In about 50 days we'll pack up our car and drive from Texas to Baja California Sur. I’m dreaming of the sun, the ocean, and the land.
I'm not the only one with desert dreams.
We may be among the few Black travelers in Baja, but there are plenty of expats from Canada, the United States, and other countries living in Baja California Sur (BCS) part-time or all year. The house we're renting most likely exists because of foreign migration to the desert.
Our move is inspired by major life transitions. We're also seeking time way from the United States for both personal and political perspective, and Baja feels right. Ever since my first intuitive move to Austin, I've learned to listen when my intuition pulls me to a particular place.
We also sought hi-speed Wi-Fi (this is a working journey for us). Air conditioning does my partner good. I'm ecstatic about at least one yoga studio near by. In other words, we sought amenities that are common in Baja in part due to foreign investment.
On being Black gentrifiers: it's complicated
Writing about Panama, Sigler and Wachsmuth (2015) describe transnational gentrification, a process through which wealthier expats ("gentry") who are able to travel benefit from and create investment opportunities abroad. Foreign investment is raising costs of living around the the world. In Berlin, Barcelona, and Rio De Janeiro, among other cities, local residents protest the impact of tourism and expat migration.
My partner and I don't fit the stereotypical portrait of "gentry" in terms of wealth or race.
Yes, we have the mobility to travel, and we possess American passports for crossing borders. As PhD holders and university instructors, we regularly receive news of travel opportunities for research. Both of us travel with cisgender privilege. We read as a man and a woman and identify as such, and people assume we're a hetero couple traveling.
We're also traveling while Black, which means . . .
- People don't usually assume I'm American when I'm abroad. White Americans may be targeted because they "look" like tourists. If I'm targeted, it's usually due to my blackness and gender - not because of my citizenship.
- Locals and tourists alike abroad sometimes assume I'm a salesperson or a sex worker as a Black woman (other Black women describe similar experiences, see link and link).
- I navigate racism and racial profiling throughout the whole travel experience starting with airport security in the United States, to airports, restaurants, hotels, and more abroad.
- When I travel alone/solita, I experience less racial profiling than when I travel with my partner; when we travel together, I experience more overt racism.
I'm processing what global anti-blackness means in the context of global gentrification. After all, whether I'm assumed to be American or not I'm traveling from an overdeveloped country whose currency, culture, and politics maintain global influence. As travelers from the United States, how my partner and I invest our money and time can affect local lives long after we've left.
Which leads back to Baja . . .
Transnational Gentrification in Baja
Recent events point to transnational gentrification in Baja. Witness controversy over the Tres Santos development, including concerns of some local fishermen and protests from expats who fear yet another resort. Still others emphasize the jobs developments like these can create. One reason for the controversy is water: cities throughout BCS face water shortages, as the population of the peninsula continues to grow. This dissertation discusses development politics and tensions on the Eastern edge of the peninsula.
I currently live in Austin, Texas. During 12 years here, I've witnessed and researched the impact of gentrification - often dubbed "revitalization" - on long-established, historically-marginalized Black and Brown communities. Impacts include displacement, loss of land, and lack of affordable housing, among others. Globally known for its creative food and music scene, Austin is also one of the most segregated cities in the country. Meanwhile the city's population continues to boom. Like Baja, Central Texas is dry, with shrinking aquifers, water restrictions, and droughts.
I romanticized Baja as a conflict- and struggle-free place because I'm soul tired. I'm weary of media, development and politics in the United States.
Learning more about Baja was a reminder. Water scarcity, displacement, and (over)development persist in Austin, Baja, and elsewhere. So do resistance and resilience. I needed this reminder, because I want to travel awake.
A radical departure?
Maybe a radical departure isn't about going to a radically different place. Maybe a radical departure involves paying close attention to how I travel.
How can I travel consciously in Baja (beyond speaking the language)? Where can I spend money, in a way that supports local owners? How can conscious travel, be joyful?
At its most radical, conscious travel is about changing course. If the social, economic, and/or environmental implications of me being in a place as a foreigner are dire for that place, do I need to be there at all? If I feel intuitively pulled to travel, there are other ways to connect with other locations. I can connect virtually. I can connect through meditation or ceremony.
Changing course isn't an option for us this time. We've paid for our Baja trip, and going still feels aligned. Next time? More in-depth research before we pay up. Right now? Time to practice conscious travel.