volunteering abroad. It has been a heated topic so I wanted to share why I oppose voluntourism. I want to begin though with the things that I agree with from the pro-voluntourism side. I agree with the act of helping. The United States is not perfect, but because of the resources and wealth that we have in this country service is a resource that we are able to supply and even export. I also understand that there are voluntourist who serve the best intentions. Looking around the class and seeing how many people care about helping others is genuinely a wonderful experience to have and it gives me hope about our generation.
That being said I ultimately find that voluntourism in the long run has a negative outcome for the people that are being helped. I derive this statement from the history of Nicaragua in relation to its colonizers: Spain and the United States. Under their rule, countless generations of Nicaraguans have had no choice in steering their lives or government. While voluntourists are not colonizers, to have more outsiders come into Nicaragua perpetuates a cycle which gives higher authority to outsiders and subjugates Nicaraguans. This can be seen in the power dynamic between NGO’s, vountourists, and the people they are helping. In the current model, power (ie resources, money, knowledge) is held by NGO’s and in some respect the voluntourist that provide funds to the NGO’s for the ability to help. In order to receive the money, resources, or knowledge that would benefit their community, Nicaraguans have to abide by the rules and regulations of another entity. The work, although beneficial in a day-to-day setting, thus cerates a microcosm of neocolonialism which brings roots another level of subjugation which bends them to rules of others.
That being said I don’t think that Nicaraguans should stop receiving aid. Due to the destruction and trauma that previous colonizers have left behind certainly entitle this country to ask for help. For Nicaragua to be self sufficient and truly independent they must be in full control of the aid and learn modes of becoming self-sufficient. To be self-sufficient (learning about medical, engineering, or financial roles) would push Nicaragua to be able to fend for itself and not rely on others that indebt it, Why insert yourself into a situation you don’t know much about and take up a space that could give Nicaraguans the opportunity or resources to do these jobs?
In my studies here at Dartmouth College I have found myself being drawn to courses that focus on the region of Latin America. Although I am a native of these parts (and just a tad bit biased…), I find myself drawn to this area of the world due in part to the beautiful forms of diversity and resilience that co-exist along with the presence of contradictions and a legacy of corruption. It is the complicated nature of Latin American countries and peoples that captivates me and pushes me to understand how the history of colonization and neocolonialism have thrust upon this region economic disparities, corrupt governments, and dislocation of native peoples. Under the guidance of amazing professors I have been able to grasp the unique ways in which Mexico, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic.
These studies, however, are not encompassing of the Latin American region. Due to the lack of professors that focus in this area most of the courses focus on distinct areas of this region. That is why when I saw this class I was excited about being introduced to a Latin American country that had never been mentioned before in my academic career. I hope that as we progress in this class that I can continue to learn more about this country and in the future visit it.