Sriracha Isn't Dead: An Interview with Bianca Karina
Over the past year, I've been on a major kick to uplift voices of underrepresented communities. I've been working on pieces for a variety of different websites and also now my own. There are so many diverse people out there killing it with their internet presence, who also have very important things to say about the very mandatory conversation surrounding representation.
Many people think of travel influencers as having that obvious similar look (blonde hair, thin, standing on a beach with a floppy hat, looking out into the distance), but there is a movement to change that. I wanted to speak with people who are the faces of this changing industry. This series on diversity in travel begins with Bianca Karina, a bi-racial, plus-size fashion and travel blogger from California who wasn't going to wait to be a certain size to go out and see the world and look fabulous while doing it.
Why is the travel industry still so white?
The predominance of white skin tones in the travel industry, almost any industry at that, stems from our own societal outlook on what is "appealing." I think there is an idea that it is easier to put yourself in the shoes of a white person traveling because there is less of a cultural implication. It's a blank slate if you will. Often, we project ourselves into the people, images, and stories we see; and for so long, those stories have been told by caucasian men and women. People of color have gotten used to identifying with white people in images because it has always dominated the marketing industry. But the reverse hasn't happened.
It's easier for brands and companies to use white models or partner with white influencers because it is 1) culturally neutral, and 2) it's safer for companies because there isn't a risk of offending a culture or heritage. Hence, why platforms like Instagram are so important. It puts the individual in charge of the narrative. It gives the individual power to choose the images that inspire them.
Why is your voice so important in the travel industry?
Besides being half Chinese, I'm also fat. Women are constantly being pushed to lose weight and in the Asian culture that is amplified ten-fold. Every time I visit my family in Singapore I get at least 10 to 15 diet tips ranging from "don't eat cheeseburgers every day" to "all you need is a cup of white rice." I rarely eat cheeseburgers...There is little representation in the travel industry telling the story of people of color, let alone fat people. I want to tell that story.
What kind of diversity do you bring to travel that hasn't really been seen before?
Beyond racial diversity, I feel like I bring some body diversity to the travel industry. I've always traveled, but I didn't always enjoy it. I used to tell myself that once I lost weight I would do all of the things that I was too self-conscious to do before. I felt that people who looked like me weren't supposed to put themselves out there until they had "earned" it. Like it was only acceptable to enjoy life if you were actively working on being "healthier." Life doesn't, and shouldn't, start at your goal weight. I started to develop a healthier image of myself and took power over my body, and that's when I discovered the joy in exploring lands unknown to me. Specifically, having experiences that tested my comfort zone. Fat people live fulfilling and exciting lives. Our stories deserve to be told so that other men and women can feel empowered to start their own adventures.
Why do you travel?
Whether it be crashing a wedding parade in NOLA, getting naked in a Japanese onsen, or arguing with a tuk-tuk driver in Thailand, I travel to make memories. I travel to get me out of my routines and out of my comfort zone. My favorite saying is "get comfortable with being uncomfortable." I have no idea who said it originally but my mentor says this to me every time I start to feel overwhelmed. Personal growth comes out of the moments when you challenge yourself. What's more uncomfortable than plopping yourself in a foreign city, where you don't know the language, have no car, and no friends?
What are some things that might be holding you back from traveling the same way a white person might, if any?
There is nothing stopping me from traveling like a white person. I do, however, think that there are opportunities that are presented to travel influencers who look a certain way. Across the board, even minority cultures have identified white features as being more beautiful. Think sloped pointy noses, light skin, large eyes, etc. When it comes to seeing representation for POC or different body types, brands are more willing to partner with those who will sell more. Often times, that individual has an image that fits that societal aspiration of beauty.
What do you envision the future of the travel industry to look like?
I envision a future of travel where the stories behind local food, local art, and lifestyle don't need to be filtered through a white lens. It's incredible how food like dim sum, pho, ramen, even Sriracha needed a white person to endorse it in order to make it a "thing." A while back I saw a post by Thrillist saying that Sriracha is dead. Um, no. Asian people have been putting cock sauce on everything since the dawn of time and we'll continue to even once the hipsters have moved on. I'd like to see a travel industry that focuses on bringing it back to the local culture and experiences, and not just what is trendy. If I have to read about another white person visiting Cuba in another magazine I think I may just go to sleep and never wake up again.