I had an opportunity to speak on a panel titled “The Changing Faces of Family Travel” at the second annual Family Travel Association Summit in October. The FTA Summit was a gathering of the FTA’s more than 100 travel professionals and 50 media members, and inclusion and diversity were hot topics throughout the event. In my panel, I shared my perspective of how Asians (and minorities, in general) are underrepresented in travel media and what we can do to change that.
Inclusion and family travel are important topics for me. As an Asian-American, gaining visibility and a voice in the travel industry hasn’t been easy. Three years ago, I started my blog to put my voice out there, so that other parents could relate to some of my experiences and challenges of raising young children and traveling with them as much as possible. There weren’t many Asian family travel bloggers when I started blogging, and there still aren’t that many. But that doesn’t mean Asians aren’t traveling with their families.
The underrepresentation of Asians in media (whether it’s entertainment, travel, or any other industry) is a discussion that needs to continue in order to create lasting change. Below is the speech (for the most part) that I delivered at the FTA Summit to address this issue head-on. I hope that this will only be the beginning of further discussions on how we can keep the focus on inclusion.
Let’s talk about diversity, but I actually like the word “inclusion” better. Millennials in Afar’s recent travel survey noted that “they don’t see diversity until it’s absent.” And I think that’s a great way of framing this discussion today.
I want to take a quick survey of the room. Does anyone know who John Cho is? (Three hands went up.)
He’s an actor. You may have seen him in a recent movie. Can you see him? He’s the one with the black hair.
You may have seen him in his bread and butter movie, Harold and Kumar.
I’ve actually been following his career for 20 years, ever since he popularized the term “MILF” in American Pie. John Cho is one of the most prominent Asian actors in show business, but practically no one knows who he is. So William Yu started #StarringJohnCho to protest the “whitewashing” of Hollywood.
Here he is in The Avengers, the novel made to movie, Me Before You.
And Mission Impossible, and The Martian.
And my favorite, Mother’s Day.
I think he got his point across.
What about how families are portrayed on TV? I grew up with the Wonder Years, Married with Children, and Full House. Nowadays. Now we have this.
This is what American media deems “the modern family.” Typical white family with 3 kids. Al Bundy and his Latina wife and kid. And the gay couple with their adopted girl. It looks like she’s supposed to be Asian.
Has anyone seen this show?
Fresh Off the Boat. It’s the first American family sitcom, featuring Asian actors as the protagonists. This is 2016!
The underrepresentation of Asians in the entertainment industry is similar to the travel industry.
Here’s my family. My wife, two daughters. We’re on the beach in Honolulu, where I’m from. We live in the Bay Area. I work in marketing in tech and started writing about our family travel adventures and lessons a few years ago.
I want to tell you a story about how we got started with family travel. Our first trip abroad as a family of four was in the summer of 2012. I wanted to go somewhere a little unconventional. So we went to Nicaragua.
My kids were 3 years old and 6 months old at the time. We ended up staying for almost three weeks in San Juan del Sur, a small beach town on the southern end of Nicaragua. We spent our time hanging out at the beach and I even started taking some Spanish lessons. One night, we were walking back to our B&B guesthouse, and in the darkness, we spotted something that we never thought we would have seen in Nicaragua…another Asian-American family with young kids. They were getting in a car to leave, so we didn’t talk to them that night, but we eventually bumped into them another day at the local market. They were a family from New York, slow traveling through Central America. Their boys were about the same age as our girls so we hit it off immediately. We went swimming together, had meals together, went to the beach together. It was just great to make some friends on the road.
After our trip to Nicaragua, the one thing that kept coming to mind was “if they can do it, so can we.” We were inspired to really make family travel an important part of our lifestyle. Later that year, we went on a two-month trip through some cities in South America, then took a half-year sabbatical to Guatemala, Taiwan, and China, and most recently went on a gap year of travel with our kids through countries in Asia and Europe.
Here’s us in Rome.
Here’s the kids on a field trip with their summer school class in Barcelona.
And here’s a photo of us at Christ the Redeemer in Rio in June, right before the Olympics.
We’ve traveled pretty extensively and wherever we go, we’ve seen Asian families, mixed families, white families, black families, all kinds of families out there.
On my blog, Live Family Travel, I’ve tried to help change the perception of what family travel is. I’ve used my story and experiences to help inspire other families that don’t fit the mold of what a “typical American family” is. I’ve also featured some other families who you don’t see in mainstream media.
This is Shirlene Lim and her family of Idelish. She and her husband work in tech in Seattle, and they make it a point to travel all over the world with their son. They’re in Vienna in this photo.
This is Brian Jones and his family of 27 Loops. They’re a Brady Brunch of sorts and have kids from previous marriages. Over the course of 2 years, he took his family on 27 road trips around the U.S. to various national parks, all from his home base in Florida.
This is Natalie Chen and her family of My Wandering Family. She sold her house and decided to take a gap year with her husband and kids. And she’s blogging about it!
There’s many more stories like these out there. In fact, I know there are. Just looking at my Facebook feed, I’ve got Asian friends who recently visited Jordan with their kids, friends taking family trips from Hawaii to Disneyland and Vegas, and friends who just came back with their kids from Hong Kong and Japan.
All kinds of families are traveling. To show different faces of family travel, you have to consciously seek out those stories. When you share a diverse set of stories, the entire industry is elevated as a whole.
But who really wins in the end?
The kids who travel.