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 Sustainable Tourism
Tourism brings both advantages and disadvantages to a country. It can bring wealth and jobs to communities that would otherwise remain poor just as much as it can lead to social dislocation, loss of cultural heritage and ecological degradation. UNESCO claims that tourism must be sustainable for the advantages to outweigh the disadvantages.

“Tourism that respects both local people and the traveler, cultural heritage and the environment” is what UNESCO calls sustainable tourism. This form seeks to benefit the host country and local economies so that people in that country may have better lives.

Evidence shows that sustainable tourism is a great tool for development and poverty alleviation in developing countries. These are ten ways in which sustainable tourism alleviates poverty:

  1. “Tourism is one of the most important sources of foreign exchange earnings and job creation in many poor and developing countries with limited options for alternative economic development” according to the U.N.’s World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).
  2. Tourism can be directly taxed creating the necessary funds for improving infrastructure, education and health on the ground.
  3. The tourism industry employs a high proportion of women, which contributes to gender equality and women’s empowerment in poor countries.
  4. Locally owned microenterprises ran by the poor serve as a benefit, as tourists buy a wide variety of goods and services.
  5. Sustainable tourism leads to employment diversification on a local level, which reduces the vulnerability of the poor.
  6. The UNWTO claims, “Wages can often reach $1,000 to $4,000 per worker per year.” This is enough to bring workers and their families above the poverty line.
  7. In 2012, the tourism industry accounted for more than 260 million jobs according to the International Labor Office (ILO). This number is expected to rise given that tourism is one of the fastest growing industries.
  8. The tourism industry employs a high proportion of individuals under 25. As a result, youth gain access to higher earnings and better opportunities through sustainable tourism.
  9. Tourism provides a vast number of jobs to people with little or no formal training.
  10. Working conditions are generally decent within the tourism industry as the industry depends on providing a quality service.

This list is by no means exhaustive. There are many other ways in which tourism can help the poor. As long as tourism is sustainable and wealth from tourism trickles down to the poor, the poorest countries will prosper. Given the increasing popularity of sustainable tourism, prosperity and wealth are a likely prospect for many poor countries.

Christina Egerstrom

Photo: Flickr

Ferry-Between-Cuba-and-Florida
For the first time in half a century, diplomatic relations between Cuba and the U.S. are being restored. Ferry operators in Florida are quickly receiving the approved licenses to begin offering transit to and from Havana. It is estimated that as early as this coming fall, the once popular U.S. travel destination will no longer be off limits for tourists after more than half a century.

During this time, hundreds of thousands of Cubans have attempted to brave the 90-mile ocean journey between Cuba and Florida. In lieu of proper aquatic vessels, many of these migration attempts have been made on makeshift rafts and old converted cars.

Since the renewing diplomatic discussions, there has once again been a recent surge of Cubans attempting to make the voyage to the U.S. This past year alone, the U.S. Coast Guard detained almost 4,000 Cubans in the waters off the coast of Florida. In fact, during the past two years, the number of Cubans attempting the journey has doubled.

In 1965, Fidel Castro opened the port of Camarioca, which allowed almost 3,000 Cubans to flee, before he suddenly announced its closure and revisited restrictions. Once more in 1980, Castro opened the port of Mariel, and a mass exodus of over 125,000 Cubans took their chances in the open water.

In 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed, a severe economic downfall in Cuba happened. This resulted in hundreds of thousands fleeing the country and making the perilous sea journey. This influx of immigrants and detainees caused President Clinton to amend the Cuban Adjustment Act (CAA) in 1994.

The revisions effectively limited asylum to refugees who were not intercepted by the U.S. Coast Guard. Refugees who made it to dry land were allowed to stay; all others were detained and sent back to Cuba. This distinction became known as the “wet foot-dry foot” policy.

In 2013, Cuba altered its own travel policy, allowing Cubans to travel and work abroad for up to two years without losing their citizenship. While this policy provided leeway, it did not provide transportation due to the travel ban, and Cubans were also subject to the “wet foot-dry foot” policy in the U.S.

For a long time, hopeful refugees had been left with few options: brave the seas themselves in homemade water crafts or rely upon human smuggling networks who charge upwards of US$10,000. Since Cuba’s annual GDP is approximately US$6,000, the former option proved to be the most common. Cubans had to wait for months to save enough money to buy parts and to build their own makeshift water crafts.

Like migrants from many poor countries, Cubans have been fleeing their country in efforts to find economic opportunities and escape Communist oppression. Many also have been seeking to provide for their families who still reside in Cuba. These severe risks that come with the journey combined with the adverse conditions clearly state the desperation of Cuban citizens. These ferry services offered are symbolic of the new era of cooperation and could signal the end to a tragic side effect of the 50-year standoff.

Renewed relations between the two nations will provide Americans a chance to visit Cuba, but, more importantly, desperate Cubans will have the opportunity to provide for themselves and their families. One-way tickets will be starting at around US$150. The combination of the relatively inexpensive ticket price coupled with Cuba’s reformed travel policy provides desperate Cubans better chances of economic opportunity.

– Frasier Petersen

Sources: Daily Signal, BBC, Miami Herald, The New York Times
Photo: Tampa Bay Times

study abroad
Studying abroad is at an all-time high. Not only is it the latest coveted experience for employers, but studies have shown that studying abroad can have a substantial impact on one’s mind and creativity.

The role of learning a language pays off, according to the Huffington Post. Learning languages benefits the individual personally and professionally, as it increases one’s access to people, places, markets and ideas. Language formally benefits the environment through the ability to share environmental practices. Knowledge of another language also contributes to communication in the business and economic sectors. Language also contributes to political relations among governments and is indispensable in being assimilated into a new culture.

Learning a language can help an individual achieve his or her dreams in a variety of ways. Exploring a new language allows one to cultivate a more intimate experience when traveling, increases one’s accessibility to foreign recipes, art, literature and landscapes and can give vitality to new relationships.

To the delight of many students, scholars and societies, it has been recorded that learning a language influences the brain. A recent Swedish MRI study reveals that acquisition of a language increases the size of the brain, specifically in the hippocampus and cerebral cortex.

Recent studies have also concluded that bilingualism improves the brain’s ability to multitask, delays the onset of Alzheimer’s and promotes creativity. Language learning assists in other intellectual areas, specifically math and music. Each language provides insight into a different society or worldview.

The benefits of studying abroad surpass the benefits of just learning a language, although language is a key aspect of the international experience. According to the Institute of International Education, or IIE, “international students in the United States and study abroad by American students are at an all-time high.” The number of U.S. students studying abroad has more than doubled over the past 15 years.

The IIE claims that international education is one of the most important components of contemporary society. “International education is crucial to building relationships between people and communities in the United States and around the world. It is through these relationships that together we can solve global challenges like climate change, the spread of pandemic disease, and combating violent extremism,” said Evan M. Ryan, Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs. “We also need to expand access to international education for students from more diverse backgrounds.”

Studying abroad changes neurons, and it challenges one’s worldview in a way that may have not been previously acknowledged. Opportunities such as the Fulbright Scholarship, Critical Language Scholarship, Gilman Award and numerous others are renown for their prestigious international education programs. The focus on international education is steadily growing, and for earlier this year, the IIE launched Generation Study Abroad. This campaign aims to double the number of students who study abroad by the end of the decade, while increasing diversity and accessibility to international education.

– Neti Gupta

Sources: Institution of International Education, The Chronicle, The Diane Rehm Show, The Guardian, The Huffington Post 1, The Huffington Post 2

Photo: Honors Advising Blog

In Western countries, traveling is a privilege. Travel softens people’s psyche, allowing even the simplest of sights and gestures to hit travelers with an overwhelming sense of humility. Travel is a means of escape and rejuvenation, but sometimes it comes at the cost of the destination’s native population.

In her guest post on Kelsey Timmerman’s website, Callan Gaines attributed her experience in Guatemala to the beauty that was brought forth by the country’s poverty. She remarked how Americans lacked the villagers’ selflessness and gratitude, traits which stem from the villagers’ modest lifestyle. She was in awe at the ease with which she was moved by a smile or a hug. She reveled in community’s cozy atmosphere.

It is all too easy to romanticize poverty. However, sometimes it can inspire people to lend a hand and make a difference. Trips abroad humble and awaken visitors, especially when both travelers and host communities are respectful, creating a friendly environment.

Not all travel stories share Callan Gaines’ positive perspective, especially when that perspective comes from behind the curtain. Haiti’s Jalousie, a hillside slum in one of the capital’s districts, is going up in colors. Jalousie en Colors is a government project aiming to liven up the area by painting 1,000 houses in bright colors.

The underlying philosophy is that life will take a better turn when beauty is introduced. However, the money should not be going towards painting when there are more pressing issues facing Jalousie.

With a secondary fault line running underneath the hillside slum, Jalousie is at risk of enduring earthquakes and mudslides. In addition to these environmental hazards, residents need schools, electricity and a water supply. Instead of heeding these concerns, the Haitian government is changing Jalousie from an eye sore to a tourist backdrop. Despite claims that beautifying Jalousie is to lift the spirit of residents, only the houses facing the nearby hotels are painted.

Phase 2 of the project is underway, with an agenda to have 3,000 more houses painted and the reparation of a local soccer field. Concerns regarding the safety and infrastructure of Jalousie have been promptly dismissed.

In South America, preparation for the World Cup in Brazil has sparked distress across many of Brazil’s favelas. Residents face eviction threats as the government gathers momentum through their plans of urbanization. The government uses geological hazards as an excuse to justify their eviction intentions when the past few decades are a testament to the contrary. Residents cannot bear to leave behind the rich culture, history and diversity that has taken so long to come together, nor do they want to separate from families and neighbors.

The campaign to empty out favelas is still at full speed with the 2016 Olympics ahead. The government denies services to residents like garbage collection and lighting. There are rent increases and demolitions, and the evicted are dropped off in public housing. The gentrification of favelas crushes education, sanitation and infrastructure in order to sell an idealistic and exotic image of Brazil to the world.

Tourism is a large source of revenue. However, if poorly managed, tourism can severely damage a country. India and Nigeria are countries with failed tourism development strategies. Social injustice carves rifts between classes and weak policies can lead to irreparable destruction for the environment. The influx of foreigners and the government’s need to impress create a wave of low paying and exploitative jobs, used to keep up a welcoming illusion.

The United States Institute of Peace (USIP) Report on Tourism in the Developing World asserts that the host community, host government and foreign stakeholder must take responsible and respectful action in order to implement healthy tourism. Tourism should elicit positive feelings from both host and guest. The idea is that tourism promotes pride, peace, understanding and acceptance. It goes without saying that the idea needs to be a reality.

– Carmen Tu

Sources: ReliefWeb, USIP, The Guardian, Where Am I Wearing
Photo: UN

Ways to volunteer abroad
There are many different ways to make an impact in the fight against global poverty. Volunteering abroad is one option that offers numerous ways to help.
Volunteer abroad programs offer a variety of opportunities to help global communities. Whether you are interested in teaching children, building schools or helping communities establish cleaner water supplies, there is most likely a program to fit your needs.

Cross-Cultural Solutions

“Cross-Cultural Solutions is a nonprofit working to address critical global issues by providing meaningful volunteer service to communities abroad, and contributing responsibly to local economies.” Cross-Cultural Solutions is a volunteer abroad organization that seeks to do just what its name implies: find cross-cultural ways to combat poverty.

The organization only sends volunteers to locations with established relationships between themselves and local organizations and communities, so when you arrive to volunteer, you’re working with people who are invested in improving their community. In each Cross-Cultural Solutions location, volunteers are housed at a home base that provides them with three meals a day, which is what the majority of the program fee goes to.

Volunteer programs can range from a week to three months, so volunteers have a lot of options even if they’re in school or have a full-time job. Additionally, volunteers have the option to take excursions on the weekends during longer trips, or volunteer in multiple destinations in a row, making travel a part of the program as well!

Global Volunteers

Known as the origin of “the volunteer vacation,” Global Volunteers focuses on short-term volunteer abroad programs, making them a perfect fit for students or anyone who cannot commit to a long period abroad.

Global Volunteers works to “engage short-term volunteers on long-term projects” in countries in Asia, Europe, Africa, North and South America. As volunteers only stay for a short period of time, they are working with existing projects, or projects that will continue long after they leave.

An additional focus of the program is that volunteers “work at the invitation and under the direction of local community partners, and one-on-one with local people.” They only do what they are asked to do and work with and under the direction of local people to find out what’s best from the community from the people who understand it best.

WorldTeach

As its name suggests, WorldTeach focuses on sending teachers to foreign countries as they “partner with governments and other organizations in developing countries to provide volunteer teachers to meet local needs and promote responsible citizenship.”

Because the program sends volunteers out to teach, its programs tend to run longer than Cross-Cultural Solutions or Global Volunteers. Full-year programs are available in a wealth of countries around the globe such as Chile, Colombia, Guyana, the Marshall Islands and Thailand, just to name a few.

Similarly, shorter summer programs exist where volunteers can travel to countries like Poland, Nepal and South Africa. For volunteers who prefer to spend a semester teaching abroad, there are programs in Ecuador and Namibia. Before applying, WorldTeach requires applicants choose their country and departure date, unlike some other programs.

Volunteers receive support throughout the duration of their work, and have an alumni network that they can access at the conclusion of their program.
Additionally, volunteers have the opportunity to receive his or her teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) certification through professional development and a $350 fee.

The funds for WorldTeach programs come directly from the organization, the volunteer and the chosen country’s host institution. As such, costs for different programs vary, with some requiring a higher monetary commitment, and a few countries paying in full for volunteer teachers.

No matter which program you choose, there are a few things to keep in mind when seeking to volunteer abroad.

Volunteers are working with a community. That means helping local organizations and communities while being humble about your place there and working to understand the new culture in which you’ve immersed yourself.

Volunteering is about helping people, and even though you will find fulfillment and gain valuable experience, the focus is always on working with your chosen community.

Once you find a program that you are passionate about and that works responsibly with organizations within the community, you’re all set to start your volunteer abroad experience!

– Cameron Barney

Sources: WorldTeach, Global VolunteersCross-Cultural Solutions
Photo: The Interpreter

pack_for_purpose
Most people would never think to pack a stethoscope or a package of rulers for their vacation. Unless they are a doctor or a teacher, these items may not even be things they own, but a non-profit organization known as Pack for a Purpose is asking international travelers to find a little more space for items like these in their suitcases.

By coordinating with local tourism agencies and hotels, Pack for a Purpose compiles a list of basic medical and educational equipment needs that travelers can easily squeeze into their bags when they travel abroad.

Some of these supplies are simply for recreation like deflated soccer balls, and others, like blood pressure cuffs, are essential instruments for quality medical treatment in impoverished nations.

Founded by retired schoolteacher, Rebecca Rothney, Pack for a Purpose has provided needed school and medical supplies to thousands around the globe. They have been able to do this simply by connecting travelers with a little extra luggage space to relief and aid programs all over the world.

On Pack for a Purpose’s website, a map directs travelers to different regions and shows them what hotels and tourism groups participate in Pack for Purposes exchanges so that charitable travelers can choose their destinations based on local needs.

In a recent, radio interview with WUBR’s Here and Now, Rothney describes her earliest experiences bringing supplies to schools on the African continent. In one of these stories, Rothney describes how a package of rulers nearly brought a school’s principal to tears.

Pack for a Purpose’s contention is ultimately that small efforts to support struggling communities can have tremendous impacts. In fact, many people don’t realize jut how powerful a device like a stethoscope can be for a local clinic, and in part that is because of how commonplace they are in the developed world.

In the four years of its operation, Pack for a Purpose has delivered over 16,000 kilos of supplies worldwide. The truly remarkable thing about this number is that it was all done by individual effort. Travelers from all different backgrounds and origins who simply made a little extra room in their bags have, in doing so, made a measurable difference in thousands of lives.

– Chase Colton

Sources: Here and Now, Pack for a Purpose, Boston Globe
Photo: Forbes

rodman_un
Dennis Rodman is set to visit North Korea for the third time, meeting with its current ruler, Kim Jong-Un, with whom Rodman has established a friendship.

The primary reason for Rodman’s visit is to help train North Korea’s national basketball team, an American sport that the North Korean ruler enjoys. The training is said to last for four days.

Rodman’s visit comes at a time when Jang Song-Thaek, Kim’s uncle, was recently executed by the state on charges of treason and conspiring against the state. The execution was allegedly demonstrated in front of other would-be conspirators of the coup d’état.

The Daily Mail reports that this would be only the beginning of a possible purge set against members of the old regime, under Kim’s father, Kim Jong-Il. Such a display would make room for a newer crew under the new regime.

Furthermore, old state records are being erased, including those of Jang Song-Thaek. The deleted online records were estimated to range upwards to 35,000 documents.

Rodman himself is set to coach the national team in preparation for a match against former NBA players that will be held in the near future. The game, called “Big Bang in Pyongyang,” is to be hosted by Paddy Power, an online gaming company from Ireland.

For the upcoming exhibition match, Rodman hopes to recruit Karl Malone and Scottie Pippen, his former Chicago Bulls teammate.

As for the Obama administration’s response, Marie Harf, a spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department, cites that the only comment is the official State Department caution on traveling to North Korea. U.S. citizens should refrain from traveling to an isolationist country – a country with which the U.S. does not have current diplomatic ties.

Rodman’s NBA career consists of five NBA championships. Rodman won his first two championships with the Detroit Spurs between 1989-1990. The latter three were won as a part of the Chicago Bulls between 1996-1998 alongside Michael Jordan.

– Miles Abadilla

Sources: Daily Mail, ESPN, Huffington Post, New York Times, Time Magazine
Photo: World News

voluntourism
Many people lucky enough to be upper middle class Americans experience a desire to give back, to volunteer, to do some real, empirical, tangible good. And thus, ‘voluntourism’ was born. Voluntourism companies allow people looking for a worthwhile vacation to travel to underprivileged countries like India, Peru, and Mexico, splitting their time between a volunteer project and tourist activities.

A group might spend four days repainting a school, and another four days exploring caves and bungee jumping, all at their own expense. And yet, as with most things that appear too good to be true, so might the case be with voluntourism.

Voluntourists are not NGOs, and their projects can be harmful to development rather than helpful. Volunteers are often unskilled, doing shoddy and inefficient work that may waste both money and the NGOs’ time. Because tour companies, as businesses, prioritize their customers, the volunteers, over the local people, projects and activities are designed to make the volunteers feel useful rather than an advocate for change.

For example, companies touring Cambodian orphanages have actually created an orphan demand. Families will now send their children to orphanages to be hugged by tourists for a fee. The practice of volunteers handing out food or school supplies to the families of their choosing is not only an extremely discomfiting practice, but it also creates dependency, jealousy, and can be harmful to the local economy. Some argue that voluntourism exists simply to stroke the ego of its customers.

There is, however, some intrinsic value in people from wealthy countries simply visiting a developing country and spending time with its people. Seeing and experiencing, to some degree, the living conditions of the desperately poor is the most powerful form of raising awareness.

People who have been in a position to better understand the situations of people in developing countries are perhaps more likely to become advocates at home. Raising awareness is always important and helpful. Though voluntourists may not be able to effect much change directly, the experiences they bring home can be important tools for advocacy and awareness.

– Kathleen Walsh

Sources: Huffington Post, CNN
Photo: Virgin Islands This Week

Aid_Worker
For many, spending their lives working to bring positive change to impoverished countries and underprivileged communities is the most rewarding job in the world. Being an aid worker is an incredible, though challenging, position that allows people to physically promote change in the world. While lots of people hold romanticized ideas about travelling the world as an aid worker, it is important to keep in mind that the job isn’t always going to fulfill idealized expectations. It’s hard work, but the reward is far greater. In order to become a relief or aid worker there are some steps to follow and some things to keep in mind.

First, evaluate your motives for wanting to be an aid worker. Think about what humanitarian skills you have that prompt you to want to enter this field. This, undoubtedly, will be a question that resurfaces as you talk to aid agencies so it’s important to have a good grasp on what your skills and motives are. Again, romanticized ideals about leaving a comfortable living to go live in a war zone, or region marred by poverty won’t go far in a serious interview. There need to be deeper motives that can be expressed in a way that the interviewer can understand and believe to be genuine.

Participate in aid work training and heavily research the humanitarian field. Experience in any and every aspect of aid work is very important when preparing to make it a career. Some aid agencies offer workshops or various training services that can help you prepare for the field. Always keep up to date with the latest news in the humanitarian field, paying close attention to the standards required by certain agencies when employing aid or relief workers. This will give you a better edge to market your abilities to particular agencies. Technical positions such as engineers, medics, linguistics, and environmentalists are almost always in high demand. It’s important to know what agencies are looking for in order to tailor your training and capabilities accordingly.

The cliché, “It’s not what you know, but who you know,” still holds significant value especially in the case of becoming an aid worker. It is crucial to network as much as possible so that when opportunities do present themselves, you have a contact to better your chances. Meet people who are already working in the relief field, ask them questions, learn from their experience. Aid agencies have a tendency to hire people that they trust, and this comes from having prior knowledge or relationship with the person.

International travel is a great way to gain the necessary experience to become an aid worker. Agencies are going to be looking at where you have travelled, what you did there, and how long you stayed. Stay involved in volunteer opportunities; it will show agencies how committed you are to the humanitarian field, automatically making you a more reliable candidate.

Once you feel like you have a good grasp on each of these steps, you’re ready to get in touch with an agency and apply for a position. Some of the best resources to find agencies to work for are listed below. Good luck!

·      Aid Workers Network
·      Reuters AlterNet
·      DevNet Jobs
·      Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO)
·      ReliefWeb

– Chante Owens 

Sources: Transitions Abroad, Redr UK
Photo: UN OCHA

5 Ways to Be an Effective Cultural Tourist in Mexico
Cultural tourism is a slippery slope for travelers. Some think that tourism is an industry that contributes greatly to poverty reduction and economic stability in developing nations. Not everyone agrees, however, as many attest that tourism in more rural, traditional areas are catering to tourists, reducing the authenticity of the culture and exploiting locals and their traditions in the process.

One of the most popular tourist destinations is Mexico; tourists flock here from all over the world every year. While Mexico often gets unfairly stereotyped, different areas within the country provide a much different experience. Two of the most popular tourist destinations are Mexico City, one of the largest cities in the world, and the state of Chiapas, where 70% of its people live below the poverty line. Deciding where to visit is a challenging decision, but tourists’ responsibility doesn’t end once they arrive at their destination: it continues until they return home.

When visiting any country — especially a country like Mexico, which changes on a dime depending on the area — there are certain tips to follow in order to be an effective cultural tourist and help support the local economies.

  1. Eat local. Yes, there is a McDonalds almost anywhere you go in Mexico City, but why eat at a place you can go to every day back in the States? Being in another country gives you the opportunity to experience new things; local cuisine is both delicious and cheap. Try some of the local taco stands. Most are fresh, quite delicious and will be a good economic contribution in the end.
  2. Learn proper bargaining. While much of what is for sale in Mexico is at a fairly responsible price, it is still a common practice to bargain and is done daily among locals as well. However, don’t haggle too far below the asking price. Tourists should remember that while they want to get the best value for their money, those working in the markets and shops do this for a living and need to provide for their families back home.
  3. Respect the culture (especially in rural areas). In states such as Chiapas, most of the population is indigenous (ethnic minorities who have been marginalized as their historical territories became part of the state) and have a different way of doing things. Behavior that might be commonplace in the States might not always be accepted as openly by those who are not used to the American way of life. Make sure you ask before you take any pictures of the locals or their children. Many feel that this is disrespectful and inconsiderate. Cameras are also not allowed in church and locals will become very aggressive and demand payment for disrupting their ceremonies.
  4. Buy goods from local vendors. Although some tourists think that visiting rural areas and buying from locals exploits their culture and dilutes their traditional way of life, the reality is that tourists make contributions that are appreciated greatly. Take time to speak to the locals, especially in lower-income areas like Chiapas. Visitors will often find themselves engaging with people who love what they do. Often the locals work more than one job, selling items on the street while holding down another position in a bigger city to help make ends meet.
  5. Be careful about the environment: Locals in rural areas appreciate their traditional way of life. Try not to leave articles of yours behind and clean up after yourself. The environment is also very important in rural areas, so to reduce your carbon footprint walk through towns instead of taking a taxi or bus.

Traveling to a country like Mexico is a wonderful experience, one that should be had by anyone who has the chance. In tough economic times, tourists should maximize their time and tight budgets, but also respect the land, culture and environment that they are visiting. These tips should come in handy for the traveler and help stimulate the local economy.

– Taylor Rae Schaefer

Sources: Imagine Mexico, World Nomads
Photo: History Martinez