U of M professor Louis Mendoza is bicycling across the United States, finding stories of immigration in rural areas, small towns and cities.
It was Sunday July 1st, 2007 and Louis Mendoza, the Chair of the Department of Chicano Studies at the University of Minnesota was just about to start a journey that will take him through America. He decided to learn, on the road, how immigration affects our lives and how important the influx of new immigrants is for our towns, cities and country. The first part of his journey has already brought some light to an issue that has raised a lot of voices and concern over the last year and deserves to be discussed under a new perspective.
Louis Mendoza’s blog is featured on the TC Daily Planet at A journey across America.
Mendoza made a brief stop in the Twin Cities before continuing his trip. He spent a few days in town and we had the chance to chat for a while. You can easily tell that this journey is already transforming him and the information he is gathering is not only a wonderful collection of stories, but also a picture of our nation and how our people -away from the influence of the mass media coverage- perceive immigration and Latino immigrants in their communities.
I was one of the first ones in the media to learn about Mendoza’s trip and I followed his adventures through his blog, but something he said made the interview different and changed my perspective about his journey. He said “I hope people understand that I am not there to preach [about immigration]; I’m there to listen!” “Listen” I said to myself, “what a great opportunity to listen to what people really think about this issue.”
He keeps a diary of his journey in his blog, and in that same blog, he describes himself in simple words saying: 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.”
On the road
Things have been both unpredictable and hard for Mendoza. Weather was extremely hot and he had to face strong winds that made it impossible for him to gain ground on the first days of his journey. Still, he has been able to find hundreds of good people, white, Latinos and Native Americans who have opened up their hearts and helped him throughout his ordeal.
The interaction with people over the road has been mostly positive, with a few exceptions, and most of the people have been really candid and spontaneous with him. He discovered that riding a bicycle over the country could be really challenging but he also discovered that people will feel more confident and open to talk to him thanks to his bicycle and all the stuff he brought with.
He learned that people will help him and that Internet access is not as easy in small towns as it is for us in the city.
He decided to start his trip in California and travel north following the coast line. Then, moving west through the great plains to the Midwest and make a brief pause in Minnesota before heading to the East Coast, then south to Florida and from there, back to California.
His findings, so far
Mendoza has had the opportunity to talk to hundreds of people and interact with them in many different ways. During his collection of information, he has found that small towns are usually welcoming of new immigrants, while bigger cities are not as welcoming. He found out that small towns -less exposed to mass media coverage and politics- are more likely to integrate new immigrants and feel less alienated by them.
Elderly people in small towns have a good opinion of Latino immigrants and some of them are even thankful of the new life they have brought to their towns. Several of these small towns were suffering a serious shortage of labor and their economies were slowing down until the arrival of Latino immigrants who hard work and strong family values to their communities.
The influence of Latinos arriving to small towns has changed food, habits and even churches and now, many churches offer mass and services in Spanish along with their usual services in English.
Mendoza even ran into a convenience store, owned by a white American with a big mural of the Virgen de Guadalupe painted in one of its walls. When he asked about it, the employees told him that the owner was a devoted follower of the Virgen de Guadalupe.
He also found that immigration happens in so many different ways that it is really hard to follow the trends and that the trends in the West Coast are different than the trends in the East Coast.
He learned that some small towns are experiencing immigration as a new thing and are trying to adapt and be more welcoming. That immigration happens in three stages, Invitation, Arrival and Adjustment and sometimes adjustment happens in the shadows.
Mendoza had the chance to talk to many Latinos on the road and found that most of them are farm workers, seasonal workers and struggling families. That they all fear separation form their loved ones and that sometimes they have to hide to keep on working as he found out at a diner in Jackson, Wyoming, where he saw no public presence of Latinos and after asking the waiter, the response he got was a simple “We are all hiding…”
He also found that Latinos have a very strong sense of social justice and a highly developed perspective of the immigration conflict though they are all confident that changes are just about to happen. He described that perspective in the words he heard from those Latinos on the road who simply said “We are here to stay.”
Mendoza expects to finish his trip by the end of December, after his arrival to San Francisco and thousands of miles on the road.