Chinese Family Camps Foster Community for Post-Pandemic Families
On August 14, dozens of families returned to Camp Greylock to enjoy a week of outdoor fun and sharing Chinese culture.
BY ALEX ZHANG
After annual sessions were put on hold due to the COVID pandemic, families have started again to gather each summer at Camp Greylock in Becket, Massachusetts for Chinese Family Camp, or CFC.
Five families — the Yuans, Woos, Yens, Shiangs, and Lees — started the CFC in Sharon, Massachusetts over sixty years ago, and that number has now increased tenfold. CFC at Camp Greylock features a week of sleeping in cabins and participating in different outdoor activities for both children and adults. Families often attend for years on end, and children grow up with deep ties to the camp.
“For the children who come to CFC, this is a very valuable experience in their lives,” Zhaohui Zhang, a parent of four campers returning to CFC for the twentieth year said.“When my family first came to CFC, my daughter Anna was seven years old. She spent all of her childhood summers here, and the same with the rest of my children. They make friends here that they see each summer, and the experience is amazing”
The “family” in “Chinese Family Camp” is integral to the experience, according to Zhang.
While the families themselves are important to the camp atmosphere, campers also often praise the food and the communal dining system for being greatly beneficial to fostering Chinese culture.
“China is a huge country, with many different ethnic groups and their associated cultures,” Zhang said. “Families here have roots from all over China, meaning that they speak with different accents, dialects, and most obviously enjoy different cuisines. Preparing meals for over 60 families is a tough task, but different parents come together to cook and prepare all sorts of food, and the result is a diverse selection every day, and everyone is able to try something new, but something still Chinese.”
China is split into 23 different provinces, and each region of the country has distinct cultural features. There are eight commonly recognized famous Chinese cuisines that span the country, the most popular of which include Sichuan and Cantonese cooking.
Furthermore, being able to return to a majority-Chinese environment after years of increased anti-Asian hate and sentiment has proven to have benefits for many campers.
“[Coming back to CFC] was quite refreshing,” 19 year old Claire Ma said. “I felt that my identity weakened in some ways after hearing about the hate crimes. Seeing that the Asian community I grew up with still had the strength to unite and spend time together without being bogged down by the weight of anti-Asian hate was revitalizing. It showed that we still had the spirit in us to have a good time regardless of what was happening around us.”
Many spaces similar to Camp Greylock’s CFC exist across the United States, such as an unrelated Chinese Family Camp in Cedar Lake, Illinois. Despite location and management differences, Camp Secretary Allen Yang finds similar comforts and experiences at CFC, especially considering the cultural bonds that are created in such a tightly-knit family space.
“The emphasis on having the family attend camp, and having multiple family groups sharing experiences together is a huge bonding experience, as well as connecting with true peers. I remember as a teen feeling deeply connected with the other teens who were going through the exact same issues with being Chinese in a predominantly or completely Caucasian town and school.” said Yang.
The Asian-American population in the United States has grown by 45.6% from 2000 to 2010, and is expected to be 10% of the American population in 2050. The Chinese population in Illinois has been steadily rising during the past few years, at 6.1% of the population in 2021 according to the US Census.
Camp Director Lawrence Wang emphasized Yang’s sentiment..
Wang noted that the “level of pure comfort knowing you are at a gathering where participants are Chinese or partially Chinese… just allows one to be at peace without fear of racially motivated negativity and enjoy a week with others learning about Chinese heritage in the morning or kayaking in the afternoon or participating in a scavenger hunt in the evening. The usual end result is the creation of life-long bonds.”
Such “racially motivated negativity” has greatly increased in recent years during the COVID pandemic, with reports of anti-Asian hate crimes up 164% in major cities during 2020.
Cedar Lake’s CFC also notably has many participating families with adopted Chinese children. Wang explained that this has allowed families to help their children learn more about their heritage in a culturally-rich environment as adoptive families “ are always looking for ways to provide Chinese heritage.”
“The motto of CFC is ‘Family, Friends, and Fun,’” Zhang said. “Campers have the opportunity to escape their busy lives and simply enjoy a fun week with people who share their identities, something that is especially difficult in today’s world.”
CFC is expected to return again next year to Camp Greylock for its 63rd year.