Museo de América, I Expected More

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View from our hotel window close to Tribunal metro station.

I had the opportunity to go to Madrid, Spain last week as part of my M.A. studies. It was my first visit to the city, and it had been years since my last visit to the country. Madrid is absolutely stunning; I loved the old apartment buildings, the little French balconies, the cute allies, quirky vintage stores, and cozy cafés. I also didn’t mind the 25 C / 80 F degree weather, especially after hearing it snowed in Helsinki the same morning I woke up to my first sushine-filled day in Madrid. The sangría was great, too.

 

Almost every part of our trip was just lovely. We visited many interesting institutions, including the Complutense University of Madrid, the Ibero-American Institute of Finland, and the Prado Museum. Most of these places were fascinating and provided us valuable information on different aspects of cultural exchange. The last stop on our itinerary was Museo de América (Museum of America). Not as valuable a learning opportunity as the others.

Museo de América in funded by the Spanish Ministry of Education, Culture, and Sports. By the government, that is. I’m not sure if this is surprising, or if it makes the ignorant messages inside more or less disturbing. In any case, our entire group left the museum confused, even angry. We were a group of students from programs of both North and Latin American Studies, ranging from B.A. to PhD students, so it’s fairly safe to say we knew a good deal about the history and culture of the Americas. Hence the confusion and anger as a response to many of the maps, pieces, and messages displayed in the museum. Let me elaborate.

  1. Sami pieces. A ‘port-a-baby’, a type of baby carrier used by the indigenous Sami people of Lapland in Northern Europe was placed among pieces from a variety of South American indigenous peoples. With no reference as to where it came from or why it was placed here. Because why not. As my friend said, ‘Hey, they’re all Indians, right?’
  2. Maps. A map with dots of different colors representing three demographic groups in the U.S. and Canada today, ‘en la actualidad’ : Whites, Blacks, and Indians. Because, you know, there are no Hispanics or Asians in North America. According to this map, there are close to as many Native Americans as there are Whites in the U.S., and absolutely no Blacks in Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, or the Dakotas. There were also no differences in the size of the dots to give an idea of how big the different demogrpahic groups might be in different areas. Also, as part of the museum’s exhibit, there was a video about cartography in which the most recent map of the world was from 1994. I would not be surprised if most of the ‘current’ maps in Museo de América are about 20 years old. Not particularly impressive.
  3. A minor phenomenon called SLAVERY was completely ignored across the board.’ Oh, what’s that you say? Millions of slaves transported from West Africa to Brazil? Jeez, we’d really rather not talk about that. Let’s just skip Brazil altogether. No one will notice.’ Slavery in the U.S. also didn’t appear to be important enough to be mentioned. Museo de América seems to be perfectly fine with letting visitors think the black people in their paintings just apperaed out of nowhere, no need for explanations.
  4. In general, Museo de América lacks in plaques explaining the pieces in their exhibit. It also doesn’t exactly help a non-Spanish speaking visitor that texts covering the things this museum does deem important enough to talk about, are in Spanish only.
  5. America, according to this museum, really only seems to include the Spanish speaking countries of Latin America. Which is funny considering how widely people all over the world refer to the U.S. when they talk about America. This was actually a genuinely interesting observation. It jus goes to show how much culture affects the way we define things.
  6. The history of the Americas really only starts after Cristopher Columbus got lost in the Caribbean.

 

Museo de América, Madrid

Museo de América, Madrid

I can’t remember the last time I exited a museum as confused and upset. It upsets me that school groups visit this museum and are taught these things as truth. It upsets me that museums funded by national governments are allowed to ignore ethical guidelines. It upsets me that a museum I exepcted so much from was such a disappointment.  A later post about the possible reasons as to why Museo de América chooses to operate in such a manner might be in order. In the meanwhile, check out my older post about Southern plantations choosing to forget slavery.

 

 

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Can Sex Tourism Be Managed Sustainably?

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Sex workers in Thailand. Photo courtesy of thaib.org (http://thaib.org/2013/02/thailands-sex-tourism-industry/).

A little while back, I participated in a LinkedIn discussion about sex tourism and if it could be managed sustainably. The person who started the discussion seemed to think that this is not only possible but desirable since there is such a high demand for sex tourism at so many destinations. Most (if not all) people who replied felt otherwise. The discussion was eventually removed from the LinkedIn group Responsible travel and tourism (I’m assuming by the original poster), and my comment was deleted in the process. But this is an important and interesting topic and I want to voice my opinion. Thank goodness for blogs!

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I Survived Traveling Green With Kids

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Somewhere on the Ring of Kerry.

We’re back from our tour of lovely Ireland. Dublin was just as gorgeous, quirky, and welcoming as I remembered. Cork was cute. The Ring of Kerry and Killarney National Park were stunning. But I am here today to talk about planes, trains, and automobiles. Well, ferries too. What I’m about to write might shock you because, yes, we did all of this with two pre-schoolers. Also, we traveled with carry-ons only and without a stroller, ignoring pretty much all instructions and lists about how to travel with kids.

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Out of Sight, Out of Mind: How Tourist Money Wins Over Local Safety

Bill Baker has written an excellent post about governments presenting initiatives to promote tourism in their areas while completely ignoring how things like civil war or rape culture might affect tourists’ impressions of those areas. It’s pretty amazing, actually, how wonderfully in denial (or just plain arrogant) these ministers must be if they think their image as a tourist destination hasn’t suffered immensely from the cruelty that is on-going in both countries. The inability of these governemnts to put an end to this cruelty is also not exactly the best way to attract tourists. When the Union tourism minister of India says:

There is concern regarding tourist safety in India. I will call a meeting of chief ministers and state home ministers to discuss this and will ask states to be more vigilant on tourist safety.

…it’s a pretty clear statement of how unimportant the safety of local women in India is. As if protecting tourists is a good enough effort to improve the situation.

Hawaii is struggling with the inconvenient and visually disruptive issue of homelessness. Honolulu seems to be at war with the homeless, removing them from sites where they are spoiling the tourist experience by merely existing. Here, again, the local government seems to be more concerned about how these types of social issues are affecting tourist expenditure than they are with resolving them. At least the Mayor of Honolulu recognizes that homelessness is affecting the image of the Hawaii paradise, something the governments in India and Syria are successfully opting out of.

Sweeping huge social issues under the carpet with hopes of attracting more tourist money is not going to make those issues go away. It might, in fact, do the opposite and result in the destination losing tourists. Boycotting destinations that have serious unresolved human right or environmental issues is one way of reacting, and I have to say that reading about the situations in all these countries is making me want to do just that.

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The couple who travels together, stays together

It’s not like I needed any more evidence of how cool beyond words Bill Murray is, but this piece adds to the list nevertheless. Apparently, Bill crashed a bachelor’s party in Charleston, South Carolina, and voiced these words of wisdom:

If you have someone that you think is The One, don’t just think in your ordinary mind, ‘Okay, let’s make a date, let’s plan this and make a party and get married.’ Take that person and travel around the world. Buy a plane ticket for the two of you to travel all around the world, and go to places that are hard to go to and hard to get out of. And if when you land at JFK and you’re still in love with that person, get married at the airport.

I am inclined to agree. Although me and my husband haven’t traveled anywhere that’s hard to get to or get out of, we’ve traveled with our infant, toddler, and preschooler aged kids. We’ve taken them on laung-haul flights, on 9-hour-long train rides followed by 3-hour-busrides, and on 3-mile-long hikes through Slovenian caves. We’ve conferenced together (and will again). We even met on international waters.

Post-hike in Slovenia.

Post-hike in Slovenia (2012).

Traveling with someone for an extended period of time tells you so much about how they deal with stress, how considerate they are of other people’s wishes, and how easy or difficult it is for them to resolve disagreements. It’s impossible, or at least very unpleasant, to make travel plans on the road if you can’t agree on things, make compromises, or promptly apologize and make up when needed. I can’t foresee the future but after 7.5 years of being and traveling together, and after 5 years of being very happily married, I am optimistic. Let’s keep on traveling, honey.

Pre-kids in New York (2007).

Pre-kids in New York City (2007).

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