Nubian Drifter had the chance to speak with the vivacious and fiery Dash Harris, a Journalist and burgeoning Documentarian, about NEGRO, being Black Latino, her work and travel lives respectively, and about how important it is for individuals to have a first-hand, well-rounded perspective of culture.
ND: Did any one thing inspire you to want to see the world, or was it a combination of things?
Dash: I have been traveling since I was born. Literally a few months after I was born, I was taken to Panama and lived there for 4 years and I went to Panama almost every summer thereafter. My family also took vacations every summer, domestically and abroad so it was very natural for me. My obsession with anthropology and learning also made travel innate. A semester in London my junior year really set the ‘adult’ traveling bug in me and I’ve been a rolling stone ever since.
ND: What about aim-less travel? Do your journalistic sensibilities find a way into your ‘normal’ travel excursions?
Dash: My journalistic sensibilities allow me to capture an individual’s story and bring it to others via blogging, writing and video. These dialogues even permeate in my daily life and allows my personal knowledge and personal growth. I am always open to any story or experience someone wants to tell. My ears perk up when people start talking. I think I was born a journalist. If I had to sum up my childhood, it would be in three words: ‘nosy’ ‘independent’ and ‘talkative.’ I think these are elements journalists have and thus, my travel excursions are built off of these three. My life is one continuous news package because I think everyone has a story. Talking to people, a LOT of people, especially different people, while traveling is essential in understanding exactly how real life is in a country. My conversations have spawned blog series, not to mention great insight into the everyday life of a local just by asking questions.
I laud solo travel and have done so for most of my travels. I don’t think I would classify my travels so much as aimless travel but moreso loosely planned, flying by the seat of my pants travel. When I pick a country to visit, I read up on and print recommended sights and things to do but it’s never a hard and fast itinerary. My daily plans are created once I talk to a few travelers, the hostel staff, the locals and glance over the supposed ‘top things to do in xyz country.’ I am over museums and the traditional tourist attractions, I’d rather sit and talk to locals at a bar or café and then go dancing at a local nightspot til I’m blinded by the sun the next day and that’s how it usually ends up anyway.
ND: Your worldliness has spawned “Negro,” a documentary series discussing the African diaspora in Latin America. Tell us about “Negro”— why you’re filming it and what you hope to achieve upon its release.
Dash: Negro means black in Spanish and it sums up all the themes of the doc as it concerns to skin color, hiding, being figuratively in the dark. ‘Negro A Diaspora Doc-Series’ focuses on Africa’s influence on the Latino culture as well as its influence on the make-up of its people. It focuses also on the racism and colorism among Latinos and ultimately the mentalities and ignorance that is perpetuated by its rejection and denial of its [Africa’s] presence. The doc also examines the history and creation of the ethnicity and erroneous media portrayals and ideas of what it is to be Latino.
My family is from Panama and I identify as Black Latino but growing up I saw other Black Latinos were more apt to reject or deny that they were. Every time I said I was Latino, I was met with ‘Oh I thought you were Black’ I had to explain yes obviously I am Black, look at me, being Latino and being Black are not mutually exclusive, you can be both at the same time. Ethnicity and race are two different things. I don’t understand how people just don’t get it. I’ve read pieces from Black Latinos who said over and over again ‘Black Latinos are invisible’ and Latino media exacerbated that struggle, allowing not an ounce of color or diversity in Latin media, print or broadcast. I see a lot of destruction in these attitudes ingrained in color and the ignorance of being Latino perpetuated by Latinos and non-Latinos.
It was the wilfull ignorance that exhausted me and the outright denial and lies that infuriated me among other Latinos. This obsession with skin color and the way it is used as a method to divide and degrade each other is so pervasive that I knew I had to speak out about it. I turned my pain into passion and here it is.
The docu-series aims to unite and educate. I want to shed truth and light about how the rich Latino culture came to exist and flourish; how pigmentation shapes attitudes and has fostered discord and open the door for this discussion. This topic has remained untouched and it’s long overdue for this conversation. Finally, it is to offer insight into a present and future united global community through awareness, acceptance and appreciation.
ND: Why is having a complete understanding of various cultures imperative, specifically for the upcoming generation?
Dash: It is tremendous [getting] the full picture. Reading and talking to people is important but actually experiencing the places you have only read about in books gives it a third dimension— it breathes life into something abstract. A page in a book about the Louvre and a homework assignment to conjugate French verbs [is different than actually] being in front of the Louvre and asking someone a question in French. [It is] a completely humbling, almost surreal experience.
Travel teaches you a very simple lesson: we are so different yet so much the same. Our values are the same we just use a different method to carry it out and traveling is a way to understanding and appreciating that method. For example, I had zero interest in visiting Ireland when I was 20, but went with my roommate because she had family there. Dublin was one the best travel experiences I have had to date. The people were among the warmest most friendliest, accommodating I have ever met in my life, I learned so much about their culture and a huge appreciation for the culture and people just by chatting with them (asking them to repeat a few things because that accent is awesome) and I think I gained about 7 pounds that weekend. I had a blast and will return. It is really the people of a country that makes your travel experience. Broadly speaking, it’s important in the way we interact with each other in terms of respecting each other culturally and as human beings. It opens your mind and heart bigger than you could ever imagine and THAT is important for every generation.
ND: You’ll be spending a large portion of upcoming travel experiences in support of working on and completing “Negro.” What challenges do you think you’ll face? Will being a seasoned traveler help or hinder your work?
Dash: None and Yes (Laughs). I truly don’t think there will be any major challenges, there are always people willing to talk about their experiences especially if they have a specific story or opinion to share. When one person says they don’t want to talk on camera, there are 3 who are willing and will give you valuable info that drives the project forward, “oh I have a friend that..” or “I know a place you can go to,” so I am not worried at all. I think knowing my subject is helpful and these are my people, cliché yes but Latin America is where I feel the most at home. Just being born into a Panamanian family and being able to live there and visit there often and my own personal experience good and bad with the subject areas of the doc has prepared me for this project.
ND: Has travel changed or enhanced the way you communicate?
Dash: It has helped me communicate more! Traveling and being exposed to different cultures and people has helped in everyday conversations and interactions with strangers and even old friends because I can draw or strengthen a connection because of my experience. Short story, was on a line and saw some people with British passports, I instantly struck up a conversation with him and his friends reminiscing about my time in London. Travel helps you build connections with total strangers and helps strengthen bonds with your friends and family.
ND: What constitutes the perfect travel experience for you?
Dash: Clean hostel, meeting other great travelers, eating the country’s actual food, dancing and meeting an Aussie. I have yet to travel to a country and not meet an Australian, they are some traveling people and very warm and extremely fun. Clean hostel speaks for itself, I have only run into one that looked like a dungeon, others have blown resorts out of the water., I just need the simple sanitation necessities. Meeting other great travelers is a must and you end up forming friendships. Eating the country’s actual food, not a tourist imitation but the real ‘mama or grandma just finished cooking it from the back’ food. I can NOT go on an excursion and not dance, this is a must as a general rule of my life.
ND: Travel Philosophy…
Dash: Talk to everyone with a pulse. It is soooooooooooooo important. Whether it is a 2 minute convo or a 2 hour convo, you really get a well-rounded and most enjoyable experience when you talk to the people of the respective country you are in. Because I mostly travel solo, I cannot keep to myself, I might as well stay home if I were to do that. My travel experiences have been wholly carved through my interactions with people I meet on my trips. Totally and completely. They recommend, they show me the ropes, they tell me the real deal, they are my eternal travel partners. My experiences have been formed simply by the guy I met on the train in Vienna who took me salsa dancing to the girl I met in line for a club in Florence, to the guy I rented a bike from in Amsterdam to Brandon, my hostel roommate in Rio, I can go on and on but the reason I can fly by the seat of my pants with travel plans and still form these amazing authentic travel experiences and memories is because of the people I meet and talk to. They are my tour guides.
ND: 3 things you won’t travel without…
Dash: Leggings… This is the most convenient piece of clothing, I swear! Contacts/glasses… My eyesight is horrible and being anywhere (even someplace familiar) without these is a death wish. Did I just tell you how to kill me? Oh. Pashmina… I bought a bunch in Paris and London 5 years ago and love them. I have lost one in Brasil, I have lost another one in Munich but I refuse to go anywhere without one. Again very versatile— I wrap it around my eyes to go to sleep on the plane, use it as a blanket, a sweater, I have used it as a shirt before, I use it to place on seats before I sit down. They are the best.
If you’d like to support her documentary, go to VenusGenus and Click ‘Find out about and Donate to Dash’s project’ on the home page.
Interested in learning more about Dash? Check her out at the following places: