We can see many situations where the local gaze was in contrast with the tourist gaze in stories like Interpreter of Maladies by Lahiri. Right off the first scene we could see the communication barrier form between local, Mr. Kapasi who mistook the Das family as locals instead of diasporic travelers. Mr. Kapasi first encounters the Das family at the tea stall where to first impression they looked less like tourists and more like locals based off of their ethnicity. As Mr. Kapasi introduced himself, he “pressed his palms together in greeting” (Lahiri, 2019), signaling for a bow—a standard form of introduction in Indian culture. When Mr. Das went in for a classic firm-gripped American handshake, it set back Mr. Kapasi as he was very surprised towards how Mr. Das chose to give him a greeting seen more in western cultures. Mr. Kapasi believed that although they look apart of the culture, they did not identify themselves as such. Traveling from a diasporic point of view can be confusing to both the traveler and the locals. Mr. Das who is proud of his American culture, was mistaken for a local, which caused a communication barrier for the Das family who was unable to speak the native language like the rest of the community. As for traveling from the perspective of locals, many tourists when visiting foreign places take pictures of different landscapes. However, tourists never take into consideration how locals observe the situation. An example of this would be when Mr. Das photographed a suffering Indian peasant. Lahiri writes, “Mr. Das took a picture of a barefoot man, his head wrapped in a dirty turban, seated on top of a cart of grain sacks pulled by a pair of bullocks. Both the man and the bullocks were emaciated” (Lahiri, 2019). Mr. Das saw this as an opportunity for a picture of an urban landscape, what he didn’t see was the barefoot homeless man in the picture. In other words, He was seeing what he wants to see and from a local perspective, this can come off as offensive. As a diasporic family, Mr. Das tried to submerse himself into his background culture but in turn, created actions that were quite insensitive.
A Small Place is a great story that explains how the indictment of British colonialism has affected Antigua’s culture, society, and tourist industry. Having the story written as an autobiography gave the reader a great local perspective on the situation, and after reading the story it made me revisit a few of my past vacations from a tourist perspective. I have been fortunate enough to have traveled to numerous exotic resorts in locations such as Cancun, Belize, Honduras, and Cozumel. Much like Antigua, Belize was colonized by the United Kingdom until 1981 when it became independent. Before reading the story, I thought of these “third world” places solely as vacation hot spots. But, through Kincaid’s powerful use of metaphors, her story made me reconsider how I thought of these poverty-stricken places. When Kincaid states “An ugly thing, that is what you are when you become a tourist” (Kincaid, 2018), it resonated with me how tourist treat exotic locations. It is obvious that regardless of wealth, everyone would like to escape from time to time and forget about all their troubles. However, when wealthy western travelers travel to places such as Antigua, they treat these exotic getaways as a pleasure rather than a privilege. This “ugliness” is shown through how travelers treat locals (workers) during their stay, making them work tirelessly for their own pleasure. Although western travelers might be cognisant of how “ugly” they are, they choose to ignore these opinions and continue to enjoy their worry-free vacation. Another way that Kincaid expressed her voice was through the use of the word “we”—referring to the colonized black community. Sentences such as “We, for as long as we have known you, were capital” (Kincaid, 2018), describe the use of black colonized people for the profitability of major western companies. Kincaid is referring to the history of the black culture being used for slave trade. The history of Antigua was heavily impacted by the buying and selling of slaves. For capital-seeking western companies, such as resort chains, embracing a system where gaining profits for tourist markets are at the expense of using helpless locals, takes us back into history when slavery was much more prevalent. Moreover, after visiting these places, seeing workers work endless hours just to make tourists enjoy their vacation, gives me second thoughts about traveling to theses post colonized destinations and how we of western communities have negatively impacted the local culture and might be taking a step in the wrong direction for the betterment of “third world” countries.
As an economics major, the study of how things are used and managed is a key topic to my studies. After reading a few of the short stories in class sparked interest in how certain factors can impact the economics of situations. Firstly, In A Small Place, the separation of the locals (Antiguans) from tourists (western societies) served a great purpose in the analyzation of this book. It is evident that Kincaid wanted the reader to see how tourists only view the Caribbean as a vacation paradise. Where in reality, it is a poverty-stricken place that has been sought after by western communities as a tropical getaway. Much like this example, although Antigua is right by the ocean, it doesn’t mean that life is a paradise. There are so many underlying factors that are present “behind the scenes” that western societies dismiss and instead use as a way to gain profitability in sectors such as tourism. Given the economics of this situation, western societies with much more wealth, should be more ethical and less profit based. Ethics in economics is important as allocating recourses take into consideration the needs and wants of others not just yourself in order to reach an efficient outcome. Another idea that revealed something new about my study was in Farangs where the idea of pop-culture and westernization was present. In the text, luk was heavily influenced by American culture. His lust for Lizzie was due to his fascination of American culture as a result from the expansion of American tourism in his area. Bringing this western culture to luk has in a way westernized the society. In economics, this is called an externality—a side effect of a commercial activity that affects other parties. luk became immersed in American culture as a side effect from all the tourism. When reflecting on this idea it made me realize that in economics externalities are everywhere and it is important to keep in consideration the effects that some actions might have may be more negative than positive. Furthermore, as I continue in my studies of economics, the ideas in these stories have made me realize that I need to analyse all factors involved with making decisions as there are many underlying components that can impact other parties for worse or for better.
- Kincaid, J. (2018). A small place. London: Daunt Books.
- Lahiri, J. (2019). Interpreter Of Maladies. New York: Mariner Books.
- Lapcharoensap, R. (2005). Sightseeing: stories. New York: Grove Press.