By Amanda Hsu
National Park Service “In My Backyard” intern
When I first applied for an internship with the “In My Backyard” program with the National Park Service (NPS), it seemed almost impossible for someone like me to join.
As a young woman born and raised in the suburbs of California, I didn’t grow up with a hiking pole in hand, but I soon realized I hold a key to helping people belong in national parks. National parks hold our histories. They tell our stories. National parks belong to you. No matter who you are, what you look like, or where you come from, our national parks are spaces where we all belong.
I am a Chinese Filipino student currently taking a year off from attending the University of Washington. At this moment in my life, I am finding my passion and self-identity. I am finding how I belong. For me, and like many others, the path to belonging has been challenging.
Growing up, I was a chubby, painfully shy girl who didn’t fit in. But I am grateful for that girl. She taught me that stepping out of my comfort zone is well worth the sweaty palms and apprehension. Most importantly, she taught me to live with integrity. By doing so, I found my familial tribe of queer folk, band geeks, tree huggers, and underdogs.
By the time high school reared its ugly face, I was just becoming comfortable with my sexuality. Being gay was somewhat of a taboo in my conservative hometown, so I felt isolated. I found solace in nature — places for reflection where I didn’t have to fear judgment, but I desired to find people to relate to. It wasn’t until my first Pride Parade in Los Angeles that I felt a connection to the LGBT community.
On June 24, 2016, President Obama designated Stonewall Inn National Monument as the NPS’ first unit dedicated to LGBT rights. Two days later, I attended my first Seattle Pride and was the proudest to see the NPS (and our very own Ranger Kelsey Johnson) bearing a banner that read “#Stonewall.” I didn’t think it would be possible, but to see my passion for environmental stewardship and my sexuality celebrated right before me truly made me feel like I belong. I was able to find a community 1,100 miles away from my friends and family in California, and I knew I could translate that same approach into helping others find their connection to national parks.
I want to evoke a strong sense of belonging amongst high school students. I want them to realize their own unique sense of place within parks. As the lead designer for a mobile national park in downtown Seattle, I am incorporating personal narratives from people of all ages, gender, sex, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and ability by sharing their stories involving conservation, community, and national parks. It is from these unique personal perspectives that I hope young people discover, like I have, their own interconnectedness within the NPS – and realize they belong.