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.”
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.
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.