Los Harlistas


Here's something people may not know about me: I have always wanted to be Latino. A Texican, specifically –– best of both worlds, in my opinion –– but any sort of Latino in a pinch.

It's a strange wish to have, I suppose. I am a white male Protestant of Western European descent, with all the societal privileges that entails. Cops don't hassle me. Despite flunking out of high school (because I was too busy chasing girls), I charmed my way into college. In fairness to me, I am pretty damn awesome; so, many of the positives I've experienced in life are very much my own doing. But I realise that, at the very least, my skin colour/heritage has never hindered me. Whereas I am fully aware that being Latino can earn a person a tremendous amount of unwarranted abuse from certain people with my ethnic background.

But still, for as long as I can remember, I've thought Latinos were cool and wished I could claim such heritage.

I grew up in Texas, of course, where the Latino and Gringo cultures blur so much as to make it sometimes difficult to tell which is which. Indeed, in certain parts of Texas, such as Brownsville, news stations won't bother translating into English if they interview a Spanish speaker.

As a kid, the catch-all term for Latinos was "Mexican." In my mind there were only three places on Earth: Texas, Mexico and everywhere else. Texas, of course, was the best; Mexico was where all the good food, pretty girls and bad-ass dudes came from; and everywhere else was the sad, miserable domain of the unfortunate and damned.

But as I say, I loved the "Mexicans." I wanted to be one. For the kid version of me, part of the appeal was the flamboyance that is often a part of Latino culture. Whether you're talking about baile folklórico or lowrider culture or the Tejano dudes with their shining cowboy boots and immaculately pressed shirts, I was drawn to the sort of colourful self-assuredness that is inherent in such things.

As I got a little older I found I was drawn to that confidence in other ways: the girls knew they were gorgeous; the boys never backed down from a fight. In Houston all the Latino kids I knew (and I knew a lot –– I went to Welch Middle School, where whites make up just 2 percent of the student body) were fluent in both English and Spanish, and could spin beautiful verbal circles around you. The Latino kids found it impossible to bully me because I so enjoyed their taunts.

Eventually my family moved out of Texas, I got older, and my picture of Latinos broadened. I still love that element of beautiful arrogance, which I now know extends from Spain. But I love, too, the strong family bonds that so often run through the culture. I admire the acceptance of emotion. Standing on the outside, it seems to me that Latino men can be tougher than anything if they want, but they are also willing to show deep emotion –– passion, sadness, love, etc.

I'm digressing. I could go on and on, evermore exposing my embarrassing "whiteness." But the point is this: As far as I'm concerned Latinos = Awesome. And I tell you this to explain why I was willing to sit through a documentary that I was certain would be little more than an hour and a half advertisement for Harley-Davidson. Because it is about Latinos who ride Harley-Davidsons.

The film (see video above) is about Harlistas, a made-up concept to describe Latino riders of Harley-Davidson motorcycles. It follows four Latino families as they take road trips in different parts of the United States: Four brothers; Two brothers, a mother and a wife; a father and son; a step-father and step-son.

Yeah, there is a cheesy underlying theme that certain loud, expensive motorcycles of an American variety have the ability to heal fractured families, and there are one or two scenes that are just beyond silly (two words: Indian dance), but I found the whole thing to be surprisingly touching. Seriously, I got teary-eyed several times.

The product placement is obvious, but within there are touching stories of family and the human spirit. I recommend it. Although, expect to find yourself at the end of it thinking: "Right. My brother and I need to get some Harleys and ride to Denver..."

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