Why the social layout in Latin America encourages us to be responsible tourists

Protests in Santiago de Chile, 2019. Photo by Cristian Castillo

Why the social layout in Latin America encourages us to be responsible tourists

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By Breixo Martins

If you have begun reading this article and find yourself reading magazines like “The Jungle Journal,” we surely share an interest in the knowledge and respect of other cultures, languages, and peoples. This concept is essential as none of us want a one-color world– where only one language is spoken, where there is only one culture, and only one way of understanding nature. However, we must ask ourselves, “What is the first step to preserve and respect other people?” This small text only tries to create a reflection that encourages us to think deeper about a world we see displayed in travel guides, on the one hand, idyllic and stereotyped, and on the other, rich and complex. In the pages of the first volume of “The Jungle Journal,” we find ourselves pondering the region with deeper thought. Latin America has one of the richest cultural and linguistic diversities in the world; although this fact is rarely known by tourists, without a doubt, it will enrich the traveler’s experience.

Speaking in modern terms, it is in our great interest to reflect and understand the processes developed on the North and South American continents. A first question would be, “Should a tourist know these processes when they are traveling through a territory?” In our opinion, understanding the social reality of a country is essential to enjoy a complete experience– all the while becoming responsible citizens in a threatened world. Without this knowledge, we are at risk of being part of the perfidious machinery of neocolonialism, cultural appropriation, or even the exploitation of communities for economic purposes. Therefore, the traveling experience is a responsibility that requires reflection and critical thinking but, in turn, allows us to see beyond the mountains that have been pre-established for the masses.

Returning to Latin America, we have already commented on the severe risk of losing languages and cultures. However, this is nothing if we compare it with the socio-economic situation of indigenous peoples. According to the World Bank, in Latin America, these indigenous peoples make up 8% of the population. On the contrary, they represent 14% of the poor and 17% of the extremely poor. On the other hand, for years, their lands and resources have been expropriated and given to settlers of European origin or directly to Europeans who emigrated to work them. All this has created an explosive situation. Some countries, such as Ecuador or Bolivia, already recognize multi-nationality in their constitutions. However, in many other cases, much remains to be done.

Backpacker in Bogotá, Colombia. Photo by Michael Baron

Currently, there are two processes of maximum relevance: the election of Pedro Castillo as president of Peru and the creation of the new Chilean constitution after strong citizen protests in recent years. In the case of Peru, it will be the first time that a citizen of an indigenous people from a small mountain village has become president. On the other hand, some of its most criticized ministers swore in by using the Quechua tongue, a language native to Latin America, which is a great leap forward and a total need to preserve their languages. However, not everything is as bright as it may seem. Sometimes, while fighting for equality between peoples, there is still discrimination against those based on their sexual orientation, and women’s basic rights are not respected. Why do we explain this here? Because the reality is complex and being a committed tourist requires seeing the world with all its variety of grays. Luckily, it will never be black or white like an old western American movie.

In the case of Chile, it will be the first time that seats are distributed equally between men and women, while indigenous peoples will have a guaranteed place in the drafting of the new constitution. Thus, 17 of the 155 seats in government will be occupied by representatives of the eight indigenous peoples– groups that the State recognizes. On the other hand, we cannot speak of Chile without referring to the Mapuche people. They are a community of indigenous people that defeated the Incas and Spaniards. They fought against the expropriation of their lands, and they have become a political phenomenon of the utmost importance. Mapuches developed a strong identity that is an example for many peoples of Latin America and the world. This process has been of great significance to Chile, an indication to leave behind a constitution from the dictatorial era. The tourist who travels to Chile today should feel grateful to visit a diverse and proud country. These are abstract terms, yes, but when you are on Chilean soil and collect water from a source, understand that these peoples are struggling to recover that essential resource for life that, oddly enough, is today the private property of large landowners and multinational companies. How could a tourist understand and enjoy a territory, a country, and a culture if he does not know that this idyllic river that runs down the Andes is, perhaps, the private property of a California-based venture fund?

In short, we must understand that, without identity and without political processes, there is no protection of heritage, cultures, and languages. That is to say, without reflection and vindication, the world would become a monotonous wasteland where the fact of traveling would only serve to discover hotels with an all-inclusive bracelet without the slightest trace of a different and enriching experience. Reflecting on these issues should not be alien to tourism. We must understand that it will provide us with an unbeatable and authentic experience.