Monday, December 10, 2012

Louis Mendoza’s "A Journey Around Our America"

Louis G. Mendoza is a professor and Chair of the Department of Chicano and Latino Studies, as well as an Associate Vice Provost in the Office for Equity and Diversity at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. He is the author and editor of numerous essays and several books, including, Conversations Across our America: Talking About Immigration and the Latinoization of the United States, raúlrsalinas and the Jail Machine: My Weapon is My Pen, and Crossing into America: The New Literature of Immigration.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, A Journey Around Our America: A Memoir on Cycling, Immigration, and the Latinoization of the U. S., and reported the following:
A Journey Around Our America chronicles the almost six months I spent riding through 34 states around the perimeter of the country from July through December 2007. I took this trip as on a research sabbatical from the University of Minnesota as a non-traditional scholarly approach to investigate how Latinos are changing the country’s cultural geography through demographic change, with recent immigration being only one factor driving this transformation. My primary goal was to listen and learn. I published a collection of interviews I conducted along the way. This book is the trip from my perspective and all the adventures I had along the way.

On the 99th page of A Journey Around Our America, I am writing about my time in Iowa City. It’s my third day back on the road after taking a 10 day hiatus at my home in Minneapolis where I rested after the first segment of my trip was completed in late August. I am visiting friends in Iowa City and I see the news about the resignation of former Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez. On page 99 I reflect on this and talk about several conversations I have with locals, a labor education specialist, entrepreneurs, and a small town city councilman. In many respects, this page is indicative of the book as a whole as I muse on Latinos in the news and gain insight from new people I met who are at different stations in life but who are critically aware of how changing demographics in the region (the Midwest in this case), are obliging people to adjust their perceptions of Latinos.
On Monday morning we watch the news coverage on Alberto Gonzales' resignation as U.S. Attorney General as a result of accusations of perjury before Congress. Gonzales had been the highest ranking Hispanic public official in the country. He was involved in several controversies in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, including his approval in 2002 of a memorandum that called the limitations on the questioning of prisoners under the Geneva Convention "obsolete" when dealing with terrorism, his August 2007 testimony regarding unauthorized government surveillance programs, and his confusing accounts of having approved the dismissals of nine U.S. Attorneys in 2006 while denying detailed knowledge of the circumstances or reasons. Hearings on the firings led to the controversy that ended in his resignation, though he was later exonerated.

We listened to his statement in horror as he speaks of how much he loves this country and that even his worst days in office (presumably the more recent ones when he's been under scrutiny for misleading Congress) are better than his father's best days in Mexico. I hope his father and others explain to him how insulting that statement is. His scheduled departure date of Sept. 16th will give new meaning to Mexican independence--or should I say, our freedom from this tyrannical Mexican American? To be sure, many saw in Gonzalez a shining example of American meritocracy in which an ethnic minority member could rise to the highest ranks of power. However, for many progressive-minded Latin@s, Gonzalez has represented the limits of access to power unless one is willing to mimic the tactics and values of the ruling elite.

Iowa City and West Liberty

The following day, Omar takes the day off to show me around Iowa City and surrounding communities. I have a great meeting with Ángel González, a program coordinator with the University of Iowa's Labor Center, we visit La Reyna, a small store and restaurant in the area and speak briefly with one of the co-owners and hear a little about how she started her business. She and her husband moved from Chicago so her children would not have to attend public schools there. I am fascinated with how new immigrants are able to open new businesses and they trade stories of how this is achieved through the pooling of money. Omar makes the point that would become more and more clear to me throughout my trip, that new immigrants of any background often take business risks here because their chance for mobility and entrepreneurial success are greater here than in their home countries. Omar arranges a meeting for me the next day with José Elizondo, the first Latin@ city council person elected in the town of W. Liberty, which is about 20 miles east of Iowa City.
Learn more about A Journey Around Our America at the University of Texas Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue