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Returning to Joy: A Personal Story from Ericka

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The view from Kirby Cove in the Marin Headlands. (Ericka Cruz Guevarra)

View the full episode transcript.

Last summer, Ericka told a story live on stage at KQED, at an event hosted by the San Francisco chapter of the Asian American Journalists’ Association called “Hella Asian.”

It’s a story about a camping trip she went on with her best friend during the pandemic. It’s also a story about the mental impact of the news, and her sense of safety as attacks on Asians were in the headlines. Today, we’re sharing that story again.

This episode originally aired on Aug. 8, 2022.

Episode Transcript

This is a computer-generated transcript. While our team has reviewed it, there may be errors.


Ericka Cruz Guevarra: I’m Ericka Cruz Guevarra and welcome to the bay. Local news to keep you rooted. So did you know that our show has made over 800 episodes? I know it’s kind of a wild number, but there are so many gems in there. And this week we’re actually going to share some of those gems from our archives. Most of our episodes are, of course, about local news here in the Bay Area, but we wanted to start off with a very different kind of episode that we made back in 2020 to that summer.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: The San Francisco chapter of the Asian-American Journalists Association held this live community storytelling event at KQED called Hella Asian. And what you’re going to hear today is actually the story that I told before that live audience. It’s a story about a camping trip that I went on with my best friend during the pandemic. It’s also about the mental impact of journalism and the news, especially on journalists of color like myself. And it’s also a story about joy. So we’re going to share that with you today. Stay with us.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: So back in the Myspace days, I was really into cameras and taking pictures of things. Taking pictures was a very casual hobby of mine in middle school. I would bring a digital camera to family events and just document them. And my best friend, Rochelle, she’s always been into cameras and taking pictures of things, too.

Rochelle: In eighth grade or freshman year, you got a canon? I got a Nikon.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Here’s Rochelle.

Rochelle: And we would just take pictures of everything and anything of each other, of our families of, you know, the car across the street. You know, just random things all the time.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Now, a little bit about Rochelle. Rochelle and I have this matching tattoo on our arms of our childhood homes. We grew up on the same street in Sassoon City, California, in one of those suburbs where every other fourth home is the same model. Our childhood homes were identical inside and out. My favorite addendum to this fact is that we even had the same couch as kids twice. We’re also both Filipina American, so we’ve always had a lot to relate on. And photography is just another one of those things.

Rochelle: We rarely had pictures with each other because one was always taking pictures of the other person.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Me and Rochelle have been friends for more than 20 years, and when the pandemic hit in 2020, we really didn’t see each other at all. So when the vaccine finally arrived and promised to change life in the pandemic, we got vaccine up as soon as we could and planned a camping trip. It was March of 2021. By this point, I forgot what it was like to plan things and this trip was happening all kind of last minute. But we landed on a place that we’d both never been to before. Kirby Cove in the Marin headlands. We pulled up their reservation page, and there was one available evening for late March at Campsite number one. So we booked it.

Rochelle: I remember we both were just talking about how stressful work was and how working from home was getting. It was getting old. I know we didn’t really see each other, so we just needed that break from. Our everyday lives.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Now, this was my first big trip out of the house since the start of the pandemic. As a journalist, I needed a break from the news, and Rochelle needed a break from her job as a coordinator for an after school program, which she’d been running via Zoom. We hadn’t had quality time with each other in months. We both needed this. And then Atlanta happened.

*audio from news clips*

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: By this point, I’d seen dozens of stories and photos and videos of Asian elders being beaten and attacked. Oakland and San Francisco were the epicenters of some of the most high profile incidents.

Rochelle: I remember during that time, like it was heavy for you. I know. For I know that like work was really stressful because of what’s because of what you just have to cover for your job. All the stories you have to do.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: As a producer working in local daily news, it was my job to pay attention to those things, to let them swirl in my mind and figure out how to cover them. And no matter how much I wanted to, I couldn’t look away. I always felt it was my responsibility and my job to bear witness.

Rochelle: A lot of elderly Asian people were, you know, being targeted for, you know, blaming us for, you know, Covid and the whole pandemic. And at that time, I was like living on edge, not for me, but like, for my parents. For your parents.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: When I told my dad about me and Rochelle’s camping trip, I remember him telling me If you don’t go out, nothing bad will ever happen to you. If the six Asian women and two customers killed in Atlanta never left their homes and sure, they might not have been killed by an armed white gunman who targeted Asian businesses because of his, quote, sex addiction. Sometimes when I go out, I worry my dad will prove me right.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: But as journalists, we’re not really supposed to have big feelings about the stories that we work on to cover the pain of the pandemic, the failures of our institutions, police violence, attacks on the Asian community and meet our deadlines. Compartmentalizing is a necessary skill. So I spent the week of the Atlanta shooting, shoving my feelings to the back of my mind just to get through work. And by the end of the week, I was just happy to be getting away. I parked my car for one night of camping with my best friend.

Rochelle: When we finally got to our campsite. Man, it was very I was I was speechless.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Kirby Cove is this amazing grove of cypress and eucalyptus and pine with its own private little beach.

Rochelle: One spot that always pops up in my head was this little, like, field of calla lilies. I don’t know if you remember that. And like, the sun was just, like, hitting them from behind and like, yeah, that was just so beautiful. It was like a movie. Yeah.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: One of the descriptions of Kirby Cove on the official Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy website says, quote, No other beach in the world has a view like this.

Rochelle: It just felt really nice to just be outdoors and enjoy the vitamin D and like also getting to do that with you. Cause I haven’t like, we haven’t seen each other for so long.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Now to get to our campsite, you have to walk from one end of the cove to the other. Campsite number one was the furthest from the entrance. Perched on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean and the Golden Gate Bridge with San Francisco on the other side. It was the best campsite on the cove. And we felt lucky because for most of the day that we arrived, we were the only ones there. Me and Rochelle pitched our tent and began exploring the cove.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Around the corner from our campsite was Battery Kirby. It’s this large slab of concrete built into the hillside and used to defend the coasts during wartime before the end of World War Two. Batteries like these contained 16 inch guns that fired 2,000 pound projectiles. When we got to battery, Kirby visitors had covered these abandoned structures in chalk drawings and messages.

Rochelle: I remember at first we we saw the chalk and we didn’t know. Like we were like, oh, what should we write on this? Because, you know, people were like the other drawings on there were like smiley faces, rainbows or like profanity or whatever. But we had this whole wall empty wall of. Like. Like a canvas. Like what could we write? You started writing. Stop AAPI hate. Because ours is the week leading to our camping trip. That was. It was. It was everywhere. Because maybe it was us also like, Hey, there are Asians here at this campground. Like, we don’t want any harm or whatever.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Rochelle wrote, Love us like you love our food under my message on the battery wall and even think about it at the time. But there was so much irony in that act. Yet another example of gun violence in America commemorated on a slab of concrete that once housed weapons of war and domination. After we finished exploring the rest of the cove, we made our way down to the beach and touched the water.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: I marveled at the cliffs walls.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: There were these amazing indents in the earth that looked like stairs. The roots of the trees that shaded our tent above were poking out. And it was such a beautiful day. As the sun began to set, we walked back through the cove to the entrance where our car was and brought the remainder of our things to our campsite. More campers had begun showing up and pitching their own tents around the cove, and I started to take stock of who else was camping at the cove that night.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: One campsite was a group of white high school boys with their one Asian friend. At another site was a group of men drinking beers who gave off a bachelor party in the wilderness vibes. I couldn’t help but notice that there weren’t any other women around or any people of color for that matter.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: With the exception of the one Asian kid. And I started to become painfully aware of my body. To get anywhere. To and from our campsite. We have to pass by Battery Kirby and our chalk messages written in huge letters. But every time we passed it, there was this dread that I could not shake. I just couldn’t bear to look at it. Something inside of me was deeply paranoid.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: I worried we’d find our messages defaced with either some hateful message or maybe even a Nazi symbol. Something to tell me that someone who doesn’t agree with stopping Asian hate would be here. Something to prove that maybe my dad was right, that I should have just stayed home. And whether these were legitimate fears or not. I started to regret what we wrote on the battery walls.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Writing those messages had woken something up in me. They were reminders of the thoughts and feelings I had spent the week shoving to the back of my mind in the wilderness. Your sense of safety is warped when you’re a woman and when you’re out of the house, period. In March of 2021, your sense of safety as an Asian person is warped to. I kept these thoughts to myself, though. I tried over and over again to ignore them. By this point the sun had set and the city was glowing. The other side of our campsite was pitch black. I didn’t want any of these feelings to ruin the trip, so I stuck to the itinerary.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: I’d printed out the New York Times’s 36 Questions that lead to Love before the trip. Me and Rochelle had planned to do this activity together after dinner. According to the preamble to the questions, the idea is that mutual vulnerability fosters closeness. And I learned things about Rochelle that I didn’t know before. I learned that she has a secret hunch about how shall die, that she thinks I am a generous person.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: We talked about facts about our lives that we forgot were actually wild coincidences like the fact that our dads are from the same town in the Philippines, that they both had three daughters and that we were both the boon souls or the youngest. And how wild it was that the universe had brought their daughters together on this cliff. At that moment, we talked about her mom’s death when we were just freshman in high school, how I didn’t always know how to be helpful after that.

Rochelle: You apologized for like not knowing what to say during that at the time that my mom passed. But it was also like I didn’t expect anything from it when we were 14 because we were so young. And like, it’s something about, like, I never want you to experience. So it was okay. You know, I just appreciated you being here. And I think I like thanked you for that.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: It was the kind of conversation with your best friend that grounds you and brings you back to Earth. The kind of conversation that feels like yet another chapter for two friends just growing up and figuring out how to do life together.

Rochelle: It just felt like our own little, like, therapy session. And just talking about those things with you as my best friend, it just it felt good. It just felt like I got a lot off my chest, my shoulders.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: I only mentioned my fear and paranoia to Rochelle once. That night she asked me if it was because of the people that we pass by on our way back to the campsite. She knew. She sounded so sure when she said that we were going to be okay, and that comforted me. But I didn’t sleep at all that night. Instead, I gamed out an escape from our spot on the cliff in case someone tried to enter our tent. I even imagined waking up to a group of white men lounging in our chairs and helping themselves to all of our food.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Every rustle in the leaves made my heart stop. Rosen’s brother in law slipped a knife in her bag just in case. But we accidentally left it inside of the lockbox that secures our food from wild animals. And it was dozens of feet away from our tent. I tried to focus on the sound of the ocean, but I probably slept a total of three hours that night.

Rochelle: We woke up pretty early. I felt like 7 a.m. and I remember, like, waking up, hearing the waves from the beach. You are already awake, I think. Mm hmm. I asked if you’re okay. And you were telling me you barely slept because you were scared from the night before. But I think just like getting out of our tent and, like, seeing that, like, everything. All our stuff was still there, you know? Mm hmm. Getting that morning sun felt really nice.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: When we went to the bathroom down the hill from our campsite. The group of high school boys and the bachelor party in the wilderness were all gone. We were alone again.

Rochelle: Like, no, no cars, nothing. Like not even a tent was there? Yeah, it was also just like a relief. Like, I guess that we were safe. Mm hmm. That was, like, the main thing.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Me and Rochelle ate ramen for breakfast and took in the final hours of the most amazing view of the Golden Gate Bridge before it was time to pack up and go home. A week later, I processed our camping trip in therapy. I told my therapist I’d never felt so out of control of my own mind and body. She told me that what I’d experienced was a trauma response, a direct result of my job as a journalist, and a likely culmination of all the information I was consuming about the shooting in Atlanta and the attacks on Asian people leading up to it.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: It was the first time I really cried about what happened to Atlanta. In journalism school, you don’t really learn about the psychological impact of this work or how to mitigate it. And when it’s your community under attack, how do you stop yourself from having big feelings about the story? How do you compartmentalize that? For black, native, Latin, X and Asian journalists. We’re expected to do this every day under the guise of objectivity, when what we really mean to say is the guise of whiteness.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: After the Atlanta shooting, Asian journalists reported being told by their superiors that they weren’t allowed to cover the story for fear that Asian reporters couldn’t cover it fairly. By telling journalists of color to remove ourselves from stories. It’s asking us to whitewash them. When in reality our experiences, our hurt, our pain and our fear only illuminate the truth. It wasn’t until weeks later that mean Rochelle developed our film from the trip. When I got the photos back, I was floored. How is it that all I see? Is joy.

Rochelle: One of my favorite pictures from the. It was a picture of you. You’re just facing the ocean. And in front of you was the Golden Gate Bridge. You can see faintly the Bay Bridge. I feel like we both captured, like, not just like the beauty of like, curvy cool, but like the beauty of, of us and like each other. Just like looking at those pictures. I was just like a very. Happy time in my life, even though we were both going through our own things. It didn’t. It didn’t show. That’s for sure. And those pictures.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: I wondered if my smiles were evidence of a sort of dissonance of how good I had gotten at compartmentalizing. But I think many things can be true at once. I’m glad that this is what I have to remember of our trip. Because they also show me that we can make art out of tragedy and pain. That when I’m afraid, fear insists that I return home to my body. That maybe this is what it looks like to return to my own body. If even for a photo, these photos remind me that it’s our friends, our family, our community who will beckon us home. That it’s them will remind us to smile for the camera. And to remember joy.


Ericka Cruz Guevarra: This story was originally written and produced for Hella Asian, a live community event hosted at KQED by the San Francisco chapter of the Asian-American Journalists Association. Thanks so much to the folks behind this live event, especially Ryan Davis, Cecilia Lei and Kristin Huang, who edited the live version of this story. This version was edited by Alan Montecillo. It was produced by me. Shout out also to producer Maria Esquinca for gathering some of the sound that you heard in this episode. I’m Ericka Cruz Guevarra. Thank you so much for listening. Take care. I’ll talk to you Wednesday.

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