An Open Letter to International Living
I shouldn’t be writing this letter in 2018 addressed to a publication that has been a veteran in the travel publication world. I shouldn’t but I have to.
Travel is intended to be a place that is safe for people to be themselves and to immerse themselves in diversity of places, people, thoughts, food and more. As a global traveler and a mountain trekker of almost 20 years, I have come to love the diversity that comes along with every moment I’m wandering in some parts of our world. I learned not to just respect but appreciate the differences among people that I come across in my traveling life. In fact, I can’t function as a traveler without the need to experience diversity whether with fellow travelers, the locals in every destination or simply the traveling experience itself.
I’m having to bring up the aspect pertaining to diversity of people and thoughts because recently I came across a posting in one of these so called ex-pat Facebook groups from a writer from International Living seeking to interview “ex-pats” who reside in Peru and run a tour/adventure travel company. Setting aside the politics behind the term, I took the word “ex-pat” to mean an American who is now living abroad. The qualifications for people he sought were straightforward and logically I gathered such qualifications applied to me. I’m an American living in Cusco, Peru and I happen to run a social enterprise that’s also an adventure travel company. I reached out to the writer who quickly set up an interview with me for the next day.
The interview involved the usual questions – what am I doing in Peru, for how long have I been here, what is my tour company about, what was I doing prior to launching my company, where I resided previously – the last question of course prompted my having to reveal that I moved to America when I was a teenager; hence, I’m an immigrant from the Philippines. At that point, the writer/interviewer quickly advised me that International Living only features those who were born in America. He then advised me that he will consult with his editor about this to see if an exception can be made. I made it clear to the interviewer that I am an American. In my case, I was naturalized. But that didn’t seem enough. I was appalled to be hearing this. It’s obvious that many of the stories that are published on your media site belong to those of Caucasian/white background. But I had not expected your publication to be so narrow in its definition of an “ex-pat” or “American” for that matter.
What’s fascinating about all this is that your publication aims to advise and guide your readers on how to successfully transition abroad, many of such places include developing countries such as the Philippines and Peru. I lived in the Philippines. I know the culture. I know how it is to live in a developing country. I know how it is to move abroad and leave everything behind. Arguably, my life as an “ex-pat” started as a choice made not by me, but my parents – and yet the American society has labeled us “immigrants” instead.
So, let me be clear about my background – I’m Filipina by blood, born and raised in the Philippines. My family migrated to Seattle, Washington, USA when I was 13 years old. I attended high school in Auburn, Washington. I then proceeded to attend the University of Washington at the age of 17. I obtained a dual BA degree in Social Work and American Ethnic Studies. Immediately after, I attended law school at UW where I obtained a dual JD/Masters in Social Work degrees. I passed the New York and New Jersey Bar exams. Thereafter, I clerked for several family court judges for a year in Washington, DC. In 2003, I became an Assistant Attorney General for the District of Columbia, litigating child abuse and neglect cases involving predominantly black families. I was in that role for 15 years before I launched my social enterprise, Peak Explorations. During the time I practiced law, I found my passion for the outdoors and global traveling while organizing groups of hikers in the D.C. area to trek worldwide. As a result, I have traveled to over 60 countries to date.
I took an oath as a naturalized American around the age of 19, and in doing so, I renounced my Filipino citizenship. Since then, I had no other country to call home but America. I lived in America for 29 years. I pay taxes, vote, bought a home once, and served the city of Washington, DC by advocating for the welfare of its youths and children. When on travels, no matter how much racism, sexism or anti-immigration sentiment I experience within the U.S., I still aim to share with other travelers what I love most about America, and that happens to be its diversity. I oftentimes tell other nationalities on my travels, “Yes, America has an immense amount of social problems that emanate from being a diverse nation but I believe that the diversity of its people is its strongest asset to overcome any social ill.”
This leads me to question the stakeholders, editors, the leaders running International Living –
Which Americans are you serving and representing? Do they look like me?
The irony of all this is your publication has deemed my immigrant status as a disqualifier to speak on the topic of living abroad, which happens to be the very same thing that you advocate for your readers except you use the terms, “ex-pat”, “people living abroad,” “retirees.”
Is it your position that Americans like me by virtue of being an immigrant and naturalized fall outside your image of an “ex-pat”, “American”, or “person” living abroad? Would you care to enlighten how you classify the writers and features on your publication? Otherwise, I can only assume that you are operating under a racist and colonialist point of view; thereby, accommodating and catering to only those of European or white background. I’d rather be wrong in my assumptions but my recent ordeal with your publication behooves me to think otherwise.
Either way, in case you didn’t know, the demographics in America dictate a rise in the number of racial minorities, many of whom will impact traveling and the so-called “ex-pat” or “retiree” communities living abroad in a novel way. And perhaps, this letter and my interaction with you may very well be the start of that novel change by virtue of having to challenge your outdated notions. Therefore, it’s relevant more than ever to reevaluate who and what you choose to feature or write about, as well as, the demographics of your readers and the individuals within your own organization to cater to these changes in the world of living abroad.
Your definitions placed in finely packaged boxes may not persist any longer. Change is here. I hope your publication is ready for it.