Friday, November 13, 2020

Review: Spirit Run: A 6,000-Mile Marathon Through North America's Stolen Land

Spirit Run: A 6,000-Mile Marathon Through North America's Stolen Land Spirit Run: A 6,000-Mile Marathon Through North America's Stolen Land by Noé Álvarez
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Noé Álvarez, a Mexican-American with Purépecha ancestry, participated in a 6,000-mile ultramarathon relay through North America in 2004 that sought to bring awareness and healing to indigenous peoples from Canada to Guatemala. The author also surrounds the run with more about his life - from his childhood in Yakima, Washington with parents who worked in backbreaking agricultural jobs, to flailing as a first-generation college student, to the places he created for himself after this journey. He follows up in the end with many of the other runners, and it seems to have been a transformative experience for all of them (or, these are people who are most likely to seek out such an experience.)

I liked experiencing the individual stories of the runners, the challenges of trying to pull it off for this higher purpose when individuals are not so high-minded, and various indigenous places and traditions they got to interact with along the way. (Did I watch all the videos on the internet about Purépecha language and history, mostly in Spanish? I did! They were never conquered by the Aztecs and from my limited understanding are the ancestors of the people who would attempt to reclaim land in the Zapatista movement.)

It was interesting to see North America through an indigenous, feet on the ground (literally) perspective. That lens connects to the natural world and the rich history more easily, but doesn't shy away from the tensions of borders, military movements, police presence, poverty, and control.

Side note, or personal note - the community in which I grew up in rural Oregon was heavily populated by seasonal workers, and I had several classmates who were only in school half the year until their parents were able to relocate more permanently. I grew up maybe 5 miles from at least one "migrant housing" situation. I did a project in high school where I interviewed a man who had grown up as a child of a seasonal workers and ended up going to college, etc., and was at that time working for the State of Oregon in the employment office, often assisting people who were new to the area for similar reasons. This is backbreaking work, but I never really saw it from the inside. Like most parents who hope their children will be in a better situation, both my parents didn't want us doing that kind of work. They both had to spend their summers working in agricultural jobs to help their families make ends meet, as soon as they were able, and until they either got better jobs or left home. My Dad picked beans and worked at a maraschino cherry plant. My Mom picked beans, cucumbers, and berries (but quickly found a fast food job instead!) We still picked fruit in the summer and canned/froze it for our own consumption but that is very different from the demands of the industry itself which only thrives if you can push your body to the limit as Álvarez describes his mother doing in this book. It sent me on my own path of reflection.

I believe the publisher sent this to me way back in the beforetimes, the author did a lot of virtual book talks, because it came out in March.

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