July 18, 2003

La Prensa Persa

Editors Note: The biweekly column of La Prensa Persa (The Persian Press), is an opportunity for members of the middle-eastern communities to communicate and talk about the many issues facing them, immigration law, civil and constitutional rights to name a few, which not only impact that community but also impact the Hispanic community.

In The Name of Peace: From Cycling to Running!

By Kathy Hadizadeh

It is almost a year since the U.S. started practicing new rules for U.S. borders especially the US/Mexican border. Those days before Sep.11 and even a few months afterwards you could cross the border just by showing your California ID/Driver license. Nowadays things are way different.

Reza Baluchi, an Iranian cyclist, left Iran six years ago and biked across six continents, about 46000 miles, in the name of peace. Reza experienced the horror of violence many times in his life before he started his journey in the name of peace. Living in Iran, he witnessed his brother coming back from Iran-Iraq war all shattered, he was caught by government agents for his deeds breaking the Islamic law. Spending 18 months in prison for associating with “counter-revolutionaries” was the last straw that broke the camel’s back .It was then he started pedaling for Peace. He confronted many ups and downs in his quest for peace but nothing was comparable to what he experienced crossing US/Mexican border.

After the events of September 11, 2001 Reza had decided to ride to Ground Zero to express his goodwill for the American people. Riding north through Mexico Reza’s journey abruptly halted. He mistakenly crossed the border and was arrested by U.S. Border Patrol agents who found him camping in the Arizona desert. You can guess what happened afterwards. He was charged with entering US illegally and was imprisoned at the INS detention center in Florence, Arizona. After a few months imprisonment with the help of American gentleman: David Hyslop, finally, in February 2003, an immigration judge-LaMonte Feerks- granted Reza political asylum.

David Hyslop was one of the many people who received an e-mail on Reza’s imprisonment in INS jail and decided to help him. He offered Reza a place to stay after he was released from INS prison,

While in prison, Reza stated that if freed, he would finish his peace tour by running on foot from Los Angeles to New York to arrive in Ground Zero right on Sep.11, 2003.He wanted to demonstrate to the world what he believed in: “War is bad and peace is good.” Reza wants to be a messenger of Peace. He has the doctrine of freedom and practices the religion of freedom. He wants to communicate his beliefs in the loudest possible voice to all people.

After months of preparation on May 11, 2003, he officially started running for peace. In this quest Reza is accompanied by Hyslop, a 47-year-old LA entrepreneur that helped Reza after he was freed from jail, now is helping Reza to fulfill that promise. David accompanies Reza on a donated RV and helps Reza plan his way through continental USA and arranges the public appearances/interviews with different magazines/media so the efforts of Reza can be reflected appropriately when he arrives in NY on September 11, 2003.

In each town Reza has been warmly welcomed by Iranians living in that town. Iranians try to support him through donations to make sure that his journey goes on smoothly. Yet what Reza states as the best support is just somebody to run with him shoulder by shoulder. Even some Persian supporters fly from LA or other parts of US to where he is to accompany him in his running quest. In each town, Reza and David regal listeners with stories about the runner’s adventures traveling around the world and across the United States. Reza’s native language is Farsi, so David and him communicate in a mixture of English and Spanish.

David about Reza says: “He doesn’t have a political agenda, he doesn’t have a religious agenda. He simply wants peace and tolerance among all people. He’s doing the rest with his feet.”

Reza’s message is so simple, so touching yet so valuable. It reminds me of Forrest Gump:*

Lieutenant Dan: Have you found God yet, Gump?

Forrest Gump: I didn’t know I was supposed to be looking for him.

Looking for God in here seems like searching for peace. We all talk about it; we hope it will rule over our world but how much time do we ever spend thinking about it closing our eyes on all prejudices around us?

So far, Reza has run through California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and part of Oklahoma. He plans to continue traveling east along Interstate 40 nearly to the east coast, go north for a stop in Washington, D.C., and then run towards final destination: New York City.**

All the time, Reza is asked if he is tired and he always answers with a cheerful face: “I cannot stop. I run for peace.”

* From Forrest Gump movie (1994): http://www.atlyrics.com/quotes/f/forestgump.html

**You can follow Reza and his progress through: http://www. run4peace.com/

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