Sunday December 15, 2019
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Feeling ‘Othered’ in a Guatemalan Hostel


An account of how people of non-white cultures are made to feel ‘othered’ in the West

By Ankur Singh

International traveler’s hostels are generally known for catering to young twenty-somethings seeking an authentic travel experience as opposed to the commercialization and fakeness of popular tourism.

It was only after my friend and I spent a night at a hostel in San Pedro, Guatemala, when I realized that hostels are concentrated cesspools of people who pride themselves on the “Othering” of cultures, which has very negative consequences.

As we wait to check in to the hostel we strike up a conversation with a young traveler behind us in line. He says he just spent the past two months teaching yoga in Mexico and starts telling stories of life changing ten day long silent retreats as I commence my personal eye roll Olympics.

When we get into a room there’s a really large guy sleeping on the bottom bunk with his stuff all over the floor. He groggily gets up and it’s clear he’s very hungover. The yoga teacher leaves to take a shower, my friend steps outside to make a phone call, leaving me alone in the room with this person.

“What time is it?” he asks.


“Where are you from?”

“I’m from the US. And you?”

“Israel. Are you originally from India?

I never know how to answer this question, but rather than going on a long tirade about my insecurities and constant identity crisis of not really being Indian enough to be Indian and not being American enough to be American I simply reply, “Yes.” Also, I’m a little surprised he hasn’t asked what my name is, but of course at hostels where you’re from is more important than your name or who you are.

“Where about in India?”

“From Uttar-Pradesh.”

He gives me a confused look. He clearly has never heard of it.

“Is that near Punjab?”

“A bit, yeah.”

I actually have no idea if Punjab is close to Uttar-Pradesh and am totally making up my answer, but it doesn’t matter because he doesn’t know where it is either. It is only while writing this that I look at a map and learn that my total guess was not false.

“I just spent six months in India. Man, I love your country, beautiful people, beautiful culture, great food and scenery.”

Is it my country? And I’m sure he does love it considering the shenanigans young Israelis are up to in India. In addition to the fact that Israeli security companies such as Elbit Systems, Verint Systems, and Magal are partnering with and being awarded contracts with the Indian Government who will then use this Israeli technology to continue oppressing Muslims in the most densely-militarized area of the world in Kashmir, many of whom don’t consider themselves to be Indian but are lumped together with us anyways.

“What were you doing there?” I ask.

“Traveling. I spent six months driving a motorcycle around the country.”

My new yoga teacher acquaintance comes back from his shower with a towel wrapped around his waist and his shirt off. He has a large “Om” tattoo on his chest. During my entire life I’ve only met one Indian person with the “Om” symbol tattooed on their body, meanwhile I’ve lost count of all the white people I’ve seen with “Om” tattoos.

Later that night at the hostel bar a guy walks up to us and starts flirting with my friend.

“Are you a yoga teacher?” he asks my friend.

“No, I’m an architect.” she replies.

“Aw that used to be up there like ten years ago man. Yoga teachers are where it’s at now!”

He leaves, because apparently yoga teachers now have more cultural capital than architects.

I never expected to be so “Othered” while traveling outside the U.S. I then thought about what I might say to people about Guatemala when I go back home. I could tell them about its beautiful people, scenery, culture, and food.

Or I could tell them that the government is currently involved in the biggest corruption scandal in Guatemala’s history which led to the arrest of over 20 government officials including former president Perez Molina and vice president Roxana Baldetti. I could portray Guatemala as a violent place full of corruption, poverty, genocide and drug cartels.

Or could it be possible to have a more nuanced perception of the world and be able to critique and protest a place you know and love?

Ankur Singh is a student at Prescott College, in Prescott, Arizona, where he is the only South Asian student at a very hippy place. He is a filmmaker and the director of the documentary film LISTEN about education from the students’ perspective. Follow him on twitter @ankrsingh.


Next Story

Ethnic Indian Jai Sears responds to complaint against the statue of Gandhi in Grenada

Jai Sears wrote in response to a letter on Mahatma Gandhi entitled “Dustbin of history” written by Josiah Rougier

Mahatama Gandhi, leader of non violence

Jai Sears from Grenada, Caribbean has written a letter to editor in response to complaints against the statue of Gandhi in Grenada. Here is the text:

I write in response to a letter on Mahatma Gandhi entitled “Dustbin of history” written by Josiah Rougier and published in the Grenada newspaper, The New Today (Nov 3, 2017). In his letter, Rougier is asking the Government to remove the bust-statue of Gandhi which overlooks Sauteurs Bay in Grenada where East Indians arrived 160 years ago. Rougier’s opinion is based on the false notion that Gandhi was racist because the Mahatma reportedly considered Indians to be superior to black Africans when he referred to the latter as “kaffirs.”

Gandhi was only 27 years old when he made that contextual statement. If Rougier had done his research, he would have found that Nelson Mandela said: “Gandhi must be forgiven for these prejudices in the context of the time and the circumstances.” The quote can be found in “Gandhi the Prisoner” by Nelson Mandela published in 1995. Gandhi was a man; he was not god. And even god made mistakes.

In favour of Mahatama Gandhi
Photo of Jai Sears

Rougier must instead focus on the Gandhi’s vision of non-violent protest and his belief in satyagraha which inspired rebels and revolutionaries around the world. Gandhi’s ideas influenced leaders of the African National Congress and the struggle by Indians and blacks against white apartheid rule in South Africa. From as early as 1956 when he was 27 years old, Martin Luther King, Jr. referred to Gandhi as “the guiding light of our technique of nonviolent social change.”

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Following the success of his boycott, King contemplated traveling to India to deepen his understanding of Gandhian principles. The fact is that Gandhi saw people of all races, castes, colours and creeds as equal which led to his assassination by a Hindu fanatic in 1948. So who is this unknown Josiah Rougier? Is he as illustrious as the great Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King? And is he disagreeing with his possible heroes?

A friend to all.
Jai Sears
Grenada, Caribbean