Immigrants Don’t Camp: A Roadtrip Across the US
"We want to extend our experiences to our families. Our communities. What would it look like, if outdoor leisure is covered with coloured faces? How can we pass our knowledge and experiences to our communities with similar upbringings and circumstances?"
Photographer, Judy Kim, and her partner embarked on a road trip across the US intent on witnessing new and profound experiences and challenging the obstacles that have been placed in their ways as children of immigrant parents. In their journey across states, Judy and her partner find much more than untouched desert plains and enchanting starry skies, but also find that they are much more capable than society believes them to be. Read on for Judy's first-hand experience of road-tripping as a second-gen immigrant.
My partner and I rented a camper van for the first time this summer. The camper van was a 1995 white Volkswagen. Crazy. I thought. Back in ‘95, both of our families immigrated to North America. They were learning how to speak English. And fast forward to 2020, we were learning how to camp — dabbling with outdoor leisure.
We thought about the actual price of this camper van… The cost of family sacrifices, as we are the descendants of those who barely had time to self-actualize, let alone have access to the great outdoors.
We went to seek solitude, play and reconnect with Mother Earth, stretching our interests beyond what we were exposed to as kids—and how we were told to travel. For others, camping seems simple enough. But for us, it’s daring and a point of pride. We were going beyond this box that they put us under.
“Immigrants don’t camp” they’ll say.
We questioned why we didn’t do this before, and it went as far as realising we didn’t grow up with outdoor leisure. Because during our journey, it didn’t feel seamless. It felt uncomfortable, and there was a lot of learning to be done. It felt so new and we really had no idea what we were doing.
We started to name all of camping’s barriers. And we realised that it mostly comes down to access. Having access to this type of travel requires free time and lots of energy. Time and energy to research, and make preparations for routes, gear, food and for safety* (understanding the nuance of what safety* really means for BIPOC immigrants). On top of time, comes money—disposable income. The gear is very expensive.
And then there’s the during—you have to work for it. Work for your comfort, prep for your safety, food. I see why camping, at face value, seems not relaxing at all. There were so many feelings that we couldn’t have summoned without experiencing something like this. We named things that were before, nameless. And unpacked feelings that we didn’t know we had.
So, this trip became an inner exploration as much as a physical one. Exploring southeastern Oregon for the first time, surrendering to Mother Earth’s environments— came layers of deep gratitude.
When we arrived at Alvord Desert, the first thing we noticed was the complete silence. It was our first time hearing silence like that. So silent, so secluded, we became the secret. It was hot. 38 degrees out in the sun, but in our made shade, it felt like room temperature.
One night, we decided to close our eyes and walk for five whole minutes. We would use our voices, and sounds made by our feet to navigate each other. We were completely free to roam without consequence. Because there was nothing around us. No other thing. No other person. We were truly free to roam on the vast, flat, pale playa. It was so disorienting, like writing with our non-dominant hand.
The in-betweens of day and night were my most favourite moments. This is why gradients exist—we must have seen it in the desert’s sky first. The reveal of day is something a camera could never replicate. Because of the warm heat that blankets the face. If an image can capture temperature, then maybe it can come close to the real moment. The reveal of the night was always soft and restoring.
The last day in the desert is when our camper van broke down. Never rent from GOCAMP. That’s a whole other story, but it validated our question about safety. And money. Again—you need disposable income to offset emergencies. Insurance and companies like GOCAMP usually care more about property, profit than bodies and human lives. We worked so hard to relax. But we couldn’t help but come face to face with the work, money and time that came with it.
But despite that experience, we left this trip wanting to do more for Earth. We want to extend our experiences to our families. Our communities. What would it look like, if outdoor leisure is covered with coloured faces? How can we pass our knowledge and experiences to our communities with similar upbringings and circumstances? We’re not entirely sure, but we want to continue to collect more outdoor experiences.
One day we’ll invite our ummas and appas.
Our tias and tios. Our brothers and sisters.
Because it’s for all of us.