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Extensive Travel as a Woman of Color: Exploring Race and the World

Reagan with Gerson Morales, the mayor of Yanga, Mexico, and her dad.
Reagan with Gerson Morales, the mayor of Yanga, Mexico, and her dad.

Teaching Traveling: Welcome to Regan, an advocate for travel by people of color. Reagan, tell us about yourself.

Regan: I grew up in Madison Wisconsin. When I was 16 my mom went on a month long faculty exchange to the University of Saint Louis (pronounced San Lewy), Senegal. That was my first big travel experience and from then on I was hooked.

My junior year of college I went to Spain to study Spanish at the University of Cadiz. After I graduated I moved to Japan where I taught English through the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program (JET) in a rural town called Kaibara (which has since been renamed Tamba). After Japan, came six months in Chile and then I went back to school with the purpose of getting the skills I needed to become a study abroad leader.

In 2006 I received my MA in International Education from the SIT Graduate Institute. Since then I have had a variety of careers. I became an elementary school Spanish teacher, an artist, a slam poet, and a journalist. I also worked as the Assistant Director of Latin American Studies for the UW.

Most recently I took a break from education and spent a year as a Community Organizer for a local labor union. Somewhere in between 2006 and now I have self published 7 books and led over 200 high school students on 8 trips abroad (3 to Hokkaido, Japan and 5 to Antigua, Guatemala). Through my adventures my goal has been to be engaged in meaningful work, to learn, to serve my community, and to enjoy my daily life.

One of the groups Reagan led to Guatemala, and their bus.
One of the groups Reagan led to Guatemala, and their bus.

Currently I am working part time as an independent contractor for Yoga Behind Bars. I coordinate yoga teachers to teach in prisons, jails, and juvenile corrections facilities. I am also a columnist for the Seattle Globalist and the Founder and Director of Many Voices One Tribe.

Many Voices One Tribe is a short term study abroad program for young writers of color interested in the exploration of identity and the chance to see a different part of the world. Our first adventure will be this July. We are headed to Veracruz, Mexico.

This program is the culmination of a long held dream. While travel and writing have been very influential in my life, the travel piece has at times been complicated by the fact that the experiences I had with most programs geared towards study and work abroad were geared towards white women.

As a person of color, I often had different experiences and no one seemed to be able or interested in helping me to process them. I believe going abroad can be a beautiful and transformative experience with the right facilitation and support, and I am committed to providing youth of color with just that.

Reagan in Morocco with Agape Spiritual Center... learning to ride a camel!
Reagan in Morocco with Agape Spiritual Center… learning to ride a camel!

TT: Amazing. Tell us more about your travels.

R: My most recent trip was to Veracruz, Mexico to scout out the area for my study abroad program. While I had been to Mexico before, I had never been to Veracruz. In deciding where to go I discovered a small town called Yanga would be hosting an Afro-Mexican Carnival.

As I learned more about Yanga, the town and the man for who it was recently renamed, I knew I wanted to go there. Yanga (of N’Ganga…historians aren’t sure) was an African Prince who was captured and enslaved by the Spaniards.

It is said that he led a rebellion of 400 slaves that effectively shut down the sugar trade in Veracruz and inconvenience the Spanish so much, that they actually negotiated to allow Yanga and his 400 companions their freedom and their own town named San Lorenzo de Los Angeles.

It was known as the first free town in the Americas and Yanga is now known as an Afro-Mexican hero. Though with any historical account there are always discrepancies and multiple versions of the same tale.

Though Yanga was technically free, the town was more like a reservation than an actual town. Residents of San Lorenzo weren’t allowed to carry weapons or drink or interact with any other black people because slavery was still going on and as we all know, freedom is a highly contagious ideal.

Visiting Yanga was fascinating because everywhere I went there were artifacts of blackness, beautiful paintings and sculptures depicting Yanga’s rebellion. Yet I felt every eye on me because despite the deep cultural impact of the African Diaspora, I was one of the only black people there and people were deeply curious about me.

Reagan in Morocco.
Reagan in Morocco.

TT: So interesting. How did you fund these travels?

R: I went to Veracruz with the support of 50 people who donated a total of $3200 to my Indiegogo Campaign. These people were a combination of friends, family, and complete strangers who wanted to see me start my own program.

Frolicking in the ocean in Spain.
Frolicking in the ocean in Spain.

TT: Very inspiring. Tell us about a powerful moment during this trip.

R: Upon arriving in Yanga, with my Dad in tow, I decided to go to the library and in a strange twist of fate ended up meeting the mayor. Upon hearing my purpose, he insisted on providing me with the utmost hospitality.

A town vehicle was commandeered. The mayor’s aide and the town library became our personal tour guides. They escorted us to the mural of Yanga in the park, then to the Museum in Palmillas where the director was summoned on his day off to give us a private tour.

While there, journalists from a local TV station and two newspapers appeared to interview me. My dad thought this was hilarious. His name is Gene Jackson, but somehow in the papers he became Jim Jackson which is his new nickname.

From there, since I had asked to meet some afro-Mexicans we were taken to the home of a friend of the librarians who then introduced me to his family, showed me photos and talked about his grandfather from Martinique. Afterwards we were taken to the Haciendas which are now beautifully overgrown with trees whose roots have become part of the buildings. It was an incredible day.

TT: Love it. How has travel changed you as a person, and in your career?

R: I don’t know how to answer that. Travel has always been a reset button for me, a chance to fully be present in a way that is difficult to do in daily life. It has also helped to give me perspective on my identity. I don’t think I really knew what it meant to be an American until I left the states. There is something about that disruption of the day to day that gives you a chance to learn in different ways.

Travel has healed me. It’s also provided me with the chance to better understand humanity. When you go somewhere foreign and don’t speak the language and all these strangers who have no reason to help you come together to take you in, there is an empathy created that ripples out into everything you do. To receive those small kindnesses makes you remember how to be your best self and how to give to others when you can.

Reagan with Aurelio Hernandez, in country director of Global Visionaries. They were building a school in Segunda Cruz, Guatemala.
Reagan with Aurelio Hernandez, in country director of Global Visionaries. They were building a school in Segunda Cruz, Guatemala.

TT: Beautifully put. What advice do you have for people looking to travel?

R: Don’t be afraid to fail. Don’t be afraid to get lost. Fail. Get lost. Eat something disgusting. Be kind to a stranger. Allow strangers to be kind to you. Have an adventure… remind yourself of what it is to be alive.

TT: Thanks so much, Reagan! Readers, what questions or comments do you have?


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Wednesday 13th of May 2015

Hi Rashaad. I was in Hyogo prefecture, but spent a lot of time in Osaka.


Tuesday 12th of May 2015

I can't believe I didn't find this story until now but I have a question for Regan - if you can reach her: What prefecture did she live in when she was in the JET Program?

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