On the Road with America's Poor
By Kath Weston
Beacon Press, Hardcover, 9780807041376, 272pp.
Publication Date: September 1, 2008
How far can you get on two tacos, one Dr. Pepper, and a little bit of conversation? What happens when you're broke and you need to get to a new job, an ailing parent, a powwow, college, or a funeral on the other side of the country? And after decades of globalization, what kind of America will you glimpse through the window on your way? For five years, Kath Weston rode the bus to find out.
Weston's route takes her through northeastern cities buried under layoffs, an immigration raid in the Southwest, an antiwar rally in the capitol, and the path traced by Hurricane Katrina. Like any road story, this one has characters that linger in the imagination: the trucker who has to give up his rig to have an operation; the teenager who can turn any Hollywood movie into a rap song; the homeless veteran who dreams of running his own shrimp boat; the sketch artist who breathes life into African American history; the single mother scrambling for loose change. But Traveling Light is not just another book about people stuck in poverty. Rather, it's a book about how people move through poverty and their insights into the sweeping economic changes that affect us all.
The bus is a place where unexpected generosity coexists with pickup lines and scams, where civic debates thrive and injustice finds some of its most acute analysts. Hard-working people rub shoulders with others who rap, sketch, and story new worlds into being. Folded into these poignant narratives are headlines, studies, and statistics that track the intensification of poverty and inequality as the United States enters the twenty-first-century. If sharp-eyed observations and down-to-earth critique-of the health care system, imperialism, the state of the environment, or corporate downsizing-are what you're looking for, Weston suggests the bus is the place to find it. The result is a moving meditation on living poor in the world's wealthiest nation.
"Ostensibly about 'moving' poor in 21st century America, Traveling Light is really the human story about life under corporate globalization, not just for the under-privileged but for all of us. Weston's trademark insight peppers every page of this ethnography that reads like a novel. Brilliant, haunting, powerful, and ultimately inspiring…The nation needs to reckon with what Weston has uncovered." —Juliet Schor
"Kath Weston's Traveling Light is a bold book-compassionate and even heroic. It looks at the America we ignore as we speed past on our way to the shopping mall and the family vacation. But, it argues, this too is America. Our America. Traveling Light stands as that rare thing, a work of witness. But it is also that rarest thing, a great read. In the great tradition of adventuresome road books and anguished social commentary, Weston has created a testament to the abiding greatness of our national soul." —Luis Alberto Urrea, author of The Devil's Highway and The Hummingbird's Daughter
"In this age of the transnational and globalization, where the world is divided between rich and poor nations, Kath Weston discovers America's hidden poor in the transcontinental, if not the translocal. Traveling Light is an ingenious, funny, insightful, and compassionate account of the masses who bus it around the country. And in retelling the stories they tell each other, she offers a compelling account of persistent poverty in early 21st century America and the struggle to survive it." —Robin D. G. Kelley, author of Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination
"Feminist anthropologist Kath Weston has written an extraordinary book in which she manages to both humanize the so called underclass and critique the brutal capitalist system that spawns them. Beautifully written and compelling in its visual detail, Traveling Light is simply a pioneering book." —Beverly Guy Sheftall, Anna J. Cooper Professor of Women's Studies at Spelman College
"What makes Traveling Light stand out from much writing about the poor are Weston's brilliant strategies for telling the stories of the people that she encounters. Chance meetings in a classic 'on the road' narrative become occasions for curiosity, and the reader is totally absorbed by what Weston calls 'the artistry of living poor'-not its nobility or pathos, but a rich life created out of sheer unpredictability."—George Marcus, author of Ethnography Through Thick & Thin