Biking through Oregon

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Wednesday, July 11 — Made it in to Eugene. Very sore today, though the good news is that clouds were out today and the weather was a lot cooler. For the last week it seems that every weather report I’ve seen noted record high temperatures. I’ve arranged to meet with Guadalupe Quinn, the regional director and one of the co-founders of CAUSA, an immigrant rights organization started in response to the anti-immigrant climate precipitated by California’s Proposition 187 in 1994.

A Journey Across Our America: Observations & Reflections on the Latinoization of the U.S. From July-December 2007 I’ll be biking across the U.S. This experience will be the basis for book that follows José Martí’s 1891 call in “Our America” for a distinctively American culture, one that embraces rather than denies, the dynamic and organic relationship between place, language, and experience that shapes the American continent. In the blog I’ll document the exchanges I have with people about the Latinoization of the U.S. as well as my own life experiences and thoughts.

Guadalupe’s story is both complex and common. As a young newlywed she and her “American” husband moved to Eugene from Oxnard, CA to start a new life. She was a teacher’s aide with a high school diploma. In the early 80s a friend took her to a Quaker meeting on solidarity with Central America–in opposition to U.S. intervention. She went because they needed a translator and she offered her service. Her act of translating proved to be eye-opening and ideologically transformative. She had never seen or heard such criticisms of government policy and abuse of power, nor has she experienced the power of people coming together to make social and political change.

From that moment on, her life changed as she became part of this movement and then part of the immigrant rights movement. She acknowledged that she had to re-negotiate her marriage with her husband because no longer would she be the traditional domestic wife and mother that he thought he had married–but their marriage survived this transition. As the sole contact for CAUSA in Eugene, she works out of her house. Her work involves education campaigns, building alliances with progressive organizations, working with the campus MEChA to sponsor events, advocating for the DREAM ACT and much more. She told me they had about 600 people at last year’s immigration rally, which they considered highly successful. CAUSA works closely with PICUN to lobby against anti-immigrant legislation, which increases exponentially each year. She spoke with pride about success the community has achieved, like naming one of the new local elementary schools after Cesar Chavez, the growth of the community as evidenced by tienditas, restaurants, and panaderias.

Thursday evening I went to stay with Tamara Belknap, a friend of a friend, who owns a beautiful home in the mountains near Corvalis. Her partner, Robin, cooked a great BBQ and we 3 and her dad (Jim?), had good food and conversation. From Jim, a resident of Cottage Grove, OR, I learned about the decline of the logging industry and the transformation of some of the smaller towns. The next day as Tamara was driving me to Lebanon she told me of the racial tension she witnessed as a high school student in what was then (mid 90s) a very majority white town. now, she says, the demographics have shifted dramatically and change is not always easy but an ongoing process.

I’m a 46 year old Tejano transplant living in Minnesota since the summer of 2004 when I decided to jump off the proverbial cliff and see what life would hold for me if I accepted a position as chair of The Department of Chicano Studies at the University of Minnesota. Surrounded by a great group of people, the work has been super hard, but fun & rewarding. I think we’re making progress all the time. What’s progress? Well, that’s always debateable because it’s relative. From where we were, we’ve come far. From where we want to be, we’ve a long way to go. In the meanwhile, this blog is about another journey, one which I hope will keep me sane as I try to figure out this crazy world and my place in it…