When Baltazar De Anda Santana first came to the United States, he realized quickly that being a stranger in a strange place was going to be a lot harder than he ever imagined. He was undocumented at the time and had left family and everything he’d ever known back home. For the longest time, it was hard to feel free.
Biking became his sanctuary. His bike became his freedom. A rolling, moving, unique freedom that helped him feel like a person again and not so much like a stranger.
“Imagine if you were to move to Mexico but before you moved there you were forced to give up your driver’s license, your birth certificate and you weren’t going to be able to return to the United States for 15 years,” Baltazar told Madison365. “To say it sucked would not describe what it was like. You don’t feel like you have any power. Your dignity is gone. You know how when people talk about being human beings? Part of that is taken away from you. It’s very, very hard to describe that.”
At some point last year, De Anda Santana decided to take back some of that dignity with a brand-new idea: He would ride his bike for 24 hours in Dane County in support of immigrants and refugees. The ride itself turned out to be one of the most difficult bike rides of his life because he wondered if it did enough to turn the tide in the war against the humanity and dignity of refugees and immigrants.
But he is prepared to ride again.
On Saturday, July 7, De Anda-Santana will show up at Olin Park in Madison at 8 a.m. He may be alone. He may have others with him. He will welcome anyone who wants to join him whether it’s for 24 minutes or 24 hours, 1 mile or 10 miles. He just wants to ride his bike and connect with anyone who wishes to.
His bike ride will travel through highly visible and public places through Madison, Fitchburg, Middleton, Verona, and Sun Prairie. His goal is to keep going the entire time.
There will be meeting locations at Short Stack Eatery around noon, Barriques Coffee Shop in Fitchburg around 4 p.m., the Barriques Coffee Shop in Middleton around 8 p.m., the State Capitol Building across from Walgreens at midnight, Madison’s Central Park at 4 a.m. and the ride ends at Olin Park at 8 a.m. on Sunday.
The ride, which is supported by BiciClub Latino de Madison, will be for the full 24 hours but participants are encouraged to show up for whatever amount of time they can.
One of De Anda-Santana’s goals is to bring the joy of bike riding to communities of color, who he says aren’t always big bike riders. De Anda-Santana wants to be able to have people to speak Spanish with along his rides and talk about community issues with.
As both a brown person and an openly gay man, Baltazar feels like there is a wide range of community and interpersonal issues to talk about along the way.
“This is not about biking,” he says. “I just use biking as a way to do other stuff, to bring the community together. We have organized other bike rides in the past. We organized a Latino Ride, a Mad Town Unity ride. I would like to see more people of color riding so I can bike with other people and speak in Spanish. To talk about the injustice and discrimination we’re having in this community. I’d like to talk about some of the issues in the LGBT community. It’s not about biking. It’s about using biking as a tool to be empowered.”
This bike ride isn’t about current events or family separation at the border being highly publicized in the moment. It’s about existing as an immigrant.
“Am I doing this because of what’s happening at the border right now? No!” Baltazar says. “I’m doing this because it’s been happening forever. Immigrants have not been valued forever. I think if you’re an immigrant you realize that this is something that has been happening. Our families have been separated! When I was undocumented I wasn’t able to see my family for 15, 16 years. This is not something new.”
De Anda-Santana likens it to police shootings around black communities. Recent events have been highly publicized but everyone in the community knows it’s been going on for years without anything being done about it. Family separations and issues facing immigrants are what he’s demonstrating about. But not because it’s happening right now; it’s always been happening.
“For me, biking has given me the freedom that I was looking for. I use biking to heal myself and hopefully to heal the community,” De Anda-Santana said. “So we’ll start at 8 am and go very, very slowly. We want to make sure we’re accessible to anyone. People can join me but they don’t have to ride with me. If I have one person that’s great. If it’s 10 people, that’s great. This is not about doing a feel-good ride. I made it 24 hours because this needs to hurt. The 24 hours are supposed to hurt. It’s supposed to make me cry. It’s supposed to make me hungry.
“That’s the least I can do to support our brothers and sisters who are immigrants,” he adds.