Prof. talks about his 31-state bike trip

Louis Mendoza took a page from the Forrest Gump playbook and journeyed across the country.

Mendoza, a Chicano studies professor and department chair, has returned from his nearly six-month bike trip through 31 states, aimed at better understanding of immigration.

on the web

To view Louis Mendoza’s blog that outlines every step of his journey including where he went, what he did and who he met, go to his blog.

Mendoza started his journey last July in California, finishing Dec. 20 in Minnesota.

Mendoza held a welcome-home reception Friday in Nolte Center to share his experiences and what he learned on his “Journey Across Our America.”

“I can’t tell you how much I felt empowered by doing this,” he said. “It was a big challenge, but being able to pull it off and do it really made me feel good.”

But pulling it off was no ride through the park, Mendoza said.

“It was a very difficult physical challenge,” he said. “After about six weeks, I was in pretty good shape, so it actually then turned into more of a mental and an emotional challenge.”

Trying to withstand being alone for so long and staying motivated to travel on the road ahead was difficult, Mendoza said.

Spanish studies junior and event attendee Catherine Klang said she was impressed that Mendoza completed the trip.

“It takes a really strong person to just keep going,” she said. “I really admire him. I wish I could have the same perseverance.”

Administrative specialist for Chicano and American Indian studies, Rodrigo Sanchez-Chavarria said he also was amazed with Mendoza’s commitment.

“I think his is just an amazing type of dedication and motivation,” he said. “I think the trip was more about discovery than anything else; trying to find out the stories because there are so many different stories that don’t get covered.”

Mendoza said he couldn’t pick just one highlight of his trip.

“Part of the highlight was talking to so many people who were working really hard to make a living,” he said. “I was humbled by the fact that these people who work so hard were willing to take time and share things with me.”

Going on a trip like this is a great way to put a face on immigration, Marianne Bueno a visiting Chicano studies professor, said.

“I think it’s an important way to get a chance to hear and listen and see the everyday stories and the everyday lives,” she said. “Being on the ground in the way that he was with his bike will help put faces to the language, to the talking, to the policies.”

Immigration in the United State is more complex than people realize, Mendoza said.

“It’s about how complicated of an issue immigration is,” he said. “It’s not really just Latinos verses whites.”

Mendoza found out why immigrants decided to come into this country from the best sources, he said.

“I learned first-hand new immigrants’ motivations for coming to the United States,” he said. “I learned what a difficult decision it was for them to leave their home country.”

Immigrants in this country are an essential part of the economy in rural areas, he said.

“Small towns in America are very much accepting of them,” he said. “This generation’s young people don’t want to do the work that their parents did. These small towns would implode without immigrants.”

On top of learning about these people’s lives during his bike trip, Mendoza was also able to reacquaint himself with the country.

“It’s one thing to go in a car and look out the window, but to really experience all the variations of the climate, landscape and the sunsets every day,” he said. “There’s this real sort of natural beauty that surrounds us that we lose sight of sometimes.”

The next challenge for Mendoza to tackle is putting everything he experienced and what he learned into a book – which Mendoza said he hopes to have finished in the next couple of years.

The people Mendoza met and everything he encountered will stay with him forever, he said.

“It gives you a real sense of the regional differences in the country and it gives you a good sense of the totality; how big and how complex this nation is,” he said.