Growing up, author Noé Álvarez witnessed the hardships of his Mexican immigrant parents—living in poverty in Yakima, Wash., working long hours in demanding environments for minimal wages, feeling like outsiders, and hoping for a better future for their children. Alvarez and his friends felt the pressure of their parents’ dreams for them, and the teens placed on their own shoulders “the kinds of promises that weigh on first-generation youth: to be the ones who save our families from things like poverty, deportation, and harsh labor conditions.”
College seemed to offer the promise of a better future, so when Alvarez received a full scholarship to Whitman College, he embarked on his post-secondary education, acutely aware of his parents’ expectations and “overcome with a wave of optimism” as he thought of all he would accomplish in college: “I will study politics, change the world through social activism, and make money to help my family.” However, Alvarez soon felt isolated and afraid, ashamed of himself, his parents, and his roots, confusing “the negative Latino stereotypes” for his own story.
So Alvarez began to run, an act that helped him to deal with his feelings of inferiority and despair. When he learned about the Native American/First Nations movement called the Peace and Dignity Journeys, a 6,000-mile relay marathon from Alaska to Panama City taking place every four years to revitalize and build connections between Indigenous peoples, he decided to join. He dropped out of college and joined other runners with Indigenous roots. At the core, Alvarez’s journey was a spiritual one—to connect to the land, to remember the suffering of his parents and other migrants, to deal with the pain of his childhood—in other words, to find inner freedom.
Ironically, Alvarez’s experience of the marathon, a quest for peace among nations and individuals, was marred when team members wielded power over others, bullying their peers, and when bitter disputes arose between team members of different Native American/First Nations groups. As well, female members complained of sexism. At times, Alvarez even felt concern for his own safety as fellow team members tried to oust him. Still, Alvarez’s participation on the marathon—he wasn’t able to complete it due to exhaustion and injuries—taught him much about himself and his connection to the land and others, even as he understood that, hungry, exhausted, and depleted, “running can no longer suppress the people we really are inside.”
Alvarez’s memoir offers Christian readers a window into Native American/First Nations spirituality. As I read it, I was reminded that God “has set eternity in the human heart” (Ecc. 3:11), and I thank God for how he has revealed himself in creation and in his Word: our only source of peace, dignity, and salvation.(Catapult)