Afro Latino Travel founder Dash Harris is serious about making sure the lived experiences of Black people are listened to, understood, and celebrated. This serial Black Latina business owner is changing the ways people travel, learn, and interact with global Blackness.
As the co-founder of a travel company, Harris truly lives a global life, “I was just asked by a friend in Panama where I was; when I responded New York she said, ‘It really is almost impossible to keep track of you!’” Thankfully, Harris happens to be in New York City after delivering a workshop at Stanford University in California the day prior. “There had been negative and unfortunate events that the Black Latinx students on campus experienced from non-Black Latinx people, so Caña Negra was called in,” Harris shares with me. During the weekend-long workshop, students interrogated Latin American white supremacy and learned how to equip themselves with the tools to dismantle white supremacy within their families. “If you would have told me when I was younger that I would be teaching non-Black Latinx people how to identify and unlearn being racist towards Black Latinos I would have never believed you,” she jokes. This exchange encapsulates Harris perfectly: an unabashedly on the move, joyous, and proud Black Latina who enjoys teaching and learning about Black Latinx people across the Americas.
In 2010 Harris began her docuseries, turned full documentary, Negro: A Docuseries About Latinx Identity. Negro explores identity, colonization, racism, and the African diaspora in Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as the color complex among Latinos. Harris traveled and spoke with Latinx people across the Americas and the Caribbean to get an array of points of view and experiences. “My documentary kind of unofficially planted the seeds for Afro Latino Travel. I was traveling and meeting new people and going to new places. Naturally, family and friends started asking me for advice, suggestions, and help with planning their trips with places I had been.”
Today, Afro Latino Travel, soon changing its name to Afro Latinx Travel, offers tours centering Black history, legacy, spirituality, politics, and contemporary life in Latin America and the Caribbean. They presently offer tours in Panama, Cuba, Peru, Colombia, and Puerto Rico and will be offering tours in Argentina and Uruguay, Brazil, Spain and Portugal, Mexico, Ecuador, and Costa Rica later this year. Each of their tours centers the Black Latino experience in its respective country.
“When I was doing research and trying to find other Black Latinos in different countries for my documentary I was asked, ‘Why?’ and then was cautioned about going to certain neighborhoods — the neighborhoods that were ‘dangerous’ or ‘sketchy.’ But oftentimes these were just code words for too Black. These neighborhoods were exactly where I wanted to go and where I connected with the people who I wanted to speak with. Furthermore, a lot of these Black communities are historically significant to the beginning of these countries. They are now said to be ‘bad’ or ‘dangerous’ but our people still live there. Hell, my grandma still lives there!” Harris laughs.
International travel for people of color has become a huge talking point in recent years. More and more people of color are traveling; however, this doesn’t always mean more and more money for the people of color, especially for the Black people, in the countries being visited. Tourism is a big profit share for the Caribbean and Central and South American countries, but very few of those tourism dollars go to Black locals in these countries. Furthermore, people always remark how traveling “like a local” gives them a better sense of connecting with the places they are visiting.
Harris saw all of these things as an opportunity for her to give back to the Black diaspora community across the Americas while continuing to learn and connect with Black people. “We are the locals. Right now, as we speak I have tours going on in Cuba and Panama where local businesses and guides are leading the tours that have the guest interacting with the families, friends, and associates of the guides. Every dollar someone spends on our tours goes to people who look like them.” The majority of Afro Latino Travel clients are Dominican and Puerto Rican, followed by Black North Americans.
When people go on an Afro Latino Travel tour they can expect to be connected to the local Afro Latinx community in a variety of ways. Including an ongoing crash course on the realities of life outside of the United States. “We had one guest who had difficulty wrapping her head around the fact that she couldn’t flush paper down the toilet. She was utterly confused and kept asking ‘why’ and ‘what.’ People tend to not understand the amount of basic education we have to do as a travel company for our guests on the tours before we get to the planned education. Basic education on things like not taking photos of people without their consent, cultural differences, and making ignorant comments about Black people outside of North America.” On another tour, a person made a comment about Black Latinx people in their neighbors looking like “regular Black people.” Harris took this opportunity to question what the commenter meant and really drive home the point that Black people do not just exist in Africa and North America. Black people exist everywhere, in every country, on this planet.
Then there are the magical moments of owning a travel company and facilitating connections across the African diaspora. Her husband barely speaks English but will often come along on tours and interact with the guest. “One time my husband was sitting with a man on one of the tours, and before I even tried to translate the conversation they were completely understanding one another. My husband made a sign on the table and the guest shouted ‘YEAH!’ That three-pointer was wild!’ Apparently they were talking about the Golden State Warriors,” she shrugs and laughs. “Roots that deep don’t need translating.” Another guest on one of the tours was blown away to see her husband and exclaimed, “You look like we could be family!” Harris’s husband said, “You look like my DAD!” Later on, the guest visited her father-in-law’s home and the three men took a photo together. “Something like this always happens on our Black Latinx group trips. People will find commonality with the Black locals.”
Other guests have been so moved by the spiritual learnings on the trip that they convert to traditional Ifa spiritual practices. “That’s amazing! To see how these trips can truly change someone’s life so much so that they change their religious and spiritual practices.”
As a business owner, Harris is constantly assessing, addressing, and updating offerings and business practices. The business has grown from offering informal travel advice and services to friends and families, to-day tours which “wouldn’t bring in any money,” to offering larger group tours and expanding to different countries. A lot of the growth is in part an honest reflection of the business. “We kept sinking so many resources into our Cuba tours, but we had to shift that, and Cuba was one of our most popular tours! But people kept questioning if they could legally travel to Cuba and many other aspects of the trip. In the end, we aren’t making enough money.”
Harris primarily lives between Cuba, where her husband lives full time, and Panama, where she lives now — but she is constantly moving around saying, “I leave places that I’m no longer happy in.” She goes on to share that “being in Panama has helped me in many ways to scale up what I want the business to be, it’s helped me connect with people in these countries more, and it’s helped me design what I want Afro Latino Travel to look like as it grows.” Building community through activism at multiple levels in a variety of Latin American countries has helped Harris continue to scale and grow her company in an intentional and impactful way.
“It’s also very important for me to say that I can move around with ease because of my U.S. passport; that is a huge privilege that helps me in many ways. And when I moved back to Panama from Harlem I moved back home, I moved to where a lot of my family was.”
In addition to the tours they are adding this year, Afro Latino Travel is seeking to enhance their Afro Latino country-specific intel and suggestions to travelers who do not want a group tour but would like guidance on how to connect with local Black people in the Latin countries they are visiting.
When asked what advice she would give to others who want to start a business Harris responded that people should really open themselves up to all sorts of possibilities. “I have been in a relationship with my husband for five years and we have yet to legally and long-term live in the same place but it works for us. It works for us and it’s what we need. I get to travel, work, and teach people about topics that are most important to me in different countries.” She adds, “Give space for magic to happen.” Afro Latino Travel is currently offering a range of tours you can inquire about. To learn more visit their website or Instagram.