Outdoor Asian creates community in Colorado’s outdoors
By Kiana Marsan
Historically, people of color have been excluded from outdoor spaces. A 2020 report by the Hispanic Access Foundation and the Center for American Progress found that racial minorities are three times more likely than white people to live in “nature-deprived” places where there is no access to parks, paths, and greenery.
This is the result of violent legacies of racism and discrimination that have ensured present-day BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) are without generational wealth and remain segregated from white suburbs.
Even those who do have physical access to recreational opportunities find that these places are not always safe, inclusive, or affordable.
A study of Asians in San Francisco found that Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, and Filipinos were significantly less likely to participate in outdoor activities when promotional materials for mountain areas required English literacy. To gain the resources and knowledge needed to safely navigate trailheads, assimilation is often the expectation.
“We [Asians] are rarely thought of as active participants in that industry. Far too often, we’re pigeonholed into mischaracterizations,” writes Gene Han for the Outside Business Journal. “As AAPI interest in the outdoors and related consumer spending continues to grow, it doesn’t feel as though the invite to participate is freely given. A culture of racial gatekeeping still exists.”
Outdoor Asian is an organization that strives to change this reality. Started by Christopher Chalaka, this group’s mission is to create a diverse and inclusive community for Asians and Pacific Islanders in the outdoors. They believe that by connecting with one another, we can connect with our ancestral histories rooted in this land as well. This work is a form of resistance, healing, and advocacy.
“Outdoor Asian was founded because of white supremacy in outdoor spaces; we must constantly question ourselves and examine how that supremacy permeates our mindsets,” Their statement reads on Black Lives Matter. “We will stand-up to anti-Blackness in our communities, call out the words and actions that harm, and support Black folx in this fight.”
In the years since its creation, Outdoor Asians has formed chapters in Washington State, Colorado, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, and Los Angeles. The Colorado chapter is currently managed by Giselle Cummings.
“As I’ve gotten older, it’s become more important for me to find community and help build spaces for other AAPIs. In Colorado, I feel like that is so essential to community wellness and feeling a sense of belonging,” said Cummings on her leadership role in the group. “My hope for Outdoor Asian is to continue that great intersectional and partnership work previous chapter managers built, organize more opportunities for beginners to try new activities, and continue to navigate COVID-19 safely.”
Outdoor Asian started as a platform where the AAPI community could share their experiences participating in what nature has to offer. But over time, it grew into a network where Asians could connect with their peers and plan local outings or social events together. In Colorado, the group has attracted both casual participants in recreation as well as those who are looking to pursue the industry in a professional capacity.
“I was hoping to find a community that supported me in both outdoor activities and my Asian American identity. Moving to Denver was a culture shock to realize how little Asian influence existed in what was considered a relatively popular city,” said Jessica Lee, an event coordinator for the group. “Coming out of this turbulent last year has revalidated the importance of having a safe space for people of color.”
Bryan Yee, another event coordinator, shares these sentiments about the necessity of comfortable and safe spaces given the rise in anti-Asian hate.
“It is important for groups like this to exist because people of color should have access to the outdoors, without having to worry about being stereotyped or what people are going to think of them. They need a space where they can talk about sensitive topics free of judgment,” said Yee.
Through collaborative efforts such as Outdoor Asian, the AAPI community is making a space for themselves and their presence known. Outdoor Asian Colorado always welcomes new members. To get involved, join their Facebook group Outdoor Asian Colorado, sign up for their newsletter, or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.