Disclaimer: This is a far cry, from my typical travel landscape photos, sunsets, and drink recipes. But this is something that I believe I have the obligation to write about. I can’t write about the beauty and virtues of America, while ignoring the current state of affairs and travel predicaments that currently face many travelers to America. So yes, this is about travel in 2017 to America. Just much more raw.
If you’ve spent anytime with me, whether in person, or here on my blog or social media, then you’ve probably gathered that I love South Africa. Seriously, I basically gush about it. And it all stemmed from my first trip to South Africa, a two-month summer trip as a 21-year-old college student.
And part of what stood out about it was that compared to every other travel experience up to that point, there was nothing manufactured or superficial about it. South Africa was all so real, raw, and authentic like nowhere else I had traveled. Yet by no means was it comfortable and rosy. And that couldn’t be truer than of one of my most vivid memories late one night, when I was hanging with some of my African and Afrikkan friends in their dorm at the University of Pretoria. We were shooting the shit when behind me I could hear an Afrikaner yelling in Afrikaans. An eerie silence fell over the group.
Reluctantly, my University of Pretoria friends told me what they were shouting, which was directed toward us. The person had been swearing in Afrikaans, both at my Afrikaner friends and myself. Directed toward me, he was yelling that I didn’t belong here, telling me to go back from where I came from. And to my Afrikaner friends, telling them how shameful it was to be befriending Africans and the American who didn’t belong here. I was in shock, though Apartheid had, after all, just ended a decade earlier.
But being in an urban part of South Africa like that, it reminded me that this was most definitely Africa, and I wasn’t in Kansas North Carolina any longer. Ignorantly, I thought to myself that I truly was a foreigner, in Africa, but that something like that would never happen in present-day America.
Fast-forward a decade and a half since my experience in South Africa, and that very thing, and much worse, is happening in America. That day that I said never would come to America, has come. And before you hit unsubscribe and unfollow, or tell me that I shouldn’t be using a travel and lifestyle website to talk about politics, hear me out. Because this most definitely is a travel issue and a lifestyle issue. But more than anything, this is an issue of integrity, decency, and what’s right and wrong.
I watched in horror from the comforts of my home on Saturday, scrolling social media and news outlets, reading about people being detained and prohibited from entering America as a result of our new president’s Executive Order, restricting visitors to America from several countries. One detainee was an Iraqi who had worked on behalf of the U.S. government in Iraq for 10 years, which included being an interpreter for Army’s 101st Airborne Division.
Another couple, associate professors of engineering, were detained and questioned for several hours before being released thanks to the work of immigration lawyers. Others weren’t so lucky, such as two Yemen brothers, who had their immigration documentation, yet were sent back to East Africa after arriving at Dulles Airport. And still for others, it’s a matter of life and death, as there are numerous stories emerging of travelers from the affected countries with proper documentation and arrangements for surgeries and medical procedures in America that they can’t get elsewhere. But are now delayed.
And the list goes on and on.
So yes, this most definitely is about travel, too (and I did name the post, “Travel in 2017” after all). And this is my duty, as a member of the media and travel community, to write about destinations, near and far, and share about its virtues, hospitality, and accessibility, sharing my take on whether people should travel there. And writing about the advantages and disadvantages of traveling to and around my home country is no different. I’ve most definitely written about the many virtues of America, but now, we find those same virtues being challenged. Because now, people who were once free to travel AND live in America, are being prohibited from doing so. The Toronto Star, Canada’s largest daily publication, in a recent Op-Ed even went so far as to recommend boycotting vacations to the U.S.A.
Interestingly enough, of the seven countries listed on last week’s Executive Order, nationals from those restricted countries have killed zero people in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil between 1975 and 2015. This is fact, researched by the Cato Institute. This ban was meant to stop potential terrorists from entering the U.S.A., yet of the countries restricted, not a single person from a single one of those countries has carried out a terrorist act on America.
Even more interesting: Excluded from the restriction list is Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the UAE, which has been responsible for the most murders as a result of terrorist acts in America (mainly as a result of 9/11). These also happen to be countries that our president has business ties to.
And this is just one thing. It’s without mentioning things like the proposed Mexico wall, to be paid by Americans with a 20% tax on Mexican imports, or the move by the GOP to attempt to sell off 3 million acres of public lands, or the scientists, National Park Service members, and other government employees who have started rogue social media accounts because their voice is being silenced. Or the fact that according to NPR, the GOP-controlled house yesterday overturned a rule (created by the Obama administration) to keep firearms out of the hands of the mentally ill.
So don’t tell me to simply get over it or that I shouldn’t be bringing politics into a travel and lifestyle website when the very foundations that America was built on are being ripped away. It says it right on the fucking Declaration of Independence, “All men are created equal. They are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” That can’t be a cornerstone—a creed—of a country that then denies those things for those who seek it.
I’ve never in my life felt so uncomfortable and unsafe living in my own country. And if I, a privileged, white male, set up to succeed feels uncomfortable, how much more for the young black female, the LGBT partners, Muslim couple, or Mexican family. To those who feel marginalized, scared, uncomfortable, and unsafe, I am so sorry. This is not us.
But this isn’t a pout or a rant. It’s a statement of solidarity. And, a call to action.
What you can do?
- For those living abroad, don’t give up, but stand with us. Ironically, on the day of the Inauguration, I was traveling to my first Middle East country, the United Arab Emirates (UAE). And all of the feelings of frustration and helplessness I had had on the day of the Inauguration, was replaced with hope on the following day as a result of the Women’s March on Washington. All told, millions of people marched that day, across 50 U.S. states, more than 30 countries, and on seven continents (even Antarctica). Dear world, we are going to need support over here, and that was a great start.
- Subscribe and support quality journalism. No one paid me to say this, I promise. The fact is that journalism has often gotten the short end of the stick in our progressive, digital world. Yet it’s more important now, than ever, when fake news is influencing the logic and decisions of so many people, while the president of the U.S. is calling respected, established publications and journalists fake and liars. Just a few of the publications I regularly read and support include National Geographic, Outside Magazine, The Economist, Mother Jones, Travel + Leisure, New York Times, Washington Post, The Atlantic, and GQ. And for the younger readers, Teen Vogue.
- Donate and subscribe to those organizations and non-profits on the front lines. What happened at international airports around America could’ve been much worse last weekend if it wasn’t for the work of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which went to bat for detained travelers and got a court order that issued an emergency stay halting deportations under the executive order. Someone buy them all a drink. So many organizations and non-profits are the ones in the trenches doing the work. Just a few include the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Planned Parenthood (which was recently defunded), Oxfam International, and MoveOn.org.
- Write, but more importantly, call your representatives and senators. Social posts can make a statement, letters and emails are a nice gesture, but what typically makes the most impact are calls to those people who represent where you live. A great example of this happened just yesterday when Representative Jason Chaffetz rescinded Bill H.R. 621, which would have sold off more than 3 million acres of public land. Some great guides and articles have been written, doing most of the work for you, including this Refinery29 guide and 5calls.org. Meanwhile, find your representatives here and senators here. Additionally, my friend’s Facebook page, One Action Every Day, is a great resource for small things people can do daily.
- Volunteer and connect with groups and organizations in your neighborhood. Perhaps MJ said it best when he sang, “If you wanna make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make a change.” Every community has so many opportunities to get involved, connect, and listen, be it working at a local homeless shelter, volunteering with veterans, or connecting with groups like a local group of international students or an LGBT advocacy organization. It’s in part why I’m doing my 52 Weeks of Cocktails project, because I don’t want to continue to miss opportunities to listen and learn from those of different nationalities, interests, religions, and skin color.
- Self-care. The last few years have seen me ardently travel the world, live in new places, take risks, and try new things. And I’ll be damned if this is going to stop me. I’m still going to vacation this month for my birthday, I’m still going to try new things, and I’m still going to go out and get lost in this big world of ours. If we can’t do that, then we not only start losing what it means to be American, but what it means to be human.