Mechi is the afro-indigenous mermaid, activist, and grassroots organizer behind language school meets ethical tour company, Una Vaina Bien Spanish. Aside from teaching Spanish in Cabarete, Dominican Republic, she writes about accessibility and the negative impacts of tourism hoping to encourage visitors to funnel their money into locally-owned and operated business while challenging the idea that any tourism is good tourism. She is a writer, a language teacher, a community organizer, and an activist. Mechi feels passionately about decolonizing travel, discussing diasporic privilege, and dismantling systems of oppression. After moving to Cabarete, she was so dismayed by the lack of knowledge of ethical travel practices, the treatment of local Cabaretenses by foreigners and diasporic Dominicans, and the realization that tourism can never be sustainable, that she launched her business Una Vaina Bien Spanish to use language instruction as a vehicle for teaching ethical travel tips to visitors to try to mitigate the negative impacts.
SB-C: Tell us the why behind your business? ME: I am passionate about social justice and history and the context in which we travel around the world. I started my business in the Dominican Republic when I realized that the tourists that really needed to hear what I had to say, for the most part really just wanted to be on vacation. That’s when I developed Una Vaina Bien Spanish-a Spanish language program that would have the social justice and historical focus I really wanted to give my students using a vehicle folks understood they had a need for (Spanish instruction).
SB-C: What major challenges did you face when setting up your business and how did you overcome them? MC: I’m not a business person, I’m a dreamer and an idealist and a leftist who believes that in an ideal world currency and money wouldn’t be necessary. It was difficult at first because I never thought I wanted to be a business owner-I also struggled at the beginning to be paid what I think my time is worth. I got caught up in thinking that because I lived in a third world nation I shouldn’t be paid as much as I was when my neighbours were being paid so little until I realized that what I really wanted was for my neighbours to make as much money as me and me barely scraping by wasn’t going to do anything about that. So now, I take the money I am paid and the time with my students to encourage students to advocate for better wages for the workers that serve them-whether they be surf instructors, waiters, the folks cleaning their hotel rooms, etc. and why it’s so important.
SB-C: Who has been the greatest influence on you since starting your business and why? MC: I would say I learn a lot from my community-the people who don’t make as much money as I do because the more money I make the farther removed I am from the reality of my people. They help to keep me humble and remind me that there is work to be done, and just because I’m more comfortable doesn’t mean I don’t still have a responsibility. I take my cues about what to teach my students from the people who live this experience every single day.
SB-C: What is the vision for your business and where do you see it, five years from now? ME: I would love to see my business expand to a place where I could only teach history and cultural classes and have someone else do the Spanish which I am good at but not as passionate about and in doing so help someone else make a higher wage. I would also love to help connect my clients to other local people’s services so they can also get paid a livable wage.
SB-C: Our community motto is share your secrets and share your success. Please share one secret and one success with our community. ME: I think one of my secrets is not measuring my success by the amount of money I earn. Some months are really great some months aren’t and though I always seem to have work even when the season is low I try to measure my success less in monetary terms and more in terms of what I learned, what I was able to offer my clients, and how having this business has freed up my time to do other things I love. This month I was able to hand off clients to other local people who needed work so I could focus on kiteboarding, learning to surf, the gym, etc. Even though I definitely had the time to take on more clients, I’ve learned to value my time and what I can do with it more than just increasing my bank balance.