How my seemingly innocent trip to the Atlantis resort had me wondering about racist food and why I couldn’t find “real” food easily. I know that resorts are a popular escape from everyday life – but what happens when you encounter home again thousands of miles away?
What I thought was going to a fairly standard trip turned out to be one of my most introspective vacations in years.
I visited the Bahamas last year and if anyone has been there, you know how beautiful it is – historical buildings, pristine azure waters, and plenty of beaches. As a wedding guest at the Atlantis resort, my time in the Bahamas was nice, albeit a bit curated. One night I ate at Mosaic, an Atlantis restaurant that featured “casual cuisine with live action cooking stations”. I hoped this translated to “affordable dinner” which I did not see at Atlantis so far. Our server, Sylvia, greeted us and explained our options for the evening, but none of the food mentioned were Bahamian…
On top of that, the buffet was $75 a person. $75 to get food that I’m familiar with in the States. Japanese sushi, Mediterranean spreads, a French and Italian charcuterie board. Carving stations with assorted cuts of meat, waiting to be seared to order. After listening to Sylvia’s professional and (very) well-rehearsed spiel with all of the evening’s options, I replied “So which one is the Bahamian food station?”
As the only person of color at my table I was a bit embarrassed because I had inadvertently put her on the spot. Sylvia, caught off guard and a bit flustered, quickly regained her composure and stated that a Bahamian option wasn’t available, but the “conch salad is from the Bahamas”.
I flustered her with a question that every Bahamian working at resorts knows the answer to. To be honest, I already knew the answer myself, but a small part of me was hoping that I was wrong. These resorts are not here to sell you culture unless they can fit and repackage it in a gift shop. It’s not like these deep-pocketed investors on the hunt to create more McResorts around the world are saying “Hey, let’s actually highlight the native culture(s) here!”
As I was eating that $75 buffet (which was our priciest meal yet) and enjoying a sampling of Western “favorites”, I did not recognize a single item that looked like it had origins in any of the Caribbean countries. As a Haitian, it is another example of how infrequently our food makes the cut for what is deemed “acceptable” or even desirable.
Being from the islands, I know tourism is one of the biggest industries with resorts employing large numbers of the population. My “pwoblem” (in my best Haitian accent) is does it have to be like that? With many of the major brands around the world, importing Western stores like Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts and Quiznos seem unnecessary vacationing on an island. I avoid these brands in NYC as much as possible – saving my hard earned money for a vacation and being reunited with them over a thousand miles away was disheartening.
But why can’t a resort be a window into a different culture and foster curiosity, engagement and exploration?
You’re probably thinking “Why not leave the resorts if you wanted culture?” But why can’t a resort be a window into a different culture and foster curiosity, engagement and exploration? Even the ever-famous tourist trap of Times Square has some nuances that are considered a part of a true NYC experience.
I’m not talking about poverty porn or exploiting/appropriating a culture, but a large piece of traveling is learning about lives lived, in lands that may or may not be familiar to you. While resorts do provide job opportunities and a steady stream of income for locals, it comes at an expense. The expense of missed opportunities, of truly connecting with others and reminding ourselves that this world is as small – or big – as we make it.