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  • Mapping Diaspora: African American Roots Tourism in Brazil by Patricia de Santana Pinho
  • Vanessa Castañeda
Mapping Diaspora: African American Roots Tourism in Brazil. By Patricia de Santana Pinho. The University of North Carolina Press, 2018, p. 253, $29.95.

Patricia Pinho de Santana's book Mapping Diaspora: African American Roots Tourism in Brazil offers a complex look at African American roots tourism to Bahia, Brazil. Her work engages with fields such as tourism studies, especially roots/heritage tourism, African diaspora studies, Latin American cultural studies, and gender studies. Brazil becomes an appealing destination in what Pinho has coined "the map of Africanness," a conceptual map of physical locations African Americans travel to in search of their African roots. It is conceptual as various actors including governments, intellectuals, and tourism agencies participate in the making and meaning of these places. Despite its geographic location existing outside of continental Africa, Brazil is seen as a site of heritage recuperation where one can at once share historical sameness as diasporic blacks while bypassing the uncomfortable histories of the slave trade.

By examining the discourses produced by African American tourists about Brazil and Afro-Brazilians and vice versa, Pinho sheds light on the ways that dominant tropes are constructed and challenged, their connections to power asymmetries and, subsequently, their ramifications. Using a transdisciplinary approach, her research involves ethnography, critical discourse and visual analysis of literature including state-sponsored tourism materials, magazines like Essence and other literary materials from the United States whose targeted audience are African Americans, interviews with agents of the tourism industry in both countries, as well as with African American tourists and Brazilian state agents, cultural producers, and activists.

Understood to embody Africa culturally and spatially, Pinho argues that Bahia is seen as a "closer Africa" where African Americans can find their roots, as Afro-Brazilians are living in a presumed African American past due to its more culturally fulfilled traditions and thus, an earlier stage in the unidirectional path toward a modern form of blackness. Pinho points out the ways that African Americans travel to Bahia in search of sameness. However, they move in ways that reflect the unevenness within the diaspora and global south as Americans position themselves as leaders who oversimplify an entire population as tradition bearers and, thus, less modern black agents. Although Pinho engages with tensions in roots tourism due to asymmetrical power dynamics between different Afro-descendant actors within the diaspora, she also examines the very real components of transnational solidarity. African Americans are very conscious of where to invest their US dollars and resources, choosing to support Afro-Brazilian businesses and communities. In a specific example, she examines the positive impact African American roots tourists [End Page 464] have had on the Sisterhood of the Good Death in the town of Cachoeira in garnering symbolic respect from Brazilians as well as tangible support from the state government of Bahia. Thus, despite unevenness due to one's national identity, level of professional and/or higher education, and socio-economic class, there still remain efforts to construct racial solidarity across difference.

As most of the tourists that she encounters are middle-aged black women, Pinho dedicates one chapter to gender, contributing greatly to the gendered aspects of tourism. Diverging from the leadership position men tend to embody when interacting with Afro-Brazilian communities, Pinho noticed that black women tourists underscored how crucial it was for them to recover a lost heritage for the cultivation of a strong black identity in the US. Women are expected to immerse themselves fully to "bring home the roots" as cultural transmitters, yet are vulnerable to the realities of gendered and sexualized violence and thus must at least partially move within the protective bubble of the organized tour groups for safety. Additionally, they grappled with moments where their Americanness was a more salient feature for their diasporic counterparts than their blackness, creating a paradoxical relationship for travelers where they simultaneously embody home and reclusiveness. While Pinho's work is necessary, as she examines the very understudied group of black women tourists, the group profile of her research participants also places limitations on the project as a whole. Although...


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pp. 464-465
Launched on MUSE
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