September 10, 2021 | OPINION | By Anya Quesnel | Photo by Sierra Romero
In the fall semester of 2020, I hadn’t seen my family in over a year. The borders of Trinidad and Tobago, where my family resides, had been closed to all travel since March. Despite the homesickness and alienation the pandemic brought me, I was granted a small window into the Caribbean and its beaches through the Zoom window of a classmate, who was “riding out” the pandemic in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
During this moment of global crisis, I hope to inspire critical thinking about leisure tourism in the Caribbean, an already heavily-stereotyped part of the world. While this one interaction in a Colorado College classroom served as painful reminder of those stereotypes and injustices, this experience is not unique to CC.
Take college student Skylar Mack, a white U.S. citizen, who traveled to the Cayman Islands for a short vacation in Nov. 2020. Mack violated the two-week quarantine mandated by the Caymanian government for all visitors and, thus, was arrested by local law enforcement. Despite the local jurisdiction initially sentencing Mack to four months in prison, her sentence was cut in half by a plea for leniency.
This story is emblematic of the ways in which white travelers feel entitled to special privileges. It’s commonality becomes all the more relevant considering that skiing is a popular CC activity. Often referred to as an “escape” into the mountains, students purchase ski passes, winter gear, and pack into expensive cars every weekend to get a break from school with little regard for the land that they enjoy. The Caribbean and the mountains, here, are imagined similarly. They both are unfeeling places we can have a good time in and, to some extent, exploit.
It’s no shock that that many island economies are highly dependent on tourism and have suffered massive fiscal losses from border closures, and those losses have encouraged creative solutions. Some Caribbean governments are surviving the economic blow to the tourism industry by incentivizing foreigners to relocate to their countries on temporary work permits. In 2020, the Barbadian government began offering a “12 month welcome stamp” to foreign nationals, marketing the special immigration status with the slogan “Work from Paradise.”
These getaways to the Caribbean during the pandemic are especially troubling when contextualized with the limited access that the Caribbean people have to vaccines and ventilators. This cannot be brushed aside as “underdevelopment” or the struggles of the “Third World.” The Caribbean’s “underdevelopment” must be understood as a product of colonial extraction.
The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed our interconnectedness as human beings; the more I do to protect myself from the virus, the less likely I am to transmit it to someone who is more vulnerable to it. Taking this logic to a larger scale encourages a sense of responsibility towards those who are not our biological family or do not share our national identities. This should influence our future travel plans.