Pretend you are flipping through a brochure or searching online for the perfect Caribbean vacation, what do you see? Most likely photos of beautiful beaches, exotic flora and an empty beach chair. I never gave this image a second thought until I decided to start traveling with my kids. As a family we have been to eight different Caribbean islands. The first few trips were fun beach days and then I decided that I wanted these trips to have a lasting impact on their lives. On our fourth trip we got married on the Cayman Islands and only used local vendors for the ceremony and fun activities. Not only did we save a ton of money, we met real people. They told us about their country and traditions, we learned so much from them and we have been doing it that way ever since.
In 2016 my youngest daughter wanted to go to the rainforest, so we did. (I wrote about this in another post, please check it out.) Seeking to enrich their lives with unique experiences we stumbled upon something else more meaningful, culture. Tourism tries to separate itself from culture (can’t have people getting woke and not spending enough money). As a Black person the immediate inference to culture is Africa, but there are millions of people like me right here in this hemisphere hidden in plain sight. Entire populations of displaced people, stolen and adapted to a new world. To hear their stories was an experience I had not anticipated.
In searching for places to go, the internet gives explicit warnings about how dangerous it is and where not to visit. Travel sites throw out crime statistics, urging you to only patronize trusted venues which are often owned by outside interests. But if take a good look at the numbers you will see that the statistics of most places fall in line with that of major American cities like Washington DC and New York. I take my family to these cities without a second thought. Of course, you should use common sense when traveling anywhere but don’t limit yourself if you don’t have to. If you are going to travel abroad why not support the local residents? Several different ladies pulled me to the side in Belize and said things like “don’t believe what they say about us”, “most of the people here are black but they won’t put us in the ads” and “our country is beautiful and you are safe”. That was a moment for me. We were the only Black tourists in the area and maybe perhaps the only people they thought would care. In The Bahamas several people made it a point to mention that the native people were wiped out completely after Columbus came. Gone, and replaced by African Slaves. To have my children hear this history from people who look like them and see an Island of people thriving after colonization is worth more than gold to me. When we support the local residents, my kids see successful family run businesses and hear their appreciation for their county and its natural beauty. We are treated like friends and sometimes family because of a common bond our ancestors had no control over. In Turks and Caicos’ they spoke to me in Spanish to single me out from the other tourists. My Spanish is terrible, so she spoke English to me in hushed tones like your auntie would in church so only I could hear her. I felt at home. They recognized me as one of their own even though I was from the US.
This connection follows us on all of our island adventures. It is a gift from our ancestors reminding us we all came from the same place. We get the same jokes and laugh together. I am inspired by their determination to be free sovereign countries. I am also jealous that in some places they have been free for so long and the culture of our ancestors is so prevalent in everyday life. It is also comforting to know that these places are so close and available to me. The relatives of these islanders inspired long gone slaves in the United States to fight for their freedom and the people I visit today inspire me to hold on to my culture no matter what. It is amazing how such short interactions can impact you for a lifetime.
And on top of all this cultural immersion we get to do amazing things with people who look like us. A Black woman lead us through the rain forest in Honduras while sharing local traditions and stories. A father and son took us on a boat to swim with sting rays off the coast of the Cayman Islands. A young man held my hand and calmed my nerves as I floated over a 7000 ft deep sea trench in Grand Turk. Another man fed a barracuda to hungry sharks in front of us in Freeport Bahamas. Just us together experiencing these moments in life despite the stigmas and challenges our skin tones face in mainstream society. My children my not quite understand the profoundness of these times yet, but I can tell they feel something deep with in. And that is money and time well spent.