I’m a travel writer, social media manager, and diversity trainer who is passionate about the intersection of social justice and technology.
My appreciation for women’s empowerment stems from graduating from Wellesley College, where women’s aspirations, and accomplishments were valued. I’ve studied in France and I’ve taught in public schools in Boston and San Antonio.
In 2016, I finished 27 months of service with the Peace Corps in Nicaragua, where I worked as an LGBT diversity trainer, social media manager, TEFL teacher trainer, and fundraised thousands of dollars for gender empowerment camps.
I do translation work, editing, research, and social media consulting work consistently and quickly. Whenever I work, I make sure everything I post goes the distance. I know the value of consistency, communication, and creativity. Everyone has a story to tell. Not only will I help you tell your story, I’ll make sure it is heard.
I was glowing. Washington, D.C. has been my home for two months, but I still couldn’t get a ticket. I was allowed to be inside, at last! How competitive is it to get into this museum that opened in in September of 2016?
“Same-day, timed passes are available online only, beginning at 6:30 a.m. daily. A limited number of walk-up passes are available at the Museum on weekdays, beginning at 1 p.m.”
I’ve heard friends mention how lucky they were not only go be able to get a timed ticket, but to be able to take time off work in order to do so. Tour buses load people here every day, and I can only imagine how much in advance they must reserve their tickets.
So, how did I get in? Since I’m giving walking tours at the American History Museum, I have a Smithsonian employee badge that grants me employee access (and a sweet discount at the gift shops and food courts!).
I’d finally made it after weeks of cycling past with my bike tours, only being able to explain the NMAAHC’s design from the outside. Tourists cannot help but wonder what this building is, its corona-like, multilevel design and brown color standing in stark contrast to the white monuments. Even the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial is made up of a Chinese, white stone (of hope).
Sir David F. Adjaye, a Ghanaian British Architect, modeled The NMAAHC’ after crowns worn by the people of the Yoruban culture. Step closer, and it looks as if each panel is carved in the most intricate way. It reminded me of the intricate design that gates have in Mexico. They are ornate and functional.
The museum closes at 5:30 daily, and since I’d just gotten off work, I only had two hours. I began my visit at the the amazing Sweet Home Café, and as I expected, I had to wait in line. This museum is still so crowded that they can only let in a few folks at a time. Luckily, the menu was waiting outside with me as I decided what to get. There was regional food from places like the Creole Coast: Gulf Shrimp & Anson Mills Stone Ground Grits – featuring the premier corn-product from popular Columbia, S.C.-based Anson Mills alongside smoked tomato butter, caramelized leeks and crispy Tasso. There was corn bread and there were collard greens.
I had a feeling that I wouldn’t be alone for long. I walked my tray over to a table in the middle of the huge cafeteria. As I bit into my mac and cheese, Franklin E. McCain’s piercing gaze met mine. His seriousness under his thick, black rimmed glasses reminded me that while yes, I was here to enjoy the food, that I shouldn’t take my decision to sit wherever I wanted to for granted.
Soon enough, an older African American couple with hot dogs and orange Fantas on their trays sat down with me. I was frustrated by the fact that while this café had a variety of Southern comfort foods on display, hot dogs were the most affordable, filling items on the menu for them. The older woman and I started talking about the prices. She said “Can you believe it costs $7 for two sodas? Do you know how many sodas I could buy at the grocery store with that?”
I felt comfortable yet unsure of just exactly how accessible this museum really was. Maybe they have to offset the costs because this is a free museum, after all. One reason I love the Smithsonian Institute is that their initial endowment was given with the assurance that they would continue the dissemination of knowledge and that this would be free to the public-forever.
Soon enough, the granddaughter, who was in town for an interview, came and sat with us. I told her this was my first time here, and she mentioned the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco, which is also one of the country’s 19 Smithsonian museums. Her mom rolled grandma up on her wheelchair and offered everyone yams, green beans, and fried fish on little plates. They were from North Carolina, D.C., all over. I could relate to them on that level.
It was nice to sit and chat with a family while enjoying rich, stick-to-your ribs, food. “Who wants some potato salad?” Mom said, as she looked at me, and only me, knowing I’d accept. I giggled and spooned some on my plate, mentioning that I was not on a diet.
I only had an hour to explore, and the suggested I start from the bottom floor (there are two floors below and three above ground) because the journey begins with the slave trade and is, needless to say, an emotional one. I was already feeling so many different emotions just while enjoying a sandwich.
As I walked down the elevator, I saw something I thought I’d never see in this museum: Just another white, teenage boy, wearing a “Make America Great Again” sweatshirt. Other than the sweatshirt, he looked like just another boy on a field trip. What is he doing here? Did his teacher make him come? What is he thinking? I was confused, then relieved, that he was at least in a space like this that would hopefully make him question what the phrase on his sweatshirt even meant, once he’d realize that one of our founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson, owned 609 slaves.
As a guard lowered myself and other guests down in an oversized elevator, he dismissed us with “I hope you have a kleenex. You’ll need one!”
And so, the journey began, past the miniature shackles used for children crossing the Atlantic-if they survived at all- and into Brazil, Jamaica, Virginia…
Then came the exhibit on the American Revolution. For the first time, I’d seen an image of Boston King, a former slave turned Loyalist soldier. That’s how both the British and Americans recruited black men–by offering their freedom, if they didn’t die from smallpox or musket fire. It was so powerful to see images of men like Boston and Crispus Attucks (this runaway slave was the first man to die in the Boston Massacre, which partially led to The American Revolution) being represented along with the countless other images of white men serving in the war that we’ve all seen.
The next room was one of my favorites. It exposed Thomas Jefferson’s faults. While, yes, he was an intelligent white man, inventor, Vice President, writer, and more, he also owned slaves. He wasn’t as enlightened as we think. Presidents would continue to hve had slave ownership up until Ulysses S. Grant. Yes, the general who helped the Union win The Civil War owned a slave at one point in his life. I knew Jefferson had slaves, but I hadn’t known that the children he’d had with one of his slaves (starting when she was 17), all inherited the same title as their mother. All men aren’t created so equal, are they?
As I was processing this, a young black girl stood between her mother and a glass case with shackles for slaves inside of them.
“Those were to make sure that the slaves wouldn’t escape” the mother explained to her little girl. “They even put them around their ankles?” she asked, innocently. “Mmhmm, even around their ankles,” mom said, cooly.
As a white presenting Mexican with a white presenting Mexican mother, I would never have been able to feel that sense of “This could have been me” in the way that this mother and her daughter probably felt and were used to feeling.
I barely made it to the section with Harriet Tubman, who was instrumental in bringing slaves up North through The Underground Railroad, when a guard told us the museum was closing. I hadn’t even made it past this floor before it was time to go. So, just like everyone else, I walked intentionally slowly so that I could savor my final seconds in this revealing place.
Finally, the National Museum of African American History’s was giving me what I needed: Real Talk. Real History. I’ll be back for more.
Bike tours are some of the best ways to get to know a city, especially one as historical as Washington, DC. This Spring we’re offering Cherry Blossom tours, and I’ve enjoyed learning the history about these beautiful trees found in DC.
The Japanese sent about 3,000 trees to DC in 1912 as a diplomatic gift to the U.S. and many of them have lived twice as long as their expected lifespans of forty years! While 3% die each year, saplings with the original trees’ DNA are kept in the National Arboretum. We’ve actually donated trees back to Japan when they lost them due to flooding in the ’50s and ’80s.
I learned all of this as I prep to lead Cherry Blossoms bike tours with Bike and Roll DC -check us out when you’re in town!
I’m so honored to be featured on the XX, Will Travel Podcast for independent women travelers. On International Women’s Day, I’m talking about how I grew from vulnerability abroad, learned to normalize self care, and how that’s impacted my life as a woman today.
As travelers, we constantly put ourselves in vulnerable positions by exploring unfamiliar languages, cultures, social mores and even physical terrain. Char Stoever is an LGBT diversity trainer and Peace Corps alum assigned to Nicaragua who coined the term “vulnerable traveler.” She joins us to talk about how to view vulnerability as a learning tool and relationship builder instead of as a weakness. Opening up is never easy and does require care, particularly for members of marginalized groups. But, as Char discusses, the rewards often outweigh the risks and can lead to a more authentic travel experience. We also touch on self care while traveling and avoiding the “1000 Things to See Before You Die” trap.
This week’s episode features Char Stoever. Char is a Mexican-American bacon lover, travel writer, and diversity trainer with a passion for the intersection between social justice and technology. A graduate of Wellesley College, she is grateful to have attended a women’s college where women’s opinions, aspirations, and accomplishments were valued. In 2011, she studied abroad in France, and after graduating in 2012, she taught in public schools in Boston and San Antonio.
In 2016, she finished 27 months of service with the Peace Corps in Nicaragua, where she worked as an LGBT diversity trainer, social media manager, and fundraiser for gender empowerment camps. She’s currently Wanderful’s social media intern and has written about travel, LGBTQ issues, mental health, and women’s empowerment for sites like Go Abroad and Travel Latina.
This GoAbroad.com e-book features three articles I wrote. One talks about navigating mental illness abroad and another talks about how to support a friend abroad with a mental illness. The last discusses practicing self-care abroad.
Thank you so much, Sylvia D., for emailing me to introduce yourself after having read my self care article a while back. Little did I know you’d come to be an integral part of helping me with these next posts and to continue the never ending conversation about mental health abroad after we skyped in August for three hours.
I still think about our conversation and about how much you taught me about breaking the ice about this important topic that too many people feel uncomfortable talking about.
The more we talk about it, the more we normalize discussions about mental health and navigating mental illnesses abroad.