Born in Brooklyn to a Dominican-Puerto Rican family, Carol lived and studied in the Dominican Republic as a teenager before returning to New York City to pursue a career in public relations. She speaks three languages.
Carol has been blogging since 2008 and her current site, Girl Gone Travel, is a multiple-award-winning travel site. Considered an expert on travel and tourism from a multicultural perspective Carol has been featured in visual media from Telemundo to NBC, CBS and ABC, and print media from Better Homes and Gardens to the New York Times, as well as freelance writing for New York Family Magazine, American Airlines, Matador, Expedia, and Forbes.
In 2013 Carol was a featured speaker at the TBEX-Europe Travel Conference where she gave a presentation on multicultural travel writing. About that presentation she has said
…we all have multiple layers and cultures in who we are. However, in an effort to make it big, bloggers and writers tend to shape their voice and image to become more mainstream and appeal to what corporate media calls “relatable”… … I challenged [writers and bloggers] to be different and break the mold. I encouraged them to use the power of new media to tell a different story and present a different face. And I promised them that in doing so they will find an audience that has been neglected for far too long who has been dying to be spoken to.
For our purposes Carol Cain is an even more valuable voice because she is a lover of and regular visitor to the Adirondacks and has written extensively on her travels throughout the park.
I asked Carol an initial set of questions about her experience of the Adirondacks and her perceptions of the issues we are discussing. Her answers were illuminating and affirming. I noted in particular how she echoed the idea that lack of experience and understanding cuts both ways, to everyone’s detriment.
The questions and her answers, unedited except for minor formatting, follow.
How many times have you been to the Adirondack Park? What parts of the park have you visited and what are your favorites? Why?
We tend to visit the area about 3 to 5 times a year at least. We have enjoyed everything from the Wild Center at Tupper Lake to the Olympic Park in Lake Placid to hikes around Lake George. The hikes are our favorite excursions as a family or a couple. We have found that the beauty of the area, the natural resources and ability to get lost in nature is what keeps bringing us back.
As a non-white person is there any place in the Adirondacks you felt uncomfortable? Any place especially welcoming? Do you think in general the Adirondack region is welcoming to non-white people? How does the region compare in that regard to other places you’ve been?
I will confess that I would’ve never really considered hiking on my own in the area in the past. I first came to the area with my husband (who is white) and my kids. There are a lot of preconceived notions of what rural America is like, and what the perception of people of color can be. There certainly isn’t always that level of comfort one feels in more diverse environments such as the city. That being said, I never felt that all the people, in the entire region, would be unwelcoming. It was more of the fear of one or small group and then feeling isolated and helpless should anything happen – thus, I never thought of it as a general opinion of all, just as a fear of a few who might live in areas such as these. I think that those unfamiliar with NYC would probably come in with their own preconceived notions, especially when thinking of areas such as Harlem or the Bronx.
The lack of diversity doesn’t surprise me at all, even in more popular places such as Lake Placid. But I have never had a negative experience. The lack of diversity is the same in other regions, like say the Catskills. But, I have found that the closer one is to a major city, the less that is the case. I can go an entire weekend in the mountains anywhere in America and never see a person of color.
Do you think in general that non-white people outside the park know about the Adirondacks or care about the park? Do you think in general that non-white residents of New York State have a favorable or unfavorable impression of the region? Does the sizeable North Country prison industry affect these impressions?
Funny you should mention the prisons, as I remember it being points of references for some of my city friends (regardless of race) when I would share tales of my adventures (not because they themselves had problems with the law, but because that’s what the areas are known for in more urban areas). I personally was never really that informed to know those details – thankfully, as it would’ve further influenced my ideas of the area.
There are a lot of impressions about Upstate New York that people have. Some are that it is far and hard to navigate through and to without a car. That it is cold and brutal in the winter. That there are no good food or entertainment options. That bars close too early. That cops are incredibly harsh on “outsiders”. That you can’t just walk around, and if you are of color you wouldn’t want to anyway. That people call soda “pop”. That the wine is too sweet…I mean, the list is endless. But really, that there isn’t anything to do because enjoying the outdoors isn’t instinctively something we would do or consider very enjoyable or welcoming.
Do you think in general that non-white voters in New York State have interest in legislation or amendments affecting the park? Do you think in general that non-white voters are interested in the future of the park?
I wouldn’t say that people of color aren’t interested in the parks. I think that the parks aren’t in our radar as much. The parks and the lifestyle they offer isn’t a part of our culture. That’s, in great part, due to the lack of outreach and inclusion in marketing and branding. The outdoor lifestyle hasn’t always been targeted at the urban or minority community. It has, over the years, been more geared towards white, affluent demographics. Go to any outdoor gear store and you will see imagery and pricing that is geared as far away from our community as possible. So, it’s not that we don’t care…it’s just that it is not a priority for us and it isn’t something that we would really feel a part of. Obviously, I care greatly and over the years my exposure to the parks nation-wide have inspired me to stay informed and involved in promotion and helping however I can, but it took my experiencing the parks personally to really feel connected enough to get involved.
Some people believe that it is really important to get more diverse visitors to the Park. Any suggestions for how we can do this well? Any insight into how we get young non-white people to enjoy the region or visit for the first time? Can schools or area colleges play a role?
I do believe that diversity in the parks is incredibly necessary, not only because of how much impact more people invested in the parks would have on their conservation, but also because with the growing number of minorities in this country, it would be a missed opportunity to engage those communities in efforts of preservation. I think marketing is a great start. The Ad Council recently released a series of commercials for SaveTheForest.org and one ad in particular, where an black father watches as his son, also black, admiring a redwood tree in complete awe, was subtly but incredibly powerful to me, and I am sure to many families of color who watch it. That is because the power of representation is an incredible motivator for action. If one never sees themselves represented, then there’s no motivation to consider oneself included. There was no big announcement or fanfare… just the image of a family, in the same way any other family would be portrayed. Except that this particular type of family rarely ever is in messages that beg for attention and community participation, certainly never in marketing and promotion of brands.
Would you ever consider living in the Park or having a second home there? Why or why not?
I would absolutely consider a home in the park, as a matter of fact my husband and I talk about it often. We have been there so many times and have had such positive experiences that we’ve fallen in love and would want to give that to our children. That being said, there’s no doubt that I worry about the lack of my own personal cultural influences for my children. I worry that moving to a rural area would mean lack of understanding that a Caribbean Latino isn’t the same as a Mexican, or that I wouldn’t find ingredients for my Dominican dishes, or that my children would lack the diverse community we are so fond of. Maybe for these reasons we would reconsider a permanent homestead. At the end of the day, with all the friendly faces and beautiful natural resources to enjoy, the warmth of cultural identity and community is also important to us as a family and one that only diversity can offer.
There will be more from Carol Cain in the near future. In the mean time, the New York Times article, on how National Parks are trying to appeal more to minorities, is interesting reading in the context of our discussion.
Photo: The Cain Family braves the Olympic Bobsled. Copyright Girl Gone Travel, used by permission.