Reflexiones: Big and Small


From my brother Bobby: How is your mind? You must be playing some mental gymnastics at times just to stay sane.

Yes indeed I do have to play all sorts of mind games to stay focused. This is mostly during the day while I’m biking as as opposed to the evening when I’m resting or interacting with folks. Some of this I addressed in my earlier answer to Otto when I described things one does to keep oneself going beyond fatigue, boredom or pain that comes with riding. But one also plays these games to keep from getting emotionally down–that is it’s easy to get overwhelmed with the enormousness and emptiness of the open road. Being physically tired makes one emotionally vulnerable, and it works in the other direction as well. I’m hoping to try and document some of this in a future entry

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.

From my sister Rosemary: Has this trip been harder than you anticipated? Is this trip something you had to do alone? Or could you have done it with a partner? Are there creature comforts you miss? Have you felt unsafe so far anywhere on this journey?

Yes and no. I knew it would be very hard, but knowing that doesn’t make experiencing it any less severe. I can say that in many respects it’s gotten easier as I’ve gotten stronger and learned new strategies for biking hills, eating, keeping my energy up and avoiding pitfalls like running out of water. It’s also gotten easier as the rewards accumulate–and by that I mean that by realizing my goals of talking with people, of seeing and experiencing so many good things, I feel like it makes sense, it’s affirming. I don’t think the trip would have been compromised by being with someone else, in fact it may have been enriched. But I suppose at an individual level it’s testing my ingenuity and persistence in ways that may benefit me down the road. As for creature comforts, for sure I missed my own bed and a bath/shower on a regular basis, as well as the ability to just recuperate in my own surroundings, but I haven’t exactly been that deprived of basics since I’ve spent more time in motels than I expected to. I really need to get better at scouring around and finding alternate sites to rest. Truly, the only times I’ve felt unsafe was once or twice on the road when I was crossing a bridge with narrow shoulders and lots of fast-moving cars. There was one other time near Belvidere, S.D. at a rest stop when a pickup drove behind the rest stop on a back road and slowed down when it got parallel with the bench I was resting on and then turned around and came back and did the same thing. Not knowing what was up with that, I moved to a bench closer to the building and better lit.

From Kamala: My thought today in terms of blog prompts that you asked for is that bike trips such as yours may be even harder in a few years as weather becomes less and less predictable…I heard a doctor/ environmentalist yesterday talking about global warming as disease (off kilter) of the earth. He talked about our bodies abilities to heal themselves…(inherent here is also the adjustment to extreme change such as might be relevant more for you at the moment) Anyway, the earth also has balancing acts to keep it “healthy” but these have been thrown off by global warming…

I’m not quite sure how to respond to this other than to say that from a weather perspective this trip hasn’t been predictable. I travelled across the northern region first so I could avoid it in the winter but I didn’t realize it would be so hot. For the first few weeks I was in the midst of a strong heat wave and most people said it was hotter that it had been in years. Climate change is slow, so I don’t know when or if it will ever get so hot as to make a trip like this impossible.

From Ben: I just got back from Cuba a week ago and thought of you after coming across a small photo of Che at the Museum of the Revolution: he was on a bike– non-motorized! Apparently, before his more famous motorcycle ride, he took a several-thousand mile trip throughout his native country of Argentina asking similar questions about national identity that you are asking and investigating about the U.S. This trip, which preceded his PanAmerican and then world travels and activities, raised several questions that may serve as a good prompt. That is, what is the nature of the national identity you are seeing transformed, and how is this relating to the resurgent and militantly anti-imperialist Panamericanism (e.g., Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, the insurgent sectors of Mexico and of course Cuba)? I ask as much to try to figure these things out as to offer a prompt.

A great question but one that defies any simple or easy explanation. I think that once we get beyond the dogmatic positions associated with U.S. official nationalism (patriotism) and reactionary nationalism (nativism), what is left is something that that is an enormously complex dynamic of accommodation, resistance, assimilation. I wouldn’t say a new nationalism is emerging but I do think that new immigrants bring a very different sense of nations identity–one that is much more transnationalist. So, for instance, they may have dual loyalties. While many may have criticisms of the U.S., they also have many things they like about it–this is their new home even as they retain ties to their homes of origin.I don’t think they see these as being in contradiction to one another as many traditional nationalists would have you believe–a love it first and last or leave it mentality that wants to see national identity as stable and fixed and absolute.

I don’t know that the “internationalism” of today is the same as the internationalism of yesteryear such as existed at the height of anti-colonialist movement of the 20th century. Even the more successful nationalist movements currently thriving in Latin America today are cognizant of making distinctions between governments and the people–who they hold more faith in. In truth, this has a parallel with what I feel like I’m seeing and hearing from folks thus far. Notwithstanding those folks affiliated with anti-Latino or anti-immigrant groups, most people on the ground level simply want to understand what the human implications of new groups will be for them. And if intermarriage rates and relationships at work and in the churches and schools are any indication, the fact of the matter is most people are getting along. In fact, some of them recognize the ways in which are destinies are mutually intertwined. In that regard, I think that despite the many problems with the discourse of globalization, the flow of human traffic in these times is leading to the disintegration of the idea of a stable sense of national identity and culture because actual interactions and relations with others does not allow folks to sustain perceptions of difference.

From Gabriel: One question? We’ve read through the arduous physical aspects of your journey and the search for the answers to the various questions you have about the state of Latin@ization. Where are you as far as your own personal spiritual journey? I know that you feel that we are all connected, but with the solitariness of your journey do you feel yourself coming into closer contact with all around you and even do you feel yourself becoming one with Nature. If you had these deep spiritual feelings before are they growing, becoming more? I know your opinion about God, but is this journey changing your mind about God, or a Source of the Oneness, or a source of the connections?

Again, a great question but one that I’m not sure I can articulate. I think I have a much more profound appreciation for nature, but I can’t say I feel one with it– on the other hand, despite a sometimes contentious relationship with it, I do not feel in opposition to it at all. I find it sad to think of the privatization of land and the ways in which we, that is most of us, are deprived of having a more authentic relationship to it because we cannot afford to buy it or because despite the large areas of parks, we cannot afford to travel to it. I do understand why making ones living off the land builds a spiritual relationship with it and all of nature because you both shape it and are at its mercy. Thus far, I must say that my sense of connectedness with people has been affirmed and strengthened. I don’t have a lot to say about a higher being because I am mostly concerned with people realizing the goodness in themselves and acting upon it. For me, people taking action and resisting the anti-humanist and dehumanization of others would be an enormous stride forward for all humanity.