The Role of Media & Diversity: Sticking Out Like A Sore Thumb
I was at a press event with a little over 35 other travel writers, bloggers, and brand representatives. I was talking to a travel writer about Japan, extremely curious about it because it is one of the places my family and I want to travel to soon. I asked her what her experience was like. In my question, I was thinking about the food, the pace, the language challenges, and even the cost. She answered that it was fast paced, and crowded, and a bit overwhelming at times. But then she added, “It’s weird. Imagine sticking out like a sore thumb because you are the only white person around. It’s just unsettling.”
And as she continued to talk I wondered if at any point it would dawn on her that I didn’t have to imagine being the “only one” because I was, at that very moment in time, experiencing just that. In a room full of over 35 people, I was, in fact, sticking out like a sore thumb. And though I didn’t find the experience unsettling, I do find it interesting that no one else seemed to notice.
But I have to wonder: even if people notice, would it matter? Would they care?
It was 1987 and I was walking through the streets of Milan and men and women would stop, stare, point, call out, and even reach out and touch my skin. They asked me where I was from. Where I got my tan. Most of them said I was beautiful and ogled. I remember walking into a gelateria packed with skiers returning from their holiday at Madonna di Campiglio, and being the only one of color. The room went from a loud hustle and bustle noise to a softer whisper as women looked me up and down and men locked their eyes on me.
At 17, I found the experience fascinating. Little did I know how different it would feel now.
Little did I know how frustrating it would be to walk into a room of my peers and not find one single person who is Latino, or of color. How annoying it would be to attend conference after conference after conference and rarely see a person who looks like me or shares my heritage or culture speak on a panel of professionals aiming to talk to other professionals like myself.
Little did I know how sad it would be to be the only one, when I know there could potentially be so many more.
People underestimate the power of representation of self anywhere, but especially in the media.
As a travel blogger, I get frustrated with travel media, because unless it is purposefully targeted to a specific ethnic group, there is rarely ever any diverse ethnic or cultural group represented. Let’s not even go into age and gender, because then I will just want to cry.
How do we inspire members of our community to take on the world, break past cultural norms and sexists traditions to embrace travel and adventure just like anyone else if there is no one out there like us doing it or speaking to us?
When I write about the journey I took on to travel and make blogging my career, I hope that it impacts anyone and everyone who needs to hear the message – regardless of race, gender, or ethnicity. My writing is for everyone and I want people to feel welcomed when they visit my site.
But when I talk about what is it like to be a girl in the Latino culture, and what it means to have the courage to be outspoken and adventurous, fearless and ambitious even when growing up among a group of conservative and religious Latino immigrants, there is a specific person that I am hoping to reach.
There is a girl, somewhere out there, being told by her Latino mother and father, what her responsibility and role as a woman is. She is being raised to conform to a set of beliefs and traditions that make up a huge part of who she is, both historically and culturally. She is struggling with the fact that to pursue her individual dreams might go against culture and potentially shame her and her family.
How do you inspire her when her reality is not even something you can grasp, and when your reality is not even something she can relate to? Such is the role of diversity in media. It is to represent and speak from a place that others who don’t have a voice can feel is being heard.
I don’t often target specific groups in my writing, but the fact that I am a Latina travel writer in a space dominated by white men and women is not lost on me. The reality that there are other little girls that will have to go through similar cultural struggles before they have the courage to pursue their dreams and that I can be a source of inspiration to them is not something I take lightly. And I am not alone. I believe that deep in our hearts we all think of someone, even when writing to everyone.
Though there are many talented non-minority travel bloggers out there, many deserving of the accolades and recognition they have garnered, and though I don’t believe in throwing anyone a bone just because they are a minority, I do think that those in the media, in the business of conference coordinating, and in campaign organizing, must work harder so that the message goes further and reaches a wider audience.
I don’t have to travel to Japan, or Italy, or anywhere far from home to stick out like a sore thumb. I can simply go to an event, or a meeting, or a conference. Except no one else seems to really realize or care, because everyone else is too enraptured in their own comfort zone to notice. In the meantime, someone is left unreached, unspoken to, underrepresented, and uninspired.
We have a responsibility to do better, to try harder, and to be more aware so that sticking out like a sore thumb becomes less and less of a common reality for many of us.