Black Like Me
When I was younger, oh so much younger, a book by John Howard Griffin entitled “Black Like Me” was published in 1961. I read the book around the age of 13 and became dramatically impacted by the issues Mr. Griffin brought to light. I grew up in Texas and had no idea that racism existed, as I always went to school with many Hispanic children. I knew no difference until I started high school and became a part of the first racially integrated class at Arlington High School, as ASID desegregated in 1965. I bring this up as it was discussed yesterday in my interview with Minority Nomad also known as Erick Prince-Heaggans.
Erick and I met online, as we are both residents of Austin when we are not traveling and came across each other on Twitter. We decided to meet at Madam Mam’s on Anderson Lane and I soon discovered why. For reasons I will not go into (old age) I was approximately 45 minutes late and Erick thought it was funny. I was totally embarrassed. We ordered our lunch and I got down to the interview as agreed upon earlier.
Question #1 What made you start traveling?
“I have a project that is near to my heart and I needed to find a way to fund it. I want to inspire young Afro American Blacks, Latinos, LGBT community and other Diverse groups to travel and to let them know the world is a diverse and wonderful place. We as a country have about a 36% passport ratio, which lags substantially behind the rest of the world. I want to move this needle to at least 50% by the time I pass. I want us to shed the “Cul de Sac” mentality. I loved that quote and completely understand it”.
Question #2 Which country that you have visited did you like the most overall?
“Without a doubt its Thailand. It has such an acceptable approach to diversity and tourism. I was treated like a “Rock Star”!”
Question #3 What type of food, in a country you have visited, did you favor the most.
“Thai food is my favorite (okay now I know why we are at Madam Mam’s).”
Question #4 What country’s people that you have met, did you like the most?
“Swedish, Finnish and other Scandinavian populations if you want an educated discussion. If you are talking friendliest, that has to be the Balinese. They smile all the time and are genuinely happy to see you, do things for you and ensure you stay is a wonderful thing. If you are talking fun to be around (Code for Party Animals), the Brazilians are a blast and I could hang with them for a long time! If you are talking people you meet on the road it has to be the Canadians and Germans. They are frequent travelers and I constantly run into them on the road. Plus they are fun to be with. Rounding out the discussion he stated the Eastern European people of Poland, Budapest and Hungary are the most genuine and you always know where they stand even if you don’t agree with them.”
Question #5 What culture have you liked the most in a country you have visited?
“Thai for sure. They appreciate family, faith, diversity and most agendas I believe in.”
Question #6 If you were to do long term volunteer work which country would you go to?
“If it was for educational purposes, it would have to be central Africa. They do not have the “Oil” or “Tourism” industries to support their needs and are struggling more than other African countries. If it was more to help the people, I would have to say Liberia, as we have made this country a mess. Even though it is probably the most dangerous and yes I would be scared to go. It needs our help more than any other country at this time.”
Question #7 What is the funniest thing that has happened to you on the road?
“Well (stutter, as he wasn’t sure if he should share it) two of the gentlemen that went with us were crazy Aussi’s. VERY over the top and already three sheets to the wind. A quarter ways through the show three beautiful Thai women brought put a massage mat and asked for volunteers. The Aussi’s started goading me into volunteering and making fun of Americans. Being the person I am, I agreed. How bad could a massage be. Well once I got on stage the three women stripped me naked, stripe naked themselves, and proceeded to give me a naked massage in front of 150 people.”
Question #8 What is the worst thing that has happened to you on the road?
“Well it has to be getting arrested in Buenos Aires. I went to a bar with people I met where I was staying (2 Italians, 3 Brazilians and me). I only had one beer and paid for it when I arrived. The Italians drank heavily and walked their tab. The server brought me the tab and I said it was their bill not mine and he should have collected from them before he kicked them out for fighting with local Argentineans. The server then called the police. The police officer asked for my passport and I said I left it at the place I was staying, in a secure place. The officer told me I could be arrested and deported since I wasn’t carrying the passport as required. I told him that was not really a law. The officer said I was in deep trouble for trying to skip the bill and not having my passport. I had to spend the night in jail. The next morning the Captain, who spoke excellent English, listened to my story about the Italians and my passport. He laughed and told me I was lucky and he gave me a small fine and sent me on my way. Left a very bad taste in my mouth for Buenos Aires.”
Question #9 What is your least favorite country?
“No question it is Russia. I was denied entrance twice (my military history) and resorted to a dock entry at a port and got in serious trouble. They questioned me hard for about an hour and a half. Funny, I will tell you later, why I now have Russia on a good list also. By the way since my incident in Buenos Aires, Argentina is near the bottom also.”
Question #10 What is your least favorite food?
“Italian food in Buenos Aires. The cheeses have the consistency of gum!”
Question #11 How long will you travel?
“That’s easy. I will never stop!”
Question #12 What is the one item you cannot do without on the road?
“Have you read Douglas Adam’s “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”? As he states, a “Towel” is the most important item you can have. It has a myriad of uses. If you are talking electronics, its my camera. I love photography and try to shoot about half raw and half with minor editing. I am not a fan of “over-editing”.”
Question #13 Where has prejudice been the largest issue and how did you handle it?
“St. Petersburg Russia and Buenos Aires Argentina (endured for 30 days) are the two worst countries over and above any other.”
Question #14 What advice would you give minority or diverse travelers, if they are traveling?
“I would tell them to do their research and make sure it is the latest information available. Do you know that 76 countries have laws against gay couple associations and it is very illegal in them? In five countries (Mauritania, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Iran) you can receive the death penalty.”
Question #15 What has been your favorite “Tour”?
“A walking tour in Warsaw, narrated by a fellow that worked at the hostel I was at. He was the event and social planner and knew the city literally backwards and forwards. Best of all it was free! I also took a tour on the Baltic Sea on a ferry from the St. Petersline over five days, that left a lifelong impression. It circled the Baltic sea, hitting all the Scandinavian countries, Russia and Poland. The ferries they use are frequented by dock workers and you find many workers in cabins on the boat. I had a couple of Russians, one on each side of my cabin and a Hungarian guy across from me. Over the next five days my impressions of the Russians grew worse each day.
One night the guy on the right of me starts pounding on my door at about 2:00 AM. He was very drunk and looking for his friend. He then kept apologizing, when he discovered his mistake. The next night his friend Igor starts knocking on my door late at night and had been drinking also. He gets apologetic also when I open the door, but he carries it a little farther. He starts touching my and his hearts and saying “America/Russia”! “America/Russia”! “Governments don’t like each other not us”! He gave me a huge hug that must have lasted two minutes or so. I almost was brought to tears by this and really then knew that all the people around the world are the same down deep!”
Question #16 What is your next “30-Day” adventure (He polls his subscribers with about 10 choices of what adventure to fulfill next)?
“I am learning to Ski in Chile (August), Muay Thai fighting in Thailand (October), Brazilian Jui Jistsu in Brazil (December), Crab Fishing in Alaska (January). That’s what my subscribers voted for. (Me-Are you crazy that’s absolutely the worst month to go?)”
Question #17 What is the country you would settle down in if you decide to stop traveling?
“Thailand (what a surprise!), as I love its culture, its people and its food. Now if I was on an unlimited budget, it would definitely be Japan. I can’t tell you how much I love Japan. (Really, I can tell you, as its probably my favorite also, just can’t afford it these days!).”
I learned that Erick is a very compassionate and intelligent man. He has his life’s agenda set. His desire to help the underprivileged and center city kids struck me very deeply, especially after my recent visit to Mexico and how I was impacted by the Homes of Hope project. I was so energized by Erick and his agendas and told him of my travel desires and my wish to help young children in Ecuador or wherever I may be. I must say this young man has his head on straight and I think he will serve the world very well, in his capacity as a mentor, for the impoverished of the world. I can’t begin to realize or understand the issues he has faced, as a Black American growing up in the projects of Cleveland Ohio. Safe Travels mi amigo and I hope you get to that 50% ratio soon!
Posted By July 20, 2013
What a fantastic interview and story! Thank you for sharing!
You are quite welcome. I was lucky to obtain this interview and found Erick a most charming, polite and educated individual. A true joy to be around! Thanks.
Thanks for stopping by and I hope y’all are all moved in and settled! Hope you find Texas as loving as you anticipated!
Fabulous interview! We travel relatively extensively with an African-American friend, and are continually amazed at the different treatment (both good and bad) that she receives. In China, she was basically a celebrity and was stopped every few minutes to have her picture taken with the locals! In contrast, in Egypt, the “Rasta” calls in the street were relatively merciless.
I was baffled by the Asian treatment, as I had heard it was completely the opposite. Glad to hear that they are more open minded. Erick didn’t mention middle east issues and I can’t remember if he has been there. Too bad more of the world is not more accepting! Maybe one day! Thanks for your comment!
Nice interivew. Erick sounds like an interesting and nice guy. Loved reading about some of his adventures. And I guess I need to get to Thailand.
As much as you have traveled, I just imagined you had been. I love Thailand also and would encourage a visit, combined with other countries in SE Asia. I love that part of the world and would live there if I could get my wife to agree! Ha! Thanks for stopping by.
Great interview with Erick, and thanks for hosting, Mike.
I agree with Cathy, as I’ve this growing urge to return to southeast Asia. I am curious, however, just what it was about Buenos Aires that made the experience poor for Erick. I lived in Chile for 5 years, and getting to visit BA was a real plus by that measure.
I think the whole arrest scenario gave him a horrible taste in his mouth for Buenos Aires. I love Cuenca Ecuador myself and will be going back in a couple of weeks. I have always had great experiences, but I am not a minority. I think he thinks the arrest transpired because of his ethnicity. Thanks for stopping by and maybe we will cross paths in SE Asia one of these days if you return.
I had several issues with BA. From racist/classist locals to outright criminal taxi drivers. One quick story. I was walking with a friend through Palermo Soho one evening around 7pm. She’s Canadian and Nigerian so definitely looks African American like myself. As we walked I noticed an Argentine couples about mid 50’s. He looked me square in my eyes, moved his bag to the arm opposite of me. Grabbed his wife and walked in the street around us and sped up. I asked my friend if she had just seen that and she explained to me how it happens all the time to her. She’s regularly called racial slurs and mistaken for a prostitute. I have nothing against Argentines. Great people. But BA residents, largely dislike.
Thanks for your response amigo!
I have to say that one of my biggest disappointments traveling is the prevalence I racial prejudice. I’m white which probably means I’m oblivious to 95% of it . But I sort of had the impression that my country (US) was the worst. In many places I’ve traveled I’ve noticed a glorification of whiteness. I’ve been told, “You’re so beautiful. You’re so white,” and been asked, “What’s wrong with you? You’re skin is darker than mine.” I hope I’ll get to see this change in my lifetime.
I have never encountered the issues, that diverse individuals face constantly. Part of the reason I interviewed Erick was to keep this issue up for discussion. I have many gay friends that face discrimination as well and as I told Erick I had a gay uncle growing up that taught me about cooking, travel and wine. I am continually appalled at bigotry, even at my ripe old age and hope that in your lifetime it will change also. I think our three sons and their friends have a great opinion on the subject, but sadly there are still many people who embrace discrimination daily. Thanks for your comment.
Apart from my charity work, the reason I started my blog was so people can know this is actually an issue. There are blogs that cater to solo female travelers, gay and lesbians, and familys. Each group has their issues but very very few that cover racial issues. I’m hoping to fill that void as it’s a real problem.
Can’t agree more and come across it all the time. Of course as as Caucasian I will never be able to comprehend the extent of racism. There have been times in Ecuador that I knew I was a minority (age and being a Caucasian both) and felt ill at ease. Thanks.
Great interview Mike. I love reading fellow blogger interviews and this is a great insight to a very experienced traveller with a humbled and educated view of the world.
I love that story of the Thai massage, do you think that the Aussies knew before hand what was about to happen?
Dear Anonymous “The Guy”,
Erick did not say whether he thought the Aussie’s were aware of the events about to transpire, but I would guess they were. They probably had seen the “show” before and wanted to toss a rookie attendee into the massage. Just my guess. It was hilarious and I almost didn’t get it. He hesitated and finally gave in and told me. Thanks for your support mi amigo!
I don’t think the knew. I’m actually pretty confident they didn’t. I finally broke down and wrote the entire story. Here it is.
Been down Bangla Road. OMG the FBI and Tiger bars. No comments amigo! Hope this answered his question!
Thank you for the article. One of the reasons I’ve traveled immensely with my kids is to show them most other countries appreciate color more than the US. We experience the most racism right here at home. When we travel, we do not. Especially traditional Asian countries like China, Thailand. My daughter was treated like a celebrity. Pictures, pictures, pictures. My husband, (he’s white), has experienced what we say ‘black men experience in America’ when we travel. His blond hair sticks out like a sore thumb in many countries and he has been treated very poorly where I, on the other hand, pretty much get treated like royalty. He has learned worldwide, I am not the minority… he is. We’ve been in some pretty hurtful situations directed toward him. I agree with Minority Nomad – Russia is not black friendly. Argentina and Chile are not either. Middle Easterners have a dislike because of the racial tension between our cultures for many centuries – many people in America call them black… they do not like it. And if they are fair enough like many Lebanese, then they “may” be called white… they are neither. They are Caucasion non-white. Off my soapbox. I really enjoyed the article. When traveling, I find you are judged based on “perceived” class, not race like you are in America.
As an African (Kenyan to be precise) allow me to correct the false impression in question 6.
Central African countries ie. Cameroon, Gabon, Equitorial Guinea, Congo DR etc are among the most resource rich nations in the continent. Gabon, Equatorial Guinea are major oil producers and Cameroon produces some oil. The Democratic Republic of Congo is the most resource rich country on earth – virtually every mineral known to man exists in that country. In other words the underdevelopment in the region is not due to lack of resources.
Liberia (originally established as a country of freed slaves) is not the most dangerous place on earth.Indeed the country has suffered from civil wars in the past but has been relatively peaceful in the last 10 years. The current president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was the first female head of state in the continent (no mean feat esp in a patriarchal society).
You obviously are entitled to your opinions. I do find it strange that you did not leave your name and as such I thought it was spam at first, not to mention that you sent it twice. I think Question #6 was based on Erick’s experience’s and the information he drew from his trip. There never was any intention to mislead or misdirect. It was simply an interview over lunch. Thank you for your comments and please be so kind as to leave a name in the future. I can only guess you are the R.M from your web site. Funny that you identify your friend Jess, but not yourself. Safe Travels.
I have to disagree. Regardless of the resource richness those resources have rarely been tapped to benefit the people as opposed to a select few. I believe within the next 50 years many African nations will become world economic leaders BUT the level of corruption must be significantly reduced. The most dangerous place on earth is a relative statement. Although Liberia may not hit the top of the list it sure as heck is close. UNMIL has largely quail the worse of it but when they leave,and they will leave, it’s going to be terrible.
I think we are already seeing a similar action in Iraq and it will crumble fast, just like all the rest of the countries we entered and left without really resolving any issues. People forget many countries have unsuccessfully tried to change Afghanistan and failed. They also forget these disagreements have been going on for thousands of years in the middle east and north Africa and there is no way that anyone is going to change anything permanently!
Sorry my comment comes across as a censure,that was not my intention.
From what i gather, Erick has never visited the countries in #6, the reason (in my opinion) for for his perception on the said countries. I did not impute in any way that he intended to mislead or misdirect, mine was a simple correction.
Reason for my posting twice, was that the first time I got an error message,so I posted again and still got the same.
Safe Travels too.
I have a suggestion. Let’s forget about it and move on! Ha! Hope you are in great health and the world is treating you good! Glad to know who I am speaking with and I look forward to your thoughts. I think I liked all your pages, but if you see something I missed please let me know! Thank you kindly!
I have visited Liberia, Sudan, Cameroon, and Congo. All while in the military doing security work which is why I rarely speak about them. My view is not only as a tourist but someone that worked directly with these governments on security and protection concerns. My point was that these countries are places where the people don’t benefit from a gloablly chased resource like oil or tourism. As the question was where I would do volunteer work this region has the best potential to use the knowledge I have in my fields of expertise for positive change.
My money is on you senor!