One big Federal Boulevard cruise marked a new era for a Chicano tradition

Once harassed by police, Denver’s Chicano cruisers were embraced by the city this weekend. It’s a big shift, and an emotional one for some.

A cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

A cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

KEVIN-lighter

Mikey Bartolo has been cruising Denver’s north and west sides since he was a kid. It’s a tradition he’s always loved, but sometimes a drive down Federal Boulevard was more complicated than a nice Sunday afternoon should be.

Every now and then, he remembered, two cruisers with beef might get into it in the park afterwards. He said interpersonal conflict might have been one reason why the police were usually heavy handed in making the drivers move along, but generally, he said, they just wanted low riders off of Federal.

“We were hated,” he recalled. “The cops would just harass us.”

But the city has turned over a new leaf as it relates to cruises. City Council recently proclaimed that the tradition is part and parcel of Denver’s cultural history. A big cruise, bookended by gatherings at Barnum and La Raza (officially Columbus) parks, was attended by Police Chief Paul Pazen and a quartet of Chicano legislators from the city and state.

It’s why Bartolo teared up Sunday when he started talking about how things have changed. Seeing so much support — and seeing members of his community in seats of power — means a lot to a guy who used to get chased away for doing the thing he loves so much.

“It’s our day of redemption,” he said. “This is a day we can smile.”

Mikey Bartolo and his Denver-themed low rider at Barnum Park after a cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Mikey Bartolo poses for a portrait at Barnum Park. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Mikey Bartolo's Denver-themed low rider is parked at Barnum Park after a cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Mikey Bartolo's Denver-themed low rider. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Bobby LeFebre, Colorado’s newly minted Poet Laureate and the playwright behind “Northside“, said Sunday’s cruise was meant to further communicate his community’s place in the changing city. It’s in line with the message of his play, which is all about the struggles legacy communities face as neighborhoods gentrify. One take-away from the piece is that disenfranchised people should own businesses and property to fight cultural erosion.

Reclaiming the street with a line of low riders is another way to maintain that foothold.

“A lot of times, when marginalized groups are continually pushed to the side, they have to do things that remind people that they’re there,” he said. “Low rider culture, car culture, it’s a way for us to subvert that status quo.”

Silas “Jolt” Ulibarri, who helped organize the cruise, said the key to recognition and celebration is making it inclusive. He said he wants the larger community to join in the fun. Now that city officials have proclaimed cruising’s place in its cultural heritage, he hopes to see the tradition grow.

“It’s standing our ground and letting you know that the culture is here. But it’s also inviting everybody to experience the culture,” he said. “The table’s been set, but we have seats for everybody to come join.”

This huge day of cruising and community celebration is a “holiday” now, he said. He expects to see this repeat year after year.

Another next step, Ulibarri added, is the official renaming of Columbus Park, which has always been known as La Raza. Denver’s Chicano community has long fought for the change, another recognition of the north side’s cultural heritage. They very well may see it happen within the next year.

Colorado Poet Laureate Bobby LeFebre listens to Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen speak at Barnum Park after a cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Colorado Poet Laureate Bobby LeFebre listens to Police Chief Paul Pazen speak at Barnum Park. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Stare Sen. Julie Gonzales (left to right), City Councilwomen Amanda Sandoval and Jamie Torres and State House Rep. Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez are blessed with smoke at La Raza (or Columbus) Park before a cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

State Sen. Julie Gonzales (left to right), City Councilwomen Amanda Sandoval and Jamie Torres and State House Rep. Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez are blessed with smoke at La Raza (or Columbus) Park. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

City Councilwoman Amanda Sandoval told Denverite she has it on her list of things to accomplish before 2020. She hasn’t gotten any conversations started with city department leads, but she knows how to work the proposal through the right processes. She helped Councilwoman Judy Montero add “La Alma” — “the soul” — to Lincoln Park’s official signage in 2013, and she’s sure the community will back her.

Looking around at the hundreds of people gathered in Sunnyside before the cruise, she said: “I think that I’ll find the support.”

Correction: Mig Carr’s first name was originally misspelled in this piece, a few cars were incorrectly identified and Rovance Taylor and Desiree Christian were also incorrectly identified.

Drivers circle around La Raza (or Columbus) Park before a cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Drivers circle around La Raza (or Columbus) Park before a cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Motorcyclists circle around La Raza (or Columbus) Park before a cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Motorcyclists circle around La Raza (or Columbus) Park before a cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Drivers circle around La Raza (or Columbus) Park before a cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Drivers circle around La Raza (or Columbus) Park before a cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Avery Peinado and Juan Guzman work on a hydraulic system at La Raza (or Columbus) Park before a cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Avery Peinado and Juan Guzman work on a hydraulic system at La Raza (or Columbus) Park before a cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Donna Miramontes checks out a shiny low rider parked by La Raza (or Columbus) Park before a cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Donna Miramontes checks out a shiny low rider parked by La Raza (or Columbus) Park before a cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Izzy Chakam's '56 Chevy is parked by La Raza (or Columbus) Park before a cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Marcus Lopez's Buick Regal is parked by La Raza (or Columbus) Park before a cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Drivers circle around La Raza (or Columbus) Park before a cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Andres Deras' Chevy pickup. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Mio Carr works on his low rider parked by La Raza (or Columbus) Park before a cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Mig Carr works on his low rider parked by La Raza (or Columbus) Park before a cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Popped hydraulics. Drivers circle around La Raza (or Columbus) Park before a cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Popped hydraulics. Drivers circle around La Raza (or Columbus) Park before a cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

One of many chrome engines. La Raza (or Columbus) Park before a cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

One of many chrome engines. La Raza (or Columbus) Park before a cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Aztec dancers perform a ceremonial dance at La Raza (or Columbus) Park before a cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Aztec dancers perform a ceremonial dance at La Raza (or Columbus) Park before a cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Aztec dancers perform a ceremonial dance at La Raza (or Columbus) Park before a cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Aztec dancers perform a ceremonial dance at La Raza (or Columbus) Park before a cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Aztec dancers perform a ceremonial dance at La Raza (or Columbus) Park before a cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Aztec dancers perform a ceremonial dance at La Raza (or Columbus) Park before a cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Cruisers hang out beneath the pyramid at La Raza (or Columbus) Park before a cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Cruisers hang out beneath the pyramid at La Raza (or Columbus) Park before a cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Low riders cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Low riders cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

A cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

A cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

A cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

A cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

A cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

A cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

A cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

A cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

A cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

A cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

A cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

A cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

A cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

A cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

A cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

A cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

A cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

A cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Jerry Crawford III poses with his low rider at Barnum Park after a cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Jerry Crawford III poses with his low rider at Barnum Park after a cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

George and Angelina Gutierrez pose for a photo with their low rider at Barnum Park after a cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

George and Angelina Gutierrez pose for a photo with their low rider at Barnum Park after a cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

The low rider Marlene Swazo's husband built for her at Barnum Park, after a cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

The low rider Marlene Swazo's husband built for her at Barnum Park, after a cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Marlene Swazo poses with the car her husband built for her at Barnum Park, after a cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Marlene Swazo poses with the car her husband built for her at Barnum Park, after a cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Armando Torres-Arevalo poses for a portrait with his low rider at Barnum Park, after a cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Armando Torres-Arevalo poses for a portrait with his low rider at Barnum Park, after a cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Vincent Nieto poses for a portrait with his dad's Suburban at Barnum Park, after a cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Vincent Nieto poses for a portrait with his dad's Suburban at Barnum Park, after a cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Rovance Taylor and Desiree Christian pose for a portrait at Barnum Park after a cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Rovance Taylor and Desiree Christian pose for a portrait at Barnum Park after a cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Sam Henry and Gina Armijo's low rider is parked at Barnum Park after a cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Rovance Taylor and Desiree Christian's low rider is parked at Barnum Park after a cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Sam Henry and Gina Armijo's low rider is parked at Barnum Park after a cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Rovance Taylor and Desiree Christian's low rider is parked at Barnum Park after a cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

A crowd is gathered at Barnum Park after a cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

A crowd is gathered at Barnum Park after a cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen speaks to a crowd at Barnum Park after a cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen speaks to a crowd at Barnum Park after a cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

The Denver Police Department low rider is parked at Barnum Park after a cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

The Denver Police Department low rider is parked at Barnum Park after a cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Cars drive through Barnum Park after a cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Cars drive through Barnum Park after a cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Officer Mark Garcia poses for a portrait with his low rifer at Barnum Park after a cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Officer Mark Garcia poses for a portrait with his low rifer at Barnum Park after a cruise down Federal Boulevard. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Jenine and Denver Police Commander Jeff Martinez cruise through Barnum Park. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Jenine and Denver Police Commander Jeff Martinez cruise through Barnum Park. Aug. 25, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

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