La Raza and Barnum Park Day Celebrates Chicano Cruising on Federal Boulevard

Juan Fuentes has been photographing Denver's lowriding community for years.
Juan Fuentes has been photographing Denver's lowriding community for years. Juan Fuentes
Fans of Chicano culture are reviving the traditions of lowriding and cruising with a massive cruise down Federal Boulevard this Sunday, August 25. La Raza and Barnum Park Day: A Cruise Down Fedz will be a celebration of Chicano culture's rich history in Denver, organized by a group that includes Ben Chavez, Juan Fuentes, Armando Geneyro, Colorado poet laureate Bobby LeFebre, artist Jolt of Guerilla Garden, Denver City Council members Amanda Sandoval and Jamie Torres, Representative Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez, and Senator Julie Gonzalez.

This past Monday, Denver City Council unanimously passed a "Cruise Down Fedz" proclamation, declaring August 25 as the first "La Raza and Barnum Park: A Cruise Down Fedz Day."

"What it means is that the city and county is acknowledging the traumas that happened to people who do cruise, what has happened in the Chicano movement, acknowledging that brown people have been criminalized for cruising, and also acknowledging Chief [of Police Paul] Pazen trying to rebuild trust in communities again," explains Chavez. "Not only that, but it's acknowledging and respecting people who are staples in the Chicano movement, like Corky Gonzales, Tony Garcia and Dr. Ramon Del Castillo, all of whom are mentioned by name in the proclamation."

"It lets people know that there is a place to come gather and celebrate without being harassed," adds Fuentes. "Denver has always been an important city in the Chicano movement, and we need to celebrate that loudly."

The event's logo, designed by Jolt of Guerilla Garden. - GUERILLA GARDEN
The event's logo, designed by Jolt of Guerilla Garden.
Guerilla Garden

The proclamation is a welcome affirmation for Denver's cruising and lowriding communities, whose traditions have been threatened by the city's changing landscape. The organizers of La Raza and Barnum Park: A Cruise Down Fedz Day want to have an open dialogue with disgruntled neighbors — one in particular who complained about loud cars in the press — about the history of Chicano culture.

"I'm not saying just grin and bear it, but maybe you should go out there and shake some hands, introduce yourself," says Chavez. "If he would ever choose to participate and come and meet people, we would reciprocate and try and talk it out. That's a narrative that I hope can happen, but if it doesn't, lowriding and cruising will still continue to happen on Federal Boulevard." 

To the Chicano population, "lowriding is community, it's family, it's love and it's an art, and cruising to me is the celebration of your art," says Chavez.

Fuentes agrees that lowriding is an essential part of the Chicano culture, history and movement: "It's the biggest representation of subverting the status quo, letting people know that we're here, speaking out loud when they try to put us to the side. At the core of it is also it being a generational thing; it's a way of passing along tradition and values, and it's an artistic expression. I think where we're at now is a place where we can bring it back and let people know that while Denver is having this identity crisis, we haven't lost connection with our roots. We still represent the same things that the Chicano movement in the ’60s did, and that the lowrider community did throughout different generations."

Lowriding and cruising have been part of Denver's Chicano culture since the 1950s. - JUAN FUENTES
Lowriding and cruising have been part of Denver's Chicano culture since the 1950s.
Juan Fuentes
Fuentes hopes that this Sunday's event will help people realize that the image of lowriding as deviant behavior projected by mainstream popular culture is a misinformed falsehood: "It's never been criminal; they criminalized it, so therefore we became criminals, but it's never been a gang-related thing. It's always been about the expression of art, the expression of the cars, the art of cruising and the act of gathering."

It's also nothing new. Building lowriding cars and cruising have been staples of Chicano culture in Colorado since Mexican-Americans cruised down 15th and 16th streets in the 1950s and ’60s. In the 1980s, Federal Boulevard became Denver's hot spot for cruising, with a "Cruise down Fedz" being a rite of passage for young Chicanos to this day.

"Every little city here in Colorado has a piece of land or strip of street where Chicanos get together and cruise," explains Chavez. "The streets may have changed as to where that happens, but Federal has been our staple for the last couple decades, and our goal is to help preserve and maintain that pastime on Federal Boulevard."

Ben Chavez calls lowriders "art on wheels." - JUAN FUENTES
Ben Chavez calls lowriders "art on wheels."
Juan Fuentes
While Fuentes and Chavez agree that cruising has died down since they were teenagers, they hope to reinvigorate the tradition and bring it back into public conversation. That means wrestling with Chicano history in Denver, both good and bad.

Sunday's "Cruise Down Fedz" will start at La Raza Park, an iconic landmark in the Chicano movement because of the triumphs and traumas that occurred there. In the 1970s, the Chicano movement claimed La Raza park, but at a 1981 anniversary celebration of the park being reclaimed, attendees were teargassed, arrested and attacked by police dogs over a permitting issue.

While Chavez hopes people will enjoy Sunday's celebration, which will include an Aztec prayer at La Raza Park, he doesn't want them to forget those who paved the way for Chicanos in Denver.

"It's beautiful to have Aztec dancers and prayers, but people need to remember that history, that it wasn't beautiful all the time, and acknowledge the history of what happened in that park," Chavez says. "But we continue to be a vibrant community. We bounce back, we continue to advocate, we continue to organize, and we will continue to celebrate our culture."

A lowrider parked in front of the temple at La Raza Park. - JUAN FUENTES
A lowrider parked in front of the temple at La Raza Park.
Juan Fuentes
"La Raza and Barnum Park Day is a way to celebrate all that we've been talking about, but it's also dealing with gentrification and feeling that our narrative is being erased from the city," says Chavez. "This is our way of saying, 'We're still here, we're not going anywhere, and we would love to have you come down and learn and celebrate the right way." The right way, as he tells it, means no white people in serapes, sombreros or other culturally appropriative costumes.

Fuentes sees the celebration as a way of asserting Denver's longtime Chicano presence in the face of an ever-changing city: "If anything, we're trying to co-exist. It's not necessarily rebelling against the idea of something new. Things grow and we adapt. That's part of nature. But at the same time, we're fighting that sense of erasure. There's a wide disconnect, it seems, and this is bridging that gap as well."

Paletas will be available for sale at Barnum Park on Sunday. - JUAN FUENTES
Paletas will be available for sale at Barnum Park on Sunday.
Juan Fuentes

The free celebration will begin at 1 p.m. Sunday, August 25, at La Raza Park, 1501 West 38th Avenue, with a Danza Azteca or Aztec prayer at 1:30 p.m. The cruise down Federal will start moving at 2 p.m., and could take up to two hours to get to its final destination at Barnum Park, 360 Hooker Street.

There will be no escort besides a few Chicano bikers who volunteered to ride at the beginning and end of the group, and the organizers are expecting a large number of participants. They've contacted almost every car club in Denver.

At Barnum Park, there will be tacos, elotes and paletas available for purchase, as well as a few speakers beginning around 4 p.m. Chavez, Jolt and Torres will speak about Denver's longtime lowriding tradition and Chicano culture, and LeFebre will read a poem. Those who can't make it to the cruise are still invited to gather at Barnum Park around 3 p.m.

The cruise is open to all, and, no, you don't have to drive a lowrider to participate. In fact, several grandmothers have told organizers they plan on loading their families into mini-vans for the cruise. However, if you don't plan on cruising, organizers ask that you carpool or use a ride-share service so that there's plenty of parking for those who do plan on cruising.

Says Chavez, "I just want people to cruise, cruise safely, cruise respectfully and have a fun, safe day. This is the first one, and we want to make it amazing and successful, and we hope next year and years in the future, it continues to grow and evolve."

Correction August 23, 2019: Serena Gonzales-Gutierrez's name was misspelled in an earlier version of this story.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Cleo Mirza recently graduated from Kenyon College with a degree in English and anthropology. She enjoys good food, cheap wine and the company of her dog, Rudy.
Contact: Cleo Mirza