I thought I would make my post a little bit different today. I was having a conversation with some friends of mine about next year’s Spring Break, and one friend brought up going to Puerto Vallarta, a beautiful city in Mexico on the Pacific coast that I had spent a summer vacation over ten years ago. What I remember from Puerto Vallarta was that they put mayo on their hamburgers, the beautiful sunsets, and the way that the restaurant hosts would shout relentlessly at my family, trying to persuade us to eat our dinner at their restaurant. But another friend chimed in that she heard Puerto Vallarta was ‘sketchy’, and that sentence bugged me more than I expected it to.
Before I go on, let me just say that I am so so so fortunate and thankful to have traveled since the day I was born. I’ve been to Argentina, Chile, China, Indonesia, Thailand, Turkey, Greece, Germany, France, etc. – but I’ve also never been to a resort or the Caribbean; my family does home swaps, stays in hostels, or rents in local and quiet places. I have seen poverty, I have seen and spoken to people living in homes built of scrap metal and mud, with no electricity and running water. I have seen streets full of stray dogs and strange men and prostitutes. I have been verbally and sexually harassed in the streets of Istanbul. I have been teargassed in Greece. A man asked my father if he could buy me. I was repeatedly picked up and photographed without my consent in China. But this is culture, and this is the world, and I love it. And the instances I have listed above are nowhere near me complaining, as each and everything I have experienced has shown me that the world is not New Jersey, and it is not State College. It is much more, very different, and still extremely, insanely beautiful. Often sad. Often unfair, but beautiful in the sense of how on one planet, there exists thousands of different cultures, languages, foods and ways of life. This is incredible. Not ‘sketchy’. Beautiful. Sad. Different. Dangerous. Amazing. It’s the world.
That being said, I want to introduce a photographer named Alison Wright. Her work (check it out here!!) is not only visually appealing, but a perfect representation of different cultures, the sadness, struggle and beauty of ways of life in different places. Wright photographs for a lot of non-profit organizations, like UNICEF, Women for Women and Save the Children. She has also shot for National Geographic, Time, and The New York Times. She has documented women affected by war in Uganda, healthcare in Liberia, the Red Cross center in Kabul, relief in Haiti, tsunami victims in Sri Lanka, foodbanks in Appalachia, migrant workers in Texas and in Thailand, indigenous people of Papua New Guinea, monks in Cambodia, nomads in Tibet, Mongolian hunters, and the list goes on. These images are incredibly beautiful, and important. Wright succeeds in capturing not only certain issues and tragedies in countries (like the earthquake in Haiti, tsunami in Sri Lanka, war in Uganda, poverty in Appalachia and Texas, etc.) but simultaneously, the incredibly unique and beautiful cultures that exist in our world. Her work is important in breaking down the wall of ethnocentrism, where we judge another culture based on our own (i.e., calling Mexico ‘sketchy’, when it is just, in fact, Mexico).