A Small place.
Greetings everyone! It is nice to be back. I was able to catch up on some reading over break concluding with the assigned reading of A Small Place by Jamaica Kincaid.
It left a depressing tone about travel. At the end of the book, I felt like a guilty white man that should just stay home for the rest of my life and memorize ancient texts.
I will be the first to admit that Europe and colonialism ruined the world. I also understand that America began to shoulder this burden as Modernity neared. Despite the fact that America has a wealth of great citizens that do their best everyday for humanity, Westerners are still recognized by all of the bad things that they are responsible for. Many books cite shameful events intheir text but Kincaid’s book uses that as its theme. She makes it seem as everyone should remain in the location that which they were born and never travel or experience the world. She leads us to believe that this would prevent the embarrassment and objectification of native people.
My difficulty with her compartmentalization of culture is that I believe it hinders society’s memory. I think back to some of my friends in the lower Midwest that volunteered at agricultural living museums. They may have dressed funny in the inaccurate attire that people wanted to see (farm girls wearing Victorian style dresses as opposed to more functional work clothes) but it still educates visitors in many other ways about life on the prairie farm. When I think critically about cultural representations to the tourist, I often compare it to those local experiences to study how harmful the depiction is compared to the amount of learning that the viewer receives.
Kinkcaid’s reasoning also affects the ability to maintain tradition for the group. I would not have remembered how to quarter-saw wood, thresh grain, make apple butter or weave chair seats had it not been for the regular miniature expositions that my family and friends worked at.
Kincaid refers to tourists as “ugly human beings.” I understand the group of people that she is referring to in her generalization however, there are others that tour with a willingness to honestly and respectfully learn about other cultures and share on a human level.
Toward the end of the book she spends a lot of time on the idea of bad money. Everyone deals with bad money. All of my friends back home work for the grain industry. The corporate agricultural giants are known for lobbying the government to side with their monetary interests in every way. The largest of which, levies high import taxes to the Caribbean islands to insure that sugar tariffs are high enough that corn is used as the primary sweetener in the world. Still everyone needs to do the best they can for their family. If my hometown is 85% employed by agri-industry, I would like to think that many are using the money to better their family’s life and educating their children to make better decisions possibly allowing a break away from these business practices in the future. After speaking of politics, prostitution, car dealers and the country club, she still fails to acknowledge that good or bad, the visitors were spending money inside their country. It is difficult to condemn current practices unless you have a possible solution. Like most governments, Antigua has a great deal of corruption to deal with. Maybe a solution lies in something new. Possibly, they could use tourism to their advantage both earning money and building a large network of small business people that could eventually stand up against the tainted government leaders. Along the way, while the drivers in the sputtering Japanese taxi-cabs bounce the tourists down the road to the hotel or country club, they could tell the cab’s occupants about the rich heritage and ecosystem that Antigua possesses and give them a short list of all of the amazing “small places” that they could go spend their tourist dollars at. They would be learning about the country while providing a positive influx to the economy.
Thanks for listening.