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Archive for the ‘race’ Category

A friend described cycling as a whitestream activity. I mentioned that I saw a lot of poc commuters in the early morning, and expect more as Los Angeles Metro fares go up once again (boo!). But that’s commuting, she said. Of course there would be a lot of poc. Riding a bike becomes “cycling,” a sport or a recreational activity, when you don’t depend on it to get around. Much the same way that walking becomes “hiking.”

She may have something there. After a year of riding, it’s still a nice surprise every time I see other people of color on the trail. There’s a Pinoy group, and a few Pinoy friends and family who ride with me when they can, but mountain biking (and trail running, I think) still seems pretty whitestream. And the less I dwell on the mountainbike boards, where a post asking “Any Pinoy riders in SoCal?” was met with a flurry of “I’m forming a whites-only riding group” posts and charges of “reverse racism,” the better for my sanity.

I snicker at  claims that modern mountain biking was born in the 1970s, when a bunch of NorCal dudes started downhilling Mt. Tam and when road bike companies started manufacturing mountain-specific bikes. As a kid in the Philippines, my partner M used to ride his bike in the fields behind his house. It wasn’t called mountain biking then, of course. Just a bunch of kids riding their bikes where they could, like countless kids have been doing since bikes were invented. But that probably doesn’t count as modern mountain biking. Or as mountain biking, for that matter.

Neither was it called mountain biking in 1896, when 20 Buffalo Soldiers from the 25th Infantry rode from Fort Missoula, rode to St. Louis, Missouri.   This wonderful picture makes me happy:

US 25th Infantry on bicycles

US 25th Infantry on bicycles. Photo from Wikimedia Commons

More pics here.

And they rode wagon trails through the Rockies on steel singlespeeds that weighed about 70 lbs (including gear). Damn. POCs on mountain bikes rule.

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There was so much to choose from, but this one made me the saddest:

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A good life

Last spring, I spent a lot (to me) of money on a mountain bike. I have spent the past few months happily developing my climbing legs and literally soaring to new heights.

bikeI’ve also spent a lot of time feeling guilty. That I, a woman of color grad student from the Third World, could possibly spend that money on a bicycle.

How do I justify that? And why do I feel like I have to?

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I previously wrote about the dearth of people of color riders on the Los Angeles trails. I have since spoken to other people of color who have been thinking about riding, about spending money on a basic mountain bike, one with decent brakes and some kind of suspension. For many, it’s do-able if (like me) they cut wayyy back on other expenses. But oh the reluctance, since spending the money and actually devoting time to riding is often labeled as unproductive. A waste of time. And maybe, just a bit selfish.

What constitutes a “good life”? For many, the idea of a good life follows a linear progression of childhood, college, marriage, mortgage, kids, retirement. Judith Halberstam observes how this idea of a good life is built around accumulation. Those who live outside this logic of consumption and accumulation are pathologized and vilified.

This dominant idea of a good life already devalues activities like riding and running and  walking and being outside. Because these are pursuits that do not necessarily promote the productivity that “a good life” demands. Instead, they are often a refuge. They are opportunities to breathe, to reflect, and to feel joy outside the consumption-based logic of capitalism.

Perhaps this is a reason why such interruptive and “unproductive” activities are vilified and pathologized in the first place.

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Outside

It’s been a pretty cool but intense semester, both online and off. I’m in a couple of postcolonial theory classes, so my offline writing has gotten way too cultural-lit, although there’s been a lot of valuable reading that I eventually hope to incorporate. One of those po-co theory classes has been particularly tense, because it’s an anthro class full of defensive white anthropology students who are “interested” in Africa.

So when the weather turned nice around mid-March, I got on my mountain bike and went riding. My unconscious plan was to ride away from all this for a while, to ride deep into the trails where there are no people, and to get away. I’d only read bicycle blogs and discussion groups and just go into bicycle stores and I will totally avoid arguing about race or class or gender or sexuality and just ride ride ride.

Hala, that was just privilege on my part, because you don’t get away from this. One of the most obvious points–there are hardly any people of color riders. Okay, I take that back. There’s me, there’s a Black rider, there’s my partner. A few more poc here and there, but this is Los Angeles, so the dearth of people of color on the trails is quite noticeable. The cost of a good mountain bike and the lack of proximity to the trails are factors that immediately come to mind. Not everyone has the luxury of spending hours on the trail. The necessary accessories like a good helmet and padded shorts can also be expensive.
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As we celebrated the eve of November 4th, I was struck by a comment from New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson. He pointed out with pride the role of the Latino vote in Obama’s election. I wish I could say that about my fellow Filipinos.

And yes, I know, the Filipino vote is not monolithic. I am specifically talking about Filipinos like me, who have immigrated here in our adult lives. We’re working to make ends meet. Many of you are raising families, go to church every Sunday, support extended families back in the Philippines. The Philippines that would theoretically be a very red state if it could vote.

So yeah, there are lots of factors behind this particular Pinoy demographic’s support of McCain and Proposition 8, but I will dive into the one that presents the most challenges.

Filipinos can be quite forthcoming when talking about race. In news interviews in the Philippines and in Pinoy gatherings, many immigrant Pinoys have made it abundantly clear that their “discomfort” over Barack Obama is not due to the rumors that he’s an inexperienced, socialist, Muslim politician. Their discomfort is from Obama’s blackness.

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It’s no small task to be a bicyclist or pedestrian in Los Angeles. Motorists don’t expect you. Many get angry when they’re inconvenienced and have to brake.

Last July 4th, Christopher Thompson of Brentwood, an emergency room physician, deliberately swerved his car onto the path of two cyclists, then slammed on his brakes. One cyclist crashed head-first through Thomson’s car window; the other was flung to the pavement. Both sustained serious injuries. The doctor now faces felony charges, thanks in large part to the actions of bicycling activists.

Road rage assaults are the reason why I’d much rather run the trails, where you only have to worry about coyotes, pumas, and rattlesnakes.

But there’s a whole group of Los Angeles bicyclists who do not have that choice or privilege. They don’t ride for recreation or exercise. They ride those heavy no-name bikes from Walmart. They can’t afford helmets, reflectors, or other safety gear.

They are day laborers, immigrants, people of color for whom bicycles are an expensive necessity, the only way to get to work.

They’re called the invisible riders.

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Please read professor black woman’s post about the continued exploitation of migrant farmworkers in California, then sign the UFW petition for farm workers’ rights.

For my fellow Pinoys, please remember that in 1965, led by Larry Itliong, Philip Vera-Cruz, and Pete Velasco, 1,500 Filipino farm workers went on strike in Delano, California. The agribusinesses responded by sending goons to beat the strikers, and by turning off the gas, electricity, and water in the labor camps. When the agribusinesses brought in Mexican laborers as replacements, Itliong turned to the Mexican National Farm Workers Association (NFWA), headed by Cesar Chavez.

Itliong’s group, the Filipino Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC) and Chavez’s NFWA later merged to form the United Farm Workers of America.

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