If you’re not one of the lucky kids who grew up camping and exercising outdoors, breaking into the outdoors can be an adventure in itself. There’s the gear, the jargon, the less welcoming outdoor subculture – not to mention the vulnerability that comes with trying something new. But for people who overcome these hurdles, nature often becomes a haven, a place where they can gain confidence and strength.
Ambreen Tariq saw this development firsthand after her family moved from India to Minnesota at the age of seven. Her immigrant parents who wanted to try a classic American pastime took her and her sister to a state park. Sleeping in a tent and cooking around the campfire put Tariq out of her comfort zone, but as someone who had already turned her life upside down to move to a new country, she was used to it. And as opposed to the daily adventure of going to school where classmates made fun of their accent and frowned while eating Indian food in their lunch box, camping was a powerful adventure that sparked a lifelong love of the outdoors. That passion eventually led Tariq to start an online community called Brown People Camping. Using Brown People Camping’s social media accounts, Tariq shares her own stories about the outdoors in hopes of encouraging others from historically underrepresented communities to go camping, hiking, and outdoor sports.
Now Tariq is sharing her story with a younger crowd. Her first children’s book, Fatimas Natur, tells the story of a young immigrant girl who goes camping with her family after a particularly hard day at school. Although the book is fictionalized, “Fatima’s story is my story,” says Tariq. Every detail is based on a true story, from Fatima’s insistence that her parents bring her mother bacon for breakfast with her roti for breakfast, using the skills of her rural Indian upbringing to start the campfire. Fatima’s lovably nerdy glasses and bright yellow jacket are based on an old photo of Tariq and brought to life by Stevie Lewis, whose illustrations capture the loneliness, joy and pride that Fatima feels.
(Image: Copyright © 2021 Stevie Danielle Lewis)
After spending a night outdoors and overcoming her fear of what appears to be a giant spider, Fatima leaves the campsite and feels like a superhero. As a shy, clumsy child who felt most comfortable in nature, I was totally connected to Fatima’s confidence in school and her confidence in camping. That’s part of the beauty of Fatima’s story – it gives children of all origins a protagonist with whom they can identify. However, the book is especially important to groups whose experiences in the cannons for outdoor adventure and nature writing have largely been neglected – especially immigrants and people of color.
This is by design. Tariq sees the book as an extension of her advocacy through Brown People Camping and hopes it will inspire more families of color to feel safe and welcome outdoors. When I asked her what had changed since she was Fatima’s age and went camping for the first time, she said that she no longer accepted the idea that nature is only for whites or extreme sports enthusiasts. “As a child, you look around and take in and accept everything as it is presented to you,” she said. “So I saw that everyone was white in the open air, and I accepted that. Now, as a grown woman, I refuse to accept anything just because it has the status quo. It is amazing to me that nature still looks the way I saw it when I was a little girl with a migration background. “
Tariq also hopes that Fatima’s outdoors nature will help readers expand their definition of adventure. “Being an immigrant takes an adventurous mind,” she says. “Moving a world away, to a country with a new language and so many new things, really takes an adventurous soul. I wanted people who have so much respect for adventurers to see immigrants in that light. ”
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Main illustration: Copyright © 2021 Stevie Danielle Lewis