Texas used to be part of Mexico, and 40% of its inhabitants are Hispanic. for our neighbor to the immediate south, Mexico, which celebrated its independence from Spain on September 16. The day before was Independence Day in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua, and the beginning of National Hispanic Heritage Month in the US. Since I’ve written about Asian Americans, African Americans, Native Americans in relation to cycling, it’s high time I highlighted Hispanics who bike.
Despite being among people of color often lumped together as “invisible cyclists,” plenty of Latina/o/x people cycle. They commute to work, ride recreationally on weekends, go on social rides, ride bikes at home or the gym for exercise, belong to club teams, and do amateur and professional racing. For many regular folks of Latin American or Spanish origin, la bicicleta is just as significant as anywhere else.
In “A Day in the Life of a Mexican-American Cyclist,” David Robles writes evocatively about growing up in Mexico where bikes were used for transporting kids to school, goods to market, and even farmers rode them. Later, living in Utah, things are different, but he carries the memories of growing up with bikes with him. While the details of growing up as a kid riding a bike naturally vary from culture to culture, country to country, one thing that may be universal is that those who did bike as kids certainly have some fond memories of it. Some people are fortunate enough to keep riding as they grow older, while others rediscover bikes later in life, maybe after having kids themselves.
I remember as a kid living for a time in Houston, Texas. My dad took me to the elementary school parking lot where he watched me practice riding my orange bike with the banana seat and the rear metal upside-down “U.” I have vague memories of playing with the neighbor kids, who happened to be of Latin descent. I’d imagine we rode our bikes up and down the streets of our suburb. Then I faintly recall there may have been an incident involving them putting ants on me. And so the playing and biking stopped. Did that suck? Yes. Did getting ants in my pants hurt? Sure. Did the experience carry an unspoken message about Mexicans? Maybe, though I doubt it was intentional. I just don’t recall.
Since those days, I went on to learn Spanish (mostly) as part of my liberal arts then international education. I had to do an internship and lived with a host family and studied in Central America, interacting with progressive people, plus working, playing soccer, and being friends with a some pretty cool Latinx people, some of them ride bikes. It’s been a while since I’ve been on any group rides, but I do know this: the times I’ve ridden with cyclists who are Mexican, Chicano, etc., they always kicked my ass. Why else would the Most Interesting Man in the World, in those Dos Equis commercials, say “Stay thirsty my friends”? Because he was drinking beer after a long bike ride. Or wrestling tigers.
This article from Outside magazine is about Guatemalan and Mexican immigrants challenging the overwhelmingly white racing culture of New York City. If you’re find yourself in Los Angeles, you can take a self-guided bike tour that highlights the history of the people who built the city: Mexicans. And others who were marginalized in the city’s history. In the Minnesota Twin Cities, Latino Social Cycling is an intentionally casual, fun group, as seen in this MPR article. These are just a few of countless examples of Latinx people riding bikes.
So, on Mexican Independence Day, I was reminded of the sense of freedom one gets on a bicycle. It may be similar to being on a scooter, moped, or motorcycle, or boat. But it’s the only one of those conveyances that lets you feel the wind in your hair because of your own power. You can duck back down an alleyway, cut through a field, hop on a sidewalk, head for the hills on a trail, or go most of the places a car can. Maybe that path cut through your pueblito in Mexico.
Maybe you’re a Colombian living in the US following pro tour riders Egan Bernal (2019 Tour de France winner) or Rigoberto Uran. Or maybe you’re born in the US immigrant parents and you can ride your bike like the wind. The bicycling community should welcome you and la raza. I know I do, because I don’t care what color the skin on your butt is. I just want as many people who can and want to to have the opportunity to put their butt on a bicycle seat and ride. Si, se bici. Vamonos.
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