"I'm Raising My Child Abroad To Avoid Labels America Puts On Little Black Girls"
PUBLISHED: May 15, 2020 7:29 AM
Jackie O. has crisscrossed the globe for the last 20 years. Her experience of living and working in seven countries, and traveling to more than 70, is why she launched a coaching service to help aspiring Black expats come up with their own plan to live and work aboard.
But it’s also her travel experiences that led to her decision of raising her child outside of the United States.
Jackie O. currently resides in Guatemala with her toddler, Ruth. She says there, her daughter is celebrated, appreciated, and honored.
“I’m raising a black child and it is so important to me that she gets to define herself for herself instead of the ridiculous labels that mainstream America puts on little Black girls,” Jackie says. “She is magic and I protect her magic fiercely. I love our lifestyle because she flourishes.”
In an interview with Travel Noire, Jackie O. explained the benefits of raising her child in Guatemala.
Travel Noire: Can you tell our readers what inspired you to move to Guatemala?
Jackie O.: Africa is by far my favorite continent because it feels like home. In the words of Yemi Alade, “No place be like Africa. No place be like home.”
I knew that I wanted Ruth and myself to both become fluent in Spanish. I had visited Guatemala 6 years ago and LOVED it. After I had my daughter, I decided we were going to spend at least a year traveling throughout Central America.
San Pedro La Laguna, where we are currently based, is the perfect temperature and size for a single mother like myself. It has everything we wanted: safe, beautiful with warm and welcoming residents, an expat community, plenty of things to do outdoors so we can connect with nature, relatively easy access to an international airport, and a low cost of living.
Travel Noire: What is the best part about your lifestyle?
Jackie O.: My daughter and I slow travel full-time, which means every 5-6 months, we are moving to a new country. I love being a black digital nomad. In fact, I call myself the OG Black digital nomad because I have been doing it for such a long time. I love the freedom of my work from anywhere lifestyle. I love the ability to be able to show my daughter the world. I love visiting new places with her and also revisiting places I’ve been to before and seeing them through her eyes. She won’t be a child forever and I am extremely grateful to have the freedom to show up each day as a happy, well-rested, and energized mother for her.
Travel Noire: What is your experience with the people in Guatemala?
Jackie O.: I have loved our time and experiences in Guatemala. I love that there’s a Black presence in Guatemala, so being a black person isn’t a huge deal. It was important to me that my daughter’s first travel experiences include people that look like her.
I’ve found Guatemalans to be both adult and child friendly. People go out of their way to make my daughter and I feel welcomed. My daughter once tripped while walking and no less than 10 people came to her aide to make sure she was ok.
We both speak Spanish well so our linguistic ability has definitely helped, but I feel comfortable here and comfort is everything. I’ve been able to shed the masks that many of us as Black Americans wear on a daily basis. With my 6 foot tall, dreadlocked self., I don’t worry about whether I’m being perceived as threatening, intimidating, or angry because of the blackness of my skin.
Noone is hyper sexualizing my daughter or pontificating about all the things she won’t or can’t be because she is growing up in a single-parent household. My daughter is simply a carefree wonder child fluent in English, Spanish, and a local Mayan language.
Travel Noire: For Black expats here in the United States, how would you pitch relocating to Guatemala?
Jackie O.: I don’t think I would “pitch” Guatemala to other Black Americans, per se. You just need to come here and check it out for yourself.
America is my home, but it wasn’t working for me. I was successful. I did everything right. I graduated top of my class from Spelman College. I went to law school. And yet, I was still barely making it. Student debt was crippling. White fragility was soul-sucking!
I love black people and being black. I always have and I always will. I still cry every time I read about another Black person being killed for being Black. I commiserate with my sistas who deal with microaggressions and sexism on a daily basis. That status quo wasn’t working for me.
I wanted something different for myself and for my daughter.
I’m African and I’m Africa-American. I know that we as a people can survive anywhere, but I wanted to do more than that. I wanted to THRIVE.
Nina Simone once famously said, ‘You’ve got to learn to leave the table when love’s no longer being served.”
So, I was out. And I haven’t looked back. It was my greatest act of self-love.