Foreign trips for South Asians are rising as the world has opened up its borders once again after the Covid-19 pandemic. More and more young individuals are either permanently moving abroad or are taking shorter trips. The complexities of travelling as a South Asian are multi-faceted and although one is prepared for a lot of curveballs on the way, we can also be quickly blindsided by unexpected racial incidents. In a space where our identities are exaggerated or rather stereotyped, how do South Asians navigate travel?
Some young people are the first generation to have the privilege of travelling, let alone overseas. Many explain how this opportunity can be liberating as the hard work of so many generations rests behind it. It is a chance to finally claim space in a sector that is deemed to be a luxury and hence not offered to so many other South Asians before them.
Although the novelty of being a ‘global citizen as a person of colour comes with its own baggage, when the melanin in your skin is a reason enough to be subjected to scrutiny at airports even in 2022, much still remains the same for a younger generation that can afford luxury yet are still in the direct line of this oppressive gaze. The situation gets increasingly more uncomfortable for individuals who adorn cultural symbols.
Turbans and Hijabs act as the direct reason for individuals being subjected to security searches that are entirely triggered by prejudice. I have personally witnessed my brother who was 14 at the time being interrogated for half an hour at an airport in the USA while other young boys his age simply walked through the area. Similarly, a close friend let me in on her experience of going through airport security with a Hijab. Her surname was enough for these invasive inspections to take place and her head covering was used as a justification for an excessively biased round of questioning.
It is a fact that post the occurrence of 9/11, travel has been difficult for people from the east. As hate crimes increased one had to be extremely vigilant about both their environment and appearance. While the South Asian experience is marginally better when compared to a person from the Middle East, the men in my family who wear turbans and are assumed to be Muslims can attest to the fact that Islamophobia is still very real and not much has changed even after two decades.
Additionally, the racist encounters that over the years have gradually transformed into micro-aggressions are definitely a reality for brown-skinned individuals. The unique adventure of travelling as a South Asian comes with its own experiences of being wrongly discriminated against on holidays, in settings such as restaurants, clubs or even while simply walking down the street.
We have a long road ahead to create a safer and less stressful travel experience for all. Despite this, it is quite liberating to witness a younger generation getting the opportunity to travel in a globalized world. Since people are more closely connected due to the internet, very few experience a ‘culture shock’ and it is easier to embrace a new lifestyle or adjust to different environments.
Young South Asians are asserting their identities around the world and not shying away from the complexities of travel. It is an opportunity that further provides a gateway for us to make space for our indigenous culture and heritage at a global level while partaking in a world of luxury and indulgence that was for too long only accorded to people of a certain race. The learning experience is unique, and freeing; granting a fresh perspective on our own nuanced and multifaceted identities.
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