|In Her Words: Angelique V Nixon |
By James Dupraj Sunday, November 15 2015
Angelique V Nixon is a Bahamian-born, Trinbago-based writer, artist, teacher, scholar, activist, and poet. Her newest published title, Resisting Paradise: Tourism, Diaspora, and Sexuality in Caribbean Culture was released in October.
In the work, Angelique explores notions of Caribbean paradise and how the tourism industry we are all too familiar with can be both exploitative and counter-intuitive to regional mobility.
“The process was long and hard – lots of reading, writing, revising, and more writing,” she says of Resisting Paradise. The author reveals that the book took many years to complete and there were even times she believed it wouldn’t be finished.
“But I pushed through and believed in the importance of Caribbean people being at the centre of our knowledge production and research.” Angelique is also a lecturer and researcher at the Institute for Gender and Development Studies (IGDS), UWI St Augustine. Her research, cultural criticism, and poetry have been published widely. She is co-editor of the online multi-media collection Theorising Homophobias in the Caribbean – Complexities of Place, Desire, and Belonging. And she is author of Saltwater Healing: A Myth Memoir & Poems, which is a limited-edition letterpress handbound chapbook of original art and poetry. This book and selections from it are currently on display at the Alma Jordan Library, UWI St. Augustine campus, as well a display from her newest book.
Today, she shares with WMN some of the driving themes behind Resisting Paradise, her personal relationship to the tourism industry, and divulges some of the issues she tackles in her new book.
Can you tell us a bit more about the book’s title? The first part of the title – Resisting Paradise came to me as I was reading poetry by two writers – Bahamian poet Marion Bethel and Trinidadian-Bahamian poet Christian Campbell.
They are both very critical of tourism and how it affects Caribbean culture and identity. Their poetry offered much needed counter-narratives to stereotypical ideas of paradise. For me, being born and raised in a tourist economy in the Bahamas, I completely understood why they were so critical of these images of paradise.
Also in my studies and research, I found that tourism has serious effects on cultural, racial, sexual, and class identity inside the region and in the Caribbean diaspora. And so I write about these connections between tourism, diaspora, and sexuality in Caribbean culture. And the book focuses on Caribbean cultural producers who resist the powerful production of paradise.
As Caribbean folk, we are often taught to look at tourism as a saviour or to look upon tourism markets as viable and illustrious options as career paths and corporate/economic investment. Do you comment on this in the book, and what are your personal thoughts? This issue is at the centre of the book! It is exactly why I wrote it. Growing up in a tourist economy forged my consciousness around this issue – the double bind of tourism and the extreme dependency much of the region has on tourism. Further, as I share in the book, I worked in the tourism and banking industry for years in the Bahamas before my career in academia. I discuss how my own social and economic mobility is deeply tied to the tourism industry. One of my goals was to think through and offer alternatives to this double bind and expose the ways that tourism can be incredibly unsustainable and exploitative. I also wanted to show how Caribbean writers, artists, and cultural workers offer alternative models to mass tourism in order to propose more ethical and locally-led models. And I share ideas about investing in ourselves – education, knowing our histories/herstories, and cultural productions that are Caribbean focused – as a way to counter the negative impacts of tourism. I also discuss ways we can be more responsible and ethical Caribbean travelers and forge different relationships to space and the region in particular. We are not immune to the powerful and seductive images of paradise. And so when we as Caribbean people travel, I ask us to think about how we relate to each other and places we visit. For example, when we in Trinidad travel to Tobago – what is that relationship? How do we show up as visitors/tourists or local-foreign? What are our expectations of the space? Do we see Tobago as Trinidad’s paradise? What are the tensions that exist and why? These are the kinds of questions I discuss and explore in the book.
How do you link tourism, diaspora, and sexuality in the work? Why do you feel they need to be examined under the same lens? I argue that tourism has deeply affected Caribbean cultural and sexual identity. And I also explore how this affects Caribbean people inside and outside the region. I discuss African Diaspora tourism and different kinds of travel and relationship to space. I think deeply about how Caribbean people living abroad and their children return home for visits, for Carnival, for pleasure and to spend time with family and how they participate in the business of tourism. This is why I bring these three together to discuss the complicated relationships among them.
How did growing up in a country heavily reliant on tourism affect the way you view and interact with such? Did your relationship to it change over the years? When I was growing up in the Bahamas, it was either banking or tourism service industry for job opportunities. I started work in downtown Nassau at 14 with different summer and afterschool jobs; then bartending at night and bank job in the day after high school. My relationship changed over the years as I learned more in college and graduate school about economics, history, and culture across the Caribbean. I became more critical of tourism and wanted to search for better ways for us to survive as a region. But I also experienced and therefore respect the hustle of working in the tourist industry – and so I don’t want to be overtly critical of people who have limited choices either. I started to think about larger structural changes that we needed as a region – and how we could forge resistance together.
When examining Caribbean tourism, as with everything, there are pros and cons - do you agree? Can you elaborate? Yes, of course – pros and cons. For me working directly in the tourism industry through service jobs (bartending, waiting tables, retail, etc.) as a teenager, I met people from all over the world – and I would say that opened up my mind and perspectives to many things. I grew up really poor in a small place and so getting to meet all different kinds of people was inspiring. During my interviews with people working in the tourism and culture industry, I also found this to be a positive aspect of tourism that people spoke about again and again. As for cons, there are so many -- from being unsustainable and over-reliance on foreign investments to the damaging environmental, social, and cultural effects of tourism. I discuss these in my book throughout but I also share ways that Caribbean cultural producers negotiate tourism. And so I offer ways for us to vision and push against the production of paradise and create new models.
Some may argue that the façade of “paradise”, especially as it relates to the Caribbean, continues to be entrenched in our colonial histories. Please offer your thoughts on this idea of “paradise”, and why do you believe there should be resistance? Dominant ideas about paradise are absolutely connected deeply to our colonial histories that remain embedded in our education, political, economic, and social fabrics across the region. As other Caribbean scholars have argued, ideas of Caribbean paradise were built and sustained through histories of slavery, colonialism, and indentureship that cultivated structures of racism, class exploitation, sexism, and other oppressive systems. There must be resistance to paradise because those dominant images (myths and metaphors) of paradise continue to define the region globally. There must be resistance to “paradise” because it is part of the region’s legacy of resistance. We must resist, contest, and create new images of ourselves that complicate and explode “paradise” because we exist, we are not metaphors, as Caribbean writer Michelle Cliff so beautiful puts it. My book seeks to answer this question that other Caribbean scholars, writers, and artists have asked and grappled with: what is the cost of producing “paradise” for everyone but ourselves? And I seek answers through various forms of resistance.
Sexuality is a topic that some may not link to tourism overtly, yet recently in Trinidad and Tobago there have been arrests and investigations into allegations of human trafficking. Do you believe tourism and the sex trade are two sides of the same coin? Tourism and the sex trade are certainly related and connected, but I don’t see them as two sides of the same coin. It’s important to remember that much of human trafficking involves domestic work/trade, which is just as exploitative as sex trafficking. Also the sex trade operates inside and outside of tourism industry.
The way I discuss sexuality in relationship to tourism is more about sexual labour and transactional sexual relationships that exist in many ways because of the over-dependence on the tourism economy. And finally, I examine the ways sexuality can be affected by tourism – that is, sexual identity, practices, desires, and behaviors. The book interrogates the sexual-cultural politics of tourism – even when sex or sexuality is not explicit in tourism advertisements or packages, it is always there under the surface. In other words, the Caribbean tourism industry in its selling of Caribbean paradise is always selling sex and culture.
What do you hope both every day and academic readers can gain from Resisting Paradise? I hope all readers gain new insights into the ways that Caribbean cultural producers are writing, creating, and asserting Caribbean subjectivity and sense of self. And I hope readers learn more about the brilliant Caribbean writers and artists who push us all to think and expand our consciousness. I would like readers to think about resistance and how we can build community together and fight in the struggle for social justice and equality.
What has the work taught you? The work has taught me patience and perseverance as a writer and scholar. It has also taught me to stand up for my beliefs (being an anti-racist, class conscious, postcolonial feminist, womanist, same-sex loving, revolutionary intellectual). It taught me that I do have a right to theorise/create and be at the center of knowledge production, especially as a black mixedrace Caribbean woman doing Caribbean studies. And the work has reminded me that we must look harder for solutions and do research differently – in open and expansive ways to be more inclusive and fearless in our approaches.
Please tell us some more about your work with IGDS.
What is on the horizon? I am teaching undergraduate and postgraduate courses in Gender and Development Studies. And I am working on a number of research and outreach projects for the institute, as well as my own writing and research.
My current research areas include feminist praxis and discourse, Caribbean sexualities, sexual labour, and social justice movements. I will be working on my next scholarly book soon, and I’m in the process of revising poems and writing new pieces for my second book of poetry.
Where is Resisting Paradise available? It’s available on Amazon.com and through the University Press of Mississippi website. It’s in hardcover right now and so it’s really expensive. But I have copies that I’m selling -- extending my author discount so it’s a bit cheaper. Feel free to get in touch with me via email: email@example.com. The paperback will be out next year or so, and then it will be much cheaper. The e-book is out as well on Kindle.
Any additional information, links, or thoughts you would like to share with our readership? I dedicated my book to “all the cosmic warriors and moon-loving-conjure beings, who create boldly, cause trouble, and fight for justice;” and to “the struggle to be black, woman, human, and free.” This is the center of all my work as a writer, artist, teacher, scholar, activist, and poet. Stay in touch with me Instagram & Twitter @ sistellablack, Follow me on Facebook (Angelique V.
Nixon), and visit my blog: consciousvibration.blogspot.