05 April 2011

They Need A Few Good Bikes. The Women, Too.

A counselor at my second job is a volunteer with Neighbors Link, an organization that helps recent immigrants. He is asking people to donate bicycles and sturdy clothing and footwear (such as jeans, overalls, T-shirts and work boots) to that organization, which will give them to recent immigrants.

The idea intrigued me for several reasons.  For one, I notice that more and more immigrants--mainly from Latin America and Asia, and mainly men--are using bicycles for transportation. I'm not talking only about the guys who make deliveries for various restaurants, cafes and diners.  Others are riding their bikes to work at construction sites, warehouses and other places where native-born degree-holders fear to tread.  Some, I suspect, are also riding to classes at the community colleges, language institutes, trade schools and GED centers in the area.  

As you can imagine, they're not always riding the best of bikes.  Sometimes they're on cheap department-store bikes, most of which are not assembled properly (in addition to being of poor quality).  Others are used bikes of just about every genre.  These days mountain bikes from the early and mid-90's seem to be the most common pre-owned bikes to find their way into the immigrant communities, and there are large numbers of "vintage" ten- and twelve-speed bikes, in addition to some English (or English-style) three-speeds.  (Do you know what makes me feel old? Knowing that I rode "vintage" bikes when they weren't vintage!)  All of these bikes, even the best of them, are in various states of disrepair.  

Image from "The Urban Country"

I think the counselor who's coordinating the collections is doing a great thing. If you're in the NYC area and have anything to donate, I can refer you to him, and he will arrange a pick-up.

But now that I've undergone changes, I've become a radical feminist.  (Ha, ha!) So I notice that these immigrant bike riders are invariably male.  That is not a stereotype or sweeping generalization; I can't recall the last time I saw a Latina or female Asian immigrant riding a bike for any reason.  Every female cyclist I've met here has been native- or European-born.  

So now I'm thinking about why that is.  It seems to me that bicycling, like education, can make such women less dependent on men and less isolated.  I have had many female immigrant students, some of whom were single mothers and others who were married to abusive men.  Even those who seemed to be in happy marriages and families were living in a kind of isolation I can just barely imagine.  I mean, I've lived in a culture different from my own, and I've traveled to others. But I realize now that, when I was living abroad, and in my travels until recently, I had a great deal of freedom simply from being a single American, and from living as a guy named Nick.  But even when I went to Turkey five years ago--as Justine, but still three years before my surgery--I was able to move about in ways that I never could had I been a Turkish woman.

Oh, and I didn't see a single woman on a bike when I was there.  And I wasn't riding, either.

Anyway...Let me know if you want to make, or know anyone who wants to make, a donation to the program I described.  I'm also interested in hearing any thoughts you might have about the situation of immigrant women I've just described.