In 1966, a legendary group of farm workers led by Cesar Chavez marched 280 miles for labor rights through the fields of California's Central Valley. Their actions captivated the world and inspired generations of social movements. In 2022, farm workers repeated the march to advocate for voting rights. And this year, the United States Congress is considering creating a National Park that follows this epic journey.
We thought, why not follow the route ourselves? Starting on June 1, 2023, Guatemalan-American writer and academic J. Nathan Matias, and Global Voices’ executive director Ivan Sigal, are cycling in the footsteps of the California Farm Workers—raising funds for the Central California Environmental Justice Network and Rising Voices, Global Voices’ endangered/Indigenous language program.
Along the way, we will learn and engage with the region's history, enjoy food from the country's most productive farmlands, and meet people who are shaping the future of the Central Valley. We also hope to find new ways to see and think about our shared environmental possibilities, given the Central Valley’s essential role as food and oil producer for the world.
Our cycling route will take us 550 miles from Bakersfield to Sacramento and then to Oakland, on the Pacific coast, following the route of United Farm Workers’ historic march. The two organizations for which we're raising funds support future leaders in the Central Valley and beyond:
- The Central California Environmental Justice Network supports grassroots leadership in rural communities of color to promote environmental health education, community organizing, and citizen science
- Rising Voices supports marginalized and indigenous language communities to tell their own stories, on their own terms
We invite you to support these organizations’ important work by donating through the link below:
A journey through the past and future
From the oil fields of Bakersfield along the foothills of the Sierra Nevada to the American River in Sacramento, a journey through the Central Valley is a journey through the past and future of the United States. It's a region of immense beauty and extreme poverty, an engine of agriculture that pulses with the creativity of diverse communities and the ticking clock of climate change.
As we travel through the region, we will report on leaders working for change on California’s great inequities: that the communities that grow more than a quarter of the food eaten by U.S. consumers continue to be subjected to unfair labor practices, live under threat of environmental degradation, and face poor air quality and shortages of clean water. We'll hear about their challenges, progress, and the inspiration that leads them on.
It’s notable that California is a mecca for adventure cycling and other outdoor activities, but the Central Valley is not a hotspot for out-of-town cyclists and hikers. Yet the area is rich with compelling scenes, cultural wealth, and important stories for our shared future.
Follow our journey
- As we ride, we'll be posting photos and video to Instagram at @globalvoicesonline
- Nathan is writing a series of articles for Global Voices and will post images to Mastodon at social.coop/@natematias
- Ivan will be posting images and videos and writing about movement and geography
- If you’d like to explore the proposed National Historical Trail yourself, we'll post checkpoints and routes to the navigation app Komoot
About Nathan and Ivan
We're two longtime friends united by a passion for storytelling, cycling, and eating tasty food!
J. Nathan Matias is a Guatemalan-American writer and academic who journeys through landscape, ideas, and histories on two wheels. As a professor at Cornell, I organize citizen science for safer, more understanding digital environments. I'm also an ultra-endurance cyclist with a respiratory disability who rides to stay healthy, climbing tall hills in search of great views and clean air. As I ride, I'm writing a series of articles for Global Voices and other outlets. I also plan to eat all the paletas and tacos I possibly can!
Ivan Sigal Ivan Sigal is the executive director of Global Voices, a transnational, multilingual community of writers, translators and rights activists who work to build understanding across borders He is a media artist and writer known for his long-term explorations of societies undergoing conflict or political transition, and collaborative projects with communities to depict their own experiences and control their own media systems. His projects often include critical approaches to geographies and landscapes. He is an endurance cyclist, and an advocate for bicycles as transport at scale. He is the author of White Road, a two-volume monograph about Siberia and Central Asia (Steidl, 2012).
Stories about Fundraiser: Cycling in the footsteps of the California Farm Workers March
Hunger strike and high school graduation: A visit to The Forty Acres
Renowned as the site of labor activist Cesar Chavez's 1968 25-day hunger strike, The Forty Acres is slated for incorporation into a national park being considered by the US government.
Arvin, California: Lost futures, past hopes, deferred promises
“Owners no longer worked on the farms. They forgot the land, the smell, the feel of it, remembered only that they owned it, what they gained and lost by it.”
VIDEO: Preparing for a 500-mile bike ride
Nathan Matias and Ivan Sigal set off later today on their 500-mile fundraising bike ride. In this video they talk about how they prepared for the journey.
VIDEO: A different kind of bike ride
In this video, Nathan Matias and Ivan Sigal explain more about the fundraising ride they'll be starting on June 1, and their motivations for undertaking it.
What we're aiming to achieve with our fundraising bicycle ride—and the details of the route
As we cycle the route of the 1966 Farmworkers March, we'll be interweaving history with the stories of people who are shaping the future of California's Central Valley today.
Mapping a different kind of bicycle tour
Bicycle tours tend to prioritize exquisite landscapes, but since our ride is also a journalistic exercise, we needed to adopt a different philosophy of route-making.
On cycling, chicken shit, and alternate futures
Cycling through Pajaro, California after the devastating flooding of April 2023, J. Nathan Matias wonders what his life might have been if his body had withstood the dangers of farm labor.