Why I Chose to Move My Family Abroad — and How We Do It

Imani Bashir at Batu Caves in Malaysia

For Black travelers, safety and cultural acceptance are often top of the list when choosing a destination. But Black traveler doesn't represent a monolithic group: our individuality impacts the way each of us moves through the world. As a Black Muslim woman, mother, and expat, my needs look very different from those of a Black LGBTQ person on vacation. I often consider whether or not my hijab (headscarf) is lawfulin a given destination. Will I be able to find somewhere to pray? How are darker-skinned people treated? What about Muslims?

When my family was planning a move to Asia a few years ago, a Facebook group for Black Americans, Brothas & Sistas of China, proved invaluable in answering these questions, and many more. Most Black American expats in the country opt for cities with bigger international populations, such as Beijing, Shanghai, or Shenzhen. But we were landing in Chongqing — a city my husband and I had never even heard of — thanks to his new job there as a coach for an American-football program.

Facebook users advised me that my son and I might be photographed, and even touched, without our consent. More positively, we were constantly told how family-friendly China was going to be, that it was an extremely safe place where both children and elders are held in high regard. It turned out to be true, as Chinese people — and, in particular, the older generation — doted on our son in Chongqing and in Wuhan, where we later moved.

We left China for a vacation in Malaysia in early 2020 and were unable to return, due to the spread of the coronavirus. We spent months living in hotels and Airbnbs, searching for a place where we could feel safe and comfortable. I once again found a safety net in online expat groups, which turned us on to Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula. We now live in Cancún, which we've found to be focused on family and community. It's a place where we can leave behind some of the anxiety that comes with being Black in America, and where our son can just be a kid, swimming and building sandcastles on the beach.

A version of this article first appeared in the February 2021 issue of Travel + Leisure under the headline A New Way to Navigate the World.

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