The Colorado Chapter by Amber Inthavong
GOOOOD MONDAY MORNING!!
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Have you had your tea today yet? No?
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Well I'll give you 5 minutes, but don't let the tea steep too long!
Today, we have the wonderful Amber Inthavong sharing her piece reflecting on the Outdoor Asian Colorado fam. We first get to hear about Amber's experiences living the rectangular outdoor lifestyle, and then we get to meet the chapter's three awesome leaders: Ida, Jamie, and Bryan!
Disclaimer: This is a bit longer than previous posts, but don't worry, we'll give you a bathroom/tea/boba break soon. And with that, sit back and enjoy the ride!
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Born and raised in Colorado, in my pastime spent outdoors, I hardly ever came across people of color. From personal experience, I hiked, I camped and for a very long time; I never saw diversity. I'll never forget it, years ago while hiking with my Hispanic boyfriend in Rocky Mountain National Park, he said, "Why are we the only minorities out here?" I'd laugh... and think to myself, "yeah, why are we?"
Now let's not forget, once upon a time, living in the outdoors was the one thing we all had in common. Regardless of our color, the beginning of man was never a stranger to living life outside. Man was a hunter and gatherer, relying on everything earth had to offer, to survive. But today it's no longer this basic is it? Inevitably, people have evolved and became much more complex creatures. Creatures in all these categories. Over time our existence on earth got so hard. We've evolved to live in a world where we need to define our status, defend our race, sexuality and where we fit in. It's a cruel world full of differences, but regardless of where we all land in these categories, there's one thing that's undeniable... Man and earth were all there ever was, so none of those definitions should matter!
Any person, any size and color, can have an innate love for the outdoors. Arguably, it's in our very being that we desire it, because it's primal from the very beginning of us (granted, some of us desire it a lot more than others)!
At the end of the day, there are 2 things to be real about ... 1) A lack of diversity outdoors and 2) the understanding that no matter where we come from, we can equally have the same magnetism towards it (perhaps we all inherently already do).
Luckily, proactive leaders have recognized this opportunity to encourage a more diverse landscape outdoors and make a change. When you first hear about organizations like Outdoor Asian, maybe your first thought is that it's a group of Asian people who hangout outside. But it serves a much bigger purpose than that, just as OutdoorAfro and Latino Outdoors do. Outdoor Asian encourages a landscape of diverse inclusivity and do so with a clear set of values at the forefront.
Those values are: increasing access through outdoor recreation, advocating to build solid communities, standing for conservation and ecosystems, and educating about the environment. They honor these values by bringing friends and families together for locally-based trips, and outings; By providing access to a network of like-minded individuals you can connect with; And by offering a platform to help share your stories where your voice can be heard (a space I've personally been so grateful for obvious reasons!).
When Outdoor Asian kicked off a Colorado Chapter the choice appeared to be obvious,
after all, this state is an outdoor lover's playground. But for those who aren't familiar with what it's like in Colorado, Asian American's are spread out. Some of us are in the suburbs, some in the heart of the city, and some even in the boonies! In fact, at the age of 32, I still find Lao Americans that I never knew were here! Believe me, this is shocking considering how small and tight-knit the Lao community is and how we know just about every family that immigrated. At the local bar, when spotting another Asian American, we often find ourselves fighting the urge to tap them on the shoulder to say, "Hey! Have you heard of Outdoor Asian? You wanna join?!"
In fact, the more OA Coloradoans get together, the more evident it becomes that we've been eager for these connections for quite some time. So here we are. If you are here too, we want to know who you are! We have excellent Colorado Chapter leaders who work hard to offer a variety of events that will meet your style, Ida Cao, Jamie Diaz and Bryan Yee. Three passionate people with various outdoor interests from climbing, hiking and archery, enthusiastic about coordinating the coming events.
AAAAND we'll be stopping here for a quick bathroom/tea/ boba refill break here, see you in 5 minutes!
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1) What compelled you to become a Colorado Chapter Leader?
Ida: Four years ago, I moved to Colorado from NYC and SF, two cities bursting with diversity, culture, and energy. I lived in Boulder for two years before moving to Denver a couple of years ago. Needless to say, I experienced a bit of a culture shock as I wasn’t used to living in such a homogenous place. With that being said, the access to the outdoors is unbeatable, and I’ve learned so much about myself and what I can do, both physically and mentally, through recreating outside. I wanted to share the thrill and satisfaction of learning something new and discovering new horizons of your capabilities with my community. Selfishly, I also wanted to meet outdoor companions who shared a similar background as me in terms of their experiences moving through the world as an Asian-identifying individual. It’s a gift to be able to help lead the Outdoor Asian’s Colorado chapter, and I’m excited for what’s to come!
Jamie: My desire to help lead Outdoor Asian CO stemmed from my own exploration of what it means to “belong,” and how that manifests in the outdoor arena. Like Ida, I’d mostly resided in large, densely-populated US cities prior to moving to Denver. To navigate predominantly White spaces here - particularly as a novice, mixed-race, outdoor recreationist - could be emotionally difficult and physically daunting. Fortunately, I’ve learned how to climb, hike, run, and snowshoe from and with a diverse group of folx, and I want to pay their kindness forward to ALL who desire to explore the outdoors. Connecting and sharing stories with Outdoor Asian members has been my favorite part of leading our CO Chapter. I look forward to witnessing the growth of this fantastic organization, and to continuing to provide an inclusive space for API-identifying persons.
Bryan: Edward Kim, our chapter's original founder and leader, reached out to several members of our community including myself. After talking with him, I realized that we had very similar experiences and many shared values.
2) Why do you feel it’s important for communities like Outdoor Asian to exist?
Ida: At Outdoor Asian, our mission is to diversify the outdoors and make it more accessible to folx who identify as Asian/Asian-American/Pacific Islander by engaging in real life (e.g., community events ranging from family-friendly hikes to climbing trips) and online (e.g., Facebook group). We also want to connect members to each other for recreation and professional reasons and beyond to build community. We’re excited and honored to join other well-respected & established POC groups such as Outdoor Afro, Native Women’s Wilderness, Brown Girls Climb, Latino Outdoors, and so many more to increase POC representation in the outdoors and in the industry and to introduce our fellow community members to the wonderful, therapeutic effects of spending time outside in whatever capacity, from gardening & dog walking to hiking & mountaineering.
Jamie: Representation matters; if you don’t see someone who looks like you participating in a certain activity, then you may question if that activity is “for you.” The existence of Outdoor Asian is important because we, along with other POC outdoor groups, want to change the narrative re: “who” can recreate outdoors and “who” can be an environmental steward. With Outdoor Asian, we [API folx] have a safe space to examine and explore our relationship to the land, the reasons we choose to recreate, and the privileges and barriers we face in accessing nature.
Bryan: I think that the more people in society feel represented, the better off we will all be. It comes down to helping different groups of people feel like society cares for them. When this happens, it creates a positive and inspiring vibe. You see these people want to contribute and it inspires them to rise up and fulfill their potential. The more people who feel inspired to become the best version of themselves, the better off society will be.
3) What do you hope for, in terms of where OA Colorado will be in the next few years?
Ida: Right now, our main hub of activity is in the Denver/Boulder area. Over the next few years, we hope to see Outdoor Asian Colorado expand to all four corners of the state. One way that we can accomplish this is by identifying community members in various locations (e.g., Colorado Springs, Fort Collins, etc.) who can be local OACO representatives and operate “sub-chapters.” So, this is our call to action -- if there are any Asian-identifying folx in the state of Colorado who are interested in collaborating on this initiative, please let us know! You can reach out to us via https://www.outdoorasian.com/ or through our Facebook group.
Jamie: I definitely echo Ida’s sentiments. We welcome your ideas, knowledge-sharing, and participation. Please contact us
Bryan: As we evolve as an organization, I hope we will be in a better position infrastructure wise (standardizing membership tracking, leadership structure, procedures, metrics, etc.) to expand our reach across new chapters. I would also love to see closer personal bonds being built between members and becoming more like family together.