There’s a certain intersectionality in Colorado’s ski resort-oriented mountain towns.
From Aspen to Telluride, some of our most pressing issues – environmentalism, immigration policy, racism, and social inequality- converge in a dichotomous (and often contentious) relationship between rich inhabitants and immigrant workforces.
“Living in Summit County is a dream and a nightmare. A dream because it is an amazing place, and a nightmare because my parents struggled to survive with the high living cost,” said Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient, Javier Pineda.
Originally from Pátzcuaro, Mexico, Pineda belongs to an immediate family of 7 that moved to the U.S. to find work and seek a better lifestyle. A Summit County resident since 2006, he often found himself pondering his cultural identity.
On one hand, the 25-year-old paralegal is an avid fat biker, splitboarder, and hiker who enjoys all the outdoor pursuits mountain living can offer. However, his interest in the sports has earned him the derogatory nickname of “Upside down Oreo” (acting white while being brown) by his Latino peers.
Adding to Pineda’s confusion was a sense of unease that accompanied him whenever he was participating in outdoor recreation activities.
“I realized that I felt out of place- as if I was trespassing into the natural forest. Nor did I see many people of color doing similar things outdoors like hiking up or snowboarding down a mountain,” he explained.
Inspired by The Slums of Aspen: Immigrants vs. the Environment in America’s Eden (2011) and film The Quiet Force (2019), this weekend Pineda is cycling from Copper Mountain to Aspen to raise awareness about the American Dream and Promise Act.
According to immigrant advocacy group, Mountain Dreamers (of which Pineda is a board member), the American Dream and Promise Act would protect more than two and a half million Dreamers and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders from deportation, and also provide a path to permanent resident status for individuals who meet certain requirements.
Overworked and often unappreciated, immigrant employees are the lifeblood of tourist-focused mountain towns. His ride could not be more timely, as the future of the immigrant workforce is uncertain.
“The goal is to continue to highlight the community’s immigrant stories,” said Pineda.
“There is a need to diversify the outdoors and emphasize that public lands are for all. I hope my ride will raise awareness about (our) plight and inspire those to call their member of Congress to urge for a permanent plan,” he added.
Powered by Immigrants
Because of the specific nature of ski resort towns and the immigrant workforce they depend upon, the subjects of immigration and environmentalism are inextricably linked.
In the mountains, even Pineda’s social justice ride cannot escape the rigid polarity between the rich and the poor residents of Summit, Eagle, and Pitkin counties.
Take for example, the Triple Bypass alpine road bike ride. Each July, thousands of Coloradoan cyclists pay nearly $200 each to embark on a grueling 120-mile ride that begins in Evergreen and ends in Avon.
This weekend, Pineda will be riding the equivalent mileage, but won’t be issued a commemorative jersey, have strategically placed aid stations along the route, or experience the luxury of having roads closed off to vehicular traffic along the way.
An act of protesting environmental racism, Pineda maintains the ride is symbolic of how he and 17,000 other Colorado Dreamers have overcome many challenges along the way.
The immigrant workforce is especially vital to the mountain communities in which they work, but cannot afford to live. Their contributions to the mountain towns that thrive on tourism are significant because they comprise such a large number of employees in the service and hospitality industries.
Starting at Copper Mountain, his journey will take him on frontage roads and recreational paths that run parallel to I-70 to Glenwood Springs, and eventually, CO-82 that will lead him to the endpoint of Aspen.
The Paradox of Being Needed, but Unwanted
Reaching Aspen is of particular significance to Pineda.
The ski resort community of Aspen, along with Pitkin County, are the places where systematic environmental racism in the form of anti-immigration resolutions (disguised as environmental protections) were passed in 1999 and 2000.
Citing environmental concerns (loss of greenspace and overdevelopment of wilderness), the resolutions called for limiting the number of immigrants in the mountain community; thereby implicating the immigrant working class as scapegoats in current and future ecological problems by mere suggestion.
The basic rationale behind the resolutions was that the influx of immigrant workers was primarily responsible for surges in population growth. Furthermore, the resolutions maintained that population growth threatened natural resources by not only contributing to, but accelerating environmental degradation by stretching resources used for waste disposal, water supplies, etc.
What is disturbing is that without explicitly naming the Latino immigrant workforce, there is little doubt which population the resolutions were targeting.
The resolutions served as a late capitalist textbook example of NIMBY privilege and power. Portraying themselves as stewards of the land, Aspen City Council exercised their power by widening the inequality gap between the rich and poor.
Insidious by design, the resolutions also provided policymakers an opportunity to reinforce a certain hypocrisy (i.e. immigrant workers are undesirable residents, but are necessary to maintain a privileged lifestyle for the rich) while simultaneously exposing environmental and economic prejudice.
Who are the “real” victims?
Despite their own role in altering ecosystems and reshaping land for profit, through the passing of the resolutions, Aspen residents managed to somehow flip the narrative by bizarrely claiming that they themselves were the victims of environmental degradation brought on by an influx of undesirable immigrant workers. In other words, the privileged portrayed themselves as the oppressed.
It was because of the DACA program that enabled Pineda, his family and peers to legally study, work, and fully contribute to their communities without fear of deportation.
Pineda was introduced to bicycles at the age of 12, when his family moved to Breckenridge and purchased a bike he had to share with his brother. He picked up the sport quickly, and began taking longer rides. Last year, he began bikepacking.
“We are privileged to live in Summit County, where there is great biking and inclines right in our backyard,” he said.
To prepare for the ride, Pineda bike commuted to work and also snuck in some training rides at least three times a week. He also consulted with Uri Carlson, owner of Breckenridge’s Inner Wild Nutrition to strategize what performance foods he would need to take.
For the big ride, Pineda will be using a 2017 Diamondback Century road bike that his family helped him purchase. His kit includes Oveja Negra bikepacking bags, REI rain jacket, Black Diamond headlamp, and Skratch Labs sports nutrition.
Uncertainty among the immigrant workforce persists.
At the end of June 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court made the decision to hear arguments on the termination of the DACA program on November 12, 2019, further increasing fear among the immigrant workforce.
In honor of Pineda’s ride, those interested in supporting the rights of immigrants in mountain towns can provide a financial donation to Mountain Dreamers in his name.