Maybe I should clarify a little bit.

Do you ever think about the systems and institutions that go behind everything when you travel (This question applies to any concept in your daily life, but let’s stick with tourism)?

When you, as an American, take a vacation down to some island full of charming natives speaking broken English, or down to the shores of Mexico for the scenery (and the culture, I guess), you may find yourself taking advantage of the people who serve you with your affluence and privilege. You may find yourself dehumanizing resort employees, perhaps purchasing an American-made piece of local culture at the airport gift shop. You may even wear or carry this item, and say “come one come all! I have bought this item on the shore where hundreds of bloody brown bodies lay!” But of course you don’t say that.

Although I say this as an American myself; I’m always thinking about how I am just colonizing everything. At this time, I think it’s necessary for everyone to begin to think about how their American privilege affects others.

My only question now, 18 hours before my plane takes off, is, how does Hands for A Bridge at Roosevelt come to play in this? Me and my 14 peers are about to travel to Cape Town, South Africa for two weeks. The aforementioned question is a tough one to answer. Personally, as a relatively privileged American, I really don’t know how the people who will be greeting us feel about our visit. I do feel like an imperialist; my presence in a developing country is inherently imperialist. Whatever I say and do will be imperialist. But the program is also meant solely for education and social justice, so why should I even be questioning this? Ultimately, I feel like another colonist, trivializing the true impacts and tensions that will arise during the trip.

graphic by: Maggie Udd

One Comment

  1. Several thoughts. Why don’t you ask the people who you are visting what they think of you visit? Assuming before you even travel is a very high school social justice thing to do. Tourism is an important industry in many developing countries and if you make sure your trip depends on ethical tourism companies who employ large amounts of local people, your trip is no longer as imperialistic as you feel. For example, if I traveled to a far away country to build houses, I may be taking away jobs from local people who face unemployment. But if I go to this country, purchase things from locals, use locally-based travel/tour companies, etc. these things are necessary for stimulating the economies in many of these places. Does that still feel “imperialist” to you?

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