Decolonization is the process of attaining freedom from a colonizing force . . .
Even once a nation has gained independence from it’s original occupying force, such as the United States of America, there is still a long, up-hill climb to complete decolonization from all of the forces, whether they be physical, mental or emotional, that came with the colonial process. Often, as is the case with this country, many are not even aware of how these factors still impact their day to day life 240 years after so-called independence was attained.
Arguably this initial process of decolonization bred a hyper-nationalism in a desire to remove ourselves as much as possible from the original English, French, Spanish and Dutch colonists many of our lineages descend from. This, in and of itself is complicated enough, but we must not forget that those immigrants seeking freedom from their previously recognized nations murdered millions of the original indigenous inhabitants of this land mass, and displaced or assimilated many more. While the effort to remove direct association from England, France, Spain, and the Netherlands was relatively successful, there is a much more in depth decolonization process for the indigenous people and all others who wish to no longer be complicit in the ongoing genocide of those people and their cultures.
For those who are attempting to consciously inform their actions and understand the social, economic, and environmental impacts of them, working to decolonize our lives is a complicated, arduous journey. It is as multifaceted as every single person colonization impacts. There are many questions one can ask themselves to become more aware of just how deeply they are still implicit in colonization; who traditionally inhabited the place you currently live? What was the name of this place? How often do you interact with those who continue to inhabit that space, despite the hardships faced by their ancestors? Where does the food you eat come from? How many plants could you identify that have nutritional or medical qualities within one mile?
Working to address this phenomenon at home is difficult enough, but we must not forget that it also shapes our entire worldview and dictates how we interpret the information we take in as we leave our current place of residence (also read occupation) to travel.
For many, traveling to Cancun for spring break is more of an after thought than anything. It’s a great place to go if you want the thrill of being in a predominantly “Brown” country (according to U.S. tropes) while essentially being in a traveler’s colony. The cost of the plane ticket makes that $150 you just paid for a passport seem like chump change, but who cares about that stuff anyways, right?
I have a hunch of who might care. The descendants of the people who, since time immemorial, have traversed the land slated to house the planets 2nd Great Wall (if a certain presidential candidate gets his way) without the need to show a militarized guard a $150 ode to nationalism. It is well documented that countless trade routs were followed by indigenous people from present day U.S.A. to what is now called Mexico. And now, U.S. Citizens (many ironically being descendants of immigrants themselves) have the audacity to call those—who very well may have had great grandparents who knew a time when a U.S./Mexico border didn’t exist—illegal immigrants.
The complete process of decolonizing the act of traveling has been rendered nearly impossible with the implementation of passports. This requires one to at least surrender to, and validate, recognized settler-colonial states, and their subjective borders, before they even leave their front door. This can be subverted, however it can be difficult and often has harsh consequences, which must be considered if on chooses to go down this route.
Even if we do decide to engage in the system to the point of paying for and utilizing a passport, there is much that can be done to decolonize the act of travel.
First, we must educate ourselves. Learn about who was there before it was Mexico, Australia, or Sierra Leone. Find out how the original inhabitants were treated, what became of them; complete genocide, assimilation, survival?
Second, engage with these people. And don’t be offended if they chose not to engage with you. Respect their autonomy. Something they may well not be used to, but deserve, since they are humans after all.
Third, don’t tokenize these folks. Indigenous people stolen from the landmasses now called Africa and the Americas were placed in zoos throughout westernized countries for people to gaze upon the amazing beasts and specimen that they were. These zoos were open well into the 20th century. Don’t be one of those people that paid to see the “savages.”
Fourth, don’t encroach on, or invite yourself into ceremony of communities you are not directly involved with, ever. These are sacred events that are crucial to the continuance of many cultures, and while that Ayahuasca trip seems super enlightening dude, probably shouldn’t be pursued. If you are involved in that community and invited into ceremony your involvement is obviously up to your discretion.
Fifth, when purchasing goods inform yourself about their origins. Was it made under slave labor, stolen from indigenous people, or being sold by a supplier that coerces the makers?
Sixth, recognize that if you are reading this, you benefit from a multitude of privileges; in particular the class privilege that allows you to own the device you are accessing it on, to be connected to the internet, and/or are afforded the leisure time to spend reading this.
Many people impacted by colonization world-wide are subjected to severe classism and racism that limits their ability to access many basics to human survival. When thinking about the flux of immigrants and the refugees fleeing predominantly from the Global South into more developed nations of the Global North these lines from the poem “Home” by Somali poet Warsan Shire sums it up well, “You have to understand/Nobody puts their child in a boat/Unless the water is safer than the land.” Colonization is a cruel process and the first step in reversing it is awareness and then addressing it. While it proves very difficult to completely decolonize traveling—being that the majority of this planet has been colonized more than enough times—there is a lot that can be done to lower the extent to which we perpetuate, and benefit from, that process. It seems that the best way to begin to decolonize ourselves as travelers is to decolonize ourselves at home.
Decolonization is ongoing and has no formal guidelines. This makes it very difficult for those of us who are interested in it, and wishing to do our best to assist in dismantling structures that perpetuate oppression of people the world around. This piece is in no way a claim to be a definitive introduction to the decolonization of travel, rather is merely my attempt at engaging in the ongoing and ever evolving discourse on the subject. It is also an invitation to all people to begin thinking differently about how we interact with each other, the land we move over, and the shared human experience of travel; no longer consuming it merely because we have the privilege to.
M. A. Chavez
Is co-founder of Vagrant. Anonymous. He spends his time split between traveling and the North West. He is currently working on getting his debut novel published, and writing his second.
How do you decolonize travel? What steps do you take to become more conscious while traveling?
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