Dewey Gallegos is a Laramie, Wyoming native, community leader, bike enthusiast, and owner of the Laramie local bike shop, the Pedal House. Latino Outdoors was excited for the opportunity to interview with him to learn more about his connection to land and Chicano heritage.
- Tell us your story, what is your connection to the land?
How could someone that has been born and raised in Laramie, Wyoming not be connected to the land. I was young when we didn’t have the technologies we have today so it was a lot easier to be enticed by the wild things creeping and crawling in the woods. My mother, Gloria, was a single mother for a while, and I think that gave me a little freedom to move around and explore the outdoors. Luckily, we lived two blocks from the river so I spent a great deal of time there with my Uncle David and his friends. They were older, all former boy scouts, and basically my heroes. We played with bb guns and bows and arrows. I remember being something of an outsider because whenever we played “cowboys and Indians”, I wanted to be Clint Eastwood and all of my friends wanted to be the Indians. I didn’t learn until later that we were more Native than Mexican. That actually impacted my desire to be outside more when I found out about my ancestry, and for a while I did the thing s that I thought a Native would do outside. Collected rocks, or sage, or something. I just wanted to be connected to something, like most people I guess. I really didn’t find my own personal connection to the land until I started riding my bike. And I don’t mean riding my bike like my friends, like 12 year olds who didn’t have drivers license’s yet. I found out, around 17 years of age, that I was an introvert who liked to spend lots of time on my own. I would ride around all day, and sometimes, all night on a stolen mountain bike my friend Miguel and I called affectionately, The Black Bike. For point of clarity, I didn’t steal the bike. I am not innocent, I knew the bike was stolen, but I rode it anyway. This bike opened a door for me. Some friends and I went camping, and Miguel and I brought bikes. I found some single track, over near Devil’s Playground, and I was hooked. I had a new love, a love that I still feel today, so I guess I would say that my connection to the outdoors has always been intensified by my relationship with my bike.
- How is this connection understood or misunderstood in your community?
My cultural community has always looked at my fascination with bicycles and the outdoors as something of an oddity. I grew up with my best friend and riding partner Miguel Rosales, so I did have a friend with a similar identity to relate with, but in general most of my family members would always ask questions like, “So you really wear those tight clothes and go out in public?” Engrained in our ideas of identity as American’s is the idea that we need to be automobile owners, and for some reason I think Chicano people tend to amplify this ideal. I do have family that goes hunting and fishing, but other than that, they don’t spend much time outside playing in the woods. I guess I just don’t see enough Chicanos outside playing after they can drive a car.
- Chicano identities connected to the outdoors, the environment, conservation—how are those words reflective of you?
I believe we have a responsibility to protect our outdoor recreation areas. I have a strong connection to my Native heritage, but I am in no way one of those people who believe that we Natives are able to listen to the wind or are somehow more connected to the land than any other cultural group. I only say this because my sense of responsibility isn’t derived from my culture, but from my selfishness to preserve my playground, and insure that there are spaces where the next generations can also recreate in the outdoors. I have worked with several Native and Chicano kids who have never been mountain biking or rock climbing, or even hiking in the woods. The more people who have no connection to the land, the fewer people who have no urgency to preserve the disappearing landscape that makes Wyoming so unique. I also look at the socioeconomics of the situation and realize how privileged I am to be able to play at all, much less outside. After working a 12 hour shift, going to the woods to recreate isn’t my priority, especially if I have to get up in the morning and do it all again. I have no idea how my mother, a single mom, was able to pull it off. I guess it was the familial support system she had in place, but a lot of Chicano people don’t. I think that is where groups like yours come into play, at least I hope so.
- What needs to change to have the broader conservation movement connect with it?
Programs that get kids outside are the way to go. Kids from all cultures need to be outside, playing in the woods. We need to realize why we always working so hard in our daily hum drum lives, and for me that is so that I can get outside and explore the deepest darkest corners of the world. We also need mentors who are willing to share these moments with people in a responsible way. We need to organize into groups, like Laramie BikeNet, and work with local landowners, the BLM, and the National Forest Service to insure our lands are protected.
- Why does your connection to land and work at the Pedal House matter to you?
As a bike shop owner, it is a financial answer I could give you, but that would not be the real reason. I love when I am sitting on top of a mountain, an hour from the car, and I get to see the sunrise in a way no one else is experiencing at that moment. I am not a religious or spiritual man, so this is more of a logical thing for me. Logically, when I feel the wind on my face, I don’t need to believe in something I can’t understand, but rather I am willing to wait to find out and try to live well in the meantime. For me to live well I need this connection with the land, with the wind, with the trees. I believe in trees. I believe in wind. I believe that these relationships with land are necessary for our survival as a people too, and it isn’t anything more than logic either. I just feel good when I am there, and I think that others would have the same or similar feelings if the listened long enough. But these experiences are hard to come by for some people in our culture. For reasons I mentioned earlier, but also because of the idea we have of ourselves as an Urban culture. That is only part of who we are. We need to rekindle some of that connection for the sake of the world. We need these open spaces so the next generation can experience a sense of place on our little planet. So hopefully they too can believe in trees.
- What does success in this connection to land and Chicano identity look like to you?
I guess it looks like every group bicycle ride I have been on, only with more Chicano people in the group. Smiling, laughing, giggling. It would also be great to have more Chicano people joining the local outdoor groups, and participating in outdoor events. Programs like yours are the key to this.
- How has work with the Pedal House been reflective of all this?
I am currently working as a coach for young people, and sponsor many events to encourage youth to get outside. I did, however, work in a program where we took kids out for one week hiking, biking and counseling trips to try to provide positive experiences in nature. We provided opportunities for kids who didn’t have a chance to play in the woods themselves. Now I use my business to continue this work. I am believe that it is my responsibility to make sure I spend time passing on what I have learned to the next generation.