//Cruisers and other car enthusiasts gather their classic and modern cars in a King Soopers parking lot at Mississippi and Havana for an evening cruise on Aug. 22. Photos by Esteban Fernandez | email@example.com
Last year, CBS4 Denver ran a piece titled “Neighbors Fed up with Cruising, Booming Cars on Federal.” The piece in question featured a white man complaining about the cruising culture that has for years been a centerpiece of life on Federal Boulevard. Newscasters introduced the story by framing cruising as a problem afflicting Federal, one in need of solving.
The resultant outcry from the Latinx and Chicanx community made itself heard after the piece was run, and a year later the city publicly acknowledged Denver’s historical cruising roots. They dedicated an entire day to the tradition. Cruise Down Fedz Day, as it’s called, reflected an acknowledgment of Denver’s cruising culture. The new celebration, to be held yearly each August, also puts the long history that Latinx and Chicanx residents have here in Denver front and center.
Chicanx is a chosen identity for people of Mexican descent that are born in the United States. Latinx refers to people with cultural ties to Latin America.
Even the park the festivities are held at is undergoing a change to reflect the history. Residents of the area refuse to acknowledge the official name of the park, instead opting to repatriate it as “La Raza” Park. And now, there’s an official push to rename the park to what local residents have known the park as all along.
This particular incident demonstrated something very clear to many people within Denver’s Black and Brown communities. As affluent people of white backgrounds move into their neighborhoods, many hyperlocal customs and traditions are being pushed out by residents with no history or ties to the area. This has become a source of tension between both groups, as newcomers seek to change the area to suit their own tastes.
Cruising down Federal is a tradition with deep roots in Denver. It goes back about half a century into the 1960s. Displaying pride for their cars, Latinx and Chicanx motor enthusiasts show off their well kept, customized vehicles and embark on cruises around Denver with other cruisers. Many participants ride in lowriders, the traditional vehicle for many cruisers. Lowriders are customized vehicles with hydraulic jacks that allow the chassis to be lowered nearly to the road. Lowriders often come customized with intricate designs and eye-popping colors, which are an expression of the driver’s personality.
One major Denver throughway with a deep history of cruising is Federal Blvd. However, only until recently has it gained legitimacy in the eyes of city officials. And for many outside the Latinx and Chicanx communities where cruising takes place, it still has negative connotations. Coverage of several shootings on Federal has been associated with cruising culture by some media outlets. But for the people involved in the culture, there is little truth to this association. For them, cruising is a lifestyle that ties members to community and family.
“It’s a deterrent from gangs and maybe some drugs, and lowriders help out the community a lot by doing fundraisers,” said Alphonso Alazavala of the Compas Car Club. The club is a gathering of members and their cars which they show off and drive around town together with.
Alazavala said that he’s been around this culture since he was born. To him, it means everything and he’s even gotten his kids involved. There’s nothing like it in the world to him, he said, going down the street in his old car and getting thumbs up from onlookers as he passes by.
“You gotta experience it for yourself, you know what I mean? It’s a great feeling,” he said.
Members don’t just drive their cars around town, either. They’ve been involved in fundraising drives for an orphanage in Mexico and collect food for people experiencing homelessness.
However, Alazavala and others who share his love of lowrider culture also share a common frustration. When several shootings took place on Federal in August, news stations that covered the story showed pictures of lowrider cars when discussing the crimes. However, Alazavala said the people who were responsible for the shootings belonged to a truck group that had nothing to do with the lowrider community. He was frustrated that the news stations didn’t even bother to understand what the differences between the two groups were.
This conflation between lowriding and crime is nothing new. Historically, cruising has been presented by the police and the media as sinister and associated with gang activity. In fact, only within the last decade did the narrative change enough to allow for cultural pride events like Cruise Down Fedz Day to take place.
“Honestly it wasn’t celebrated and honored by law enforcement or elected [officials] until recently. There was always, kind of, this association of hoodlums to cruisers, and we’ve worked hard to move away from all of that,” said Denver City Councilwoman Jaime Torres.
Torres was among those instrumental to having the day proposed and passed by Denver City Council.
Lowriding isn’t just a form of cultural expression for these communities. At a time when gentrification is pushing the original inhabitants out of the neighborhoods they’ve traditionally occupied by more affluent white people, lowriding can be a powerful form of resistance.
“We felt like we’re outsiders in our own neighborhoods. So, this allows us to not only be seen by how we meet in our cars, but to be known, that we still exist,” said Cynthia Gonzalez. She and a friend were enjoying the festivities at “La Raza” Park on Cruise Down Fedz Day.
The cars themselves are an art form, but that’s not the only function they fulfill. Gonzalez said they’re an extension of how many in the Chicanx and lowrider community see themselves. It’s a point of pride, an appreciation of how much work goes into making the cars themselves beautiful. It’s similar to self-care rituals found within white communities, she said, like going to pilates or purchasing an aftercare protein shake.
“You move into a place where these traditions have been going on for a long time and you always want to—and you can—use the word bitch and complain because that’s what gentrifiers do,” said Gonzalez’s friend, who asked to remain anonymous. “They bitch and complain. They think they have the right to change traditions that have been going on forever.”
Many cruisers are now middle-aged adults, they have families and own businesses. Where in the past police may have looked upon them with suspicion or even tried to arrest them, these days they come out and admire the cars. There is less of a threat and more of a sense of community.
“I have a couple of pictures of Denver [police officers] and my car,” said one member from the Compas Car Club.
Armando Geneyro is a photographer who focuses on capturing cruises and lowriders and was at La Raza Park enjoying the festivities. Much of his work circles around the culture and the community that creates it. He stressed the importance of changing the narrative around cruising. He echoed something Gonzalez said, about the responsibility the media had to not perpetuate a biased perception. At that point, Gonzalez said, one can’t perpetuate a perception and also not be responsible for contributing to that perception.
“Journalism should be almost kind of like the way policing works. If journalists and the police don’t go out into this community to see what’s happening for themselves, how can they really report on it responsibly,” Geneyro asked.
For Geneyro, cruising is about family and tradition coming together to pass culture down through the upcoming generations. It’s a far cry from the drag racing, shootings and gang activity that they are often misassociated with.
Denver City Council voted last year to make Aug. 25 an officially recognized day dedicated to cruising. For many involved in the tradition, an officially recognized cruise such as this one is an important bridge between the car clubs and the community at large.
“This day is important because it, hopefully, it helps change that perspective in the mainstream,” Geneyro said.