La Salle graduate brings diversity to travel-show landscape

December 15, 2020

Kim Haas, M.A. ’96, is filling a void with her PBS show, Afro-Latino Travels with Kim Haas.

When Kim Haas, M.A. ’96, surveyed the travel-show landscape about 10 years ago, she felt there was a glaring need for a series that celebrated the historical and cultural contributions of Africans to Latin American countries. Her assessment was coming from an informed place.

Haas extensively studied the connections between Afro-Latino culture and identity—first as an undergraduate student, and later at La Salle University, where she earned her master’s in bilingual and bicultural studies. Haas had traveled extensively, too, spending a year of her undergraduate studies abroad in Seville, Spain, and visiting countries with deep Afro-Latino ties like Cuba, Venezuela, and Brazil.

“I’m traveling to these countries and seeing a whole lot of people who look like me,” said Haas, who grew up in the Mount Airy section of Philadelphia. “You go to Havana and half the town looks like me, like I could be a relative. But I’m not seeing these Afro-Latino connections reflected in travel shows or even very much on Spanish-language television.”

Haas took matters into her own hands and created Afro-Latino Travels with Kim Haas, a PBS travel series that debuted in September.

Kim Haas on a bike.
Kim Haas (Courtesy Kim Haas).

The first two episodes featured Haas traveling to Costa Rica, where she explored Afro-Costa Rican culture in the cities of San Juan and Limón. Though the pandemic halted production of the series, Haas plans to travel to countries such as Honduras, Brazil, Colombia, and the Dominican Republic for future episodes once it’s safe to do so.

“I didn’t want to wait for somebody to tell the story I wanted to tell,” said Haas. “Blacks have been in Latin America for 500 years. Their stories were not being told and it was disheartening. I want to be part of changing the world and changing how Black people and, in this instance, people of African descent in Latin America are viewed.”

Haas cited the lack of Black hosts in the travel-show landscape as another void she looked to fill with Afro-Latino Travels. As one of the few Black hosts in the travel space, Haas wants to bring a different perspective to the genre.

“Blacks spend tens of millions of dollars annually in the travel and tourism world,” said Haas. “But that’s not necessarily reflected in who you see hosting travel shows, and where they go. The series aims to provide greater representation to the Afro-Latino experience on television and share their contributions which are deep and significant throughout Latin America.”

Haas traces her fascination with Spanish culture back to a trip she took as a child to Acapulco, Mexico, where she learned to count in Spanish. Studying at La Salle, she said, broadened her perspective on the Afro-Latino connection and the different directions she could take to apply her research.

“The bilingual and bicultural studies program opened a door for me in terms of more possibilities,” Haas said. “It gave me a wider view of things, and what else is out there. Exploring Afro-Latino culture is now my life’s work, my mission. And it’s an absolute joy to bring these people and their stories to television.”

—Patrick Berkery