Essay: How My Asian-American Parents Framed the Outdoors

We've been hearing a lot about how minorities don't always get to enjoy the natural environment. Allegheny Front intern Estelle Tran shares her early experiences as a first-generation Asian-American learning to enjoy the outdoors.

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OPEN: We've been hearing a lot about how minorities don't always get to enjoy the natural environment. Allegheny Front intern Estelle Tran shares her early experiences as a first-generation Asian-American learning to enjoy the outdoors.

TRAN: My parents wanted me to have the typical American girl experience. That included dance classes, orchestra and Girl Scouts. But when it comes to the outdoors, I explored hesitantly. I always brought the comforts of city living with me, and I attribute some of that need to my peers but also to my Asian-American parents.

Almost everyone in my troop was white. I can't say that's a bad thing or somehow unfair because that's just how my neighborhood is. I'm a first-generation Chinese- and Vietnamese-American girl from a Pittsburgh suburb.

This weekend, I visited my parents and asked my mom about our outdoor experiences. She said that she enrolled me in Girl Scouts, not because it gave me an opportunity to go camping a couple times a year but to get me out of the house and to meet people. I spent six years in Girl Scouts, and it was a fun time. We spent most of our time in a church basement making crafts, planning fundraisers and enjoying snacks.

When my troop went camping, we always stayed in cabins with flushing toilets. The idea of roughing it never really appealed to me. Nature was something to visit, and then go home. I enjoyed singing songs and roasting marshmallows. We cooked breakfast on turned over coffee tins with homemade burners called, "buddy burners."

My foray into the outdoors seemed forced -- even silly. I remember baking a potato in a cardboard box covered in aluminum foil. It took hours.

We did hike in the woods and go on creek walks during camping trips. But when I got home, my dad would have trash bags and old towels waiting for his muddy little Girl Scout. He loathed the slime on the bottom of my jelly boots and the dirt on my jeans.

My mom was happy for me, but the idea of camping and playing outdoor sports didn't appeal to her either. She said she never liked exercise. In Vietnam, she would ride her bike to school and wade at the beach. Biking, rowing and hiking for the sake of being outdoors or exercise are largely American activities. I've seen pictures of my mom at the beach and swinging on swings, like I did. She said, "I'm a city girl. I don't like anything that crawls or wriggles." I felt the same way. I'd love catching lightning bugs in my backyard, but once one sullied my hand, I'd run off screaming.

We were the kind of family that visited contained green space at the zoo and in parks. I loved swinging on the monkey bars and sliding down the slides. I didn't join ski club or the rowing team in high school. These activities would have probably taken more convincing for my parents because these sports are foreign to them.

Though primitive camping still doesn't appeal to me, I enjoy the outdoors the more I explore. I tried kayaking and canoeing on the Allegheny River this summer. Maybe my parents will join me on the water someday, but ...they'll probably stick to dry land. For The Allegheny Front, I'm Estelle Tran.