Matthew San Roman spent his childhood days at the basketball court waiting for his father to finish his shift at the car shop. He and his friends played beneath the I-10 where East and West crosses South and North; at Lincoln Park, the heart of El Paso.
As a child he would watch local artists painting the murals on the freeway columns. He learned to appreciate them. Matthew San Roman and Oscar Gonzalez are part of a local group of El Paso called Pachucos 915, but they do more than car shows and wear zoot suits. The group organizes events to help their community for 19 years.
There’s a colorful mural that shows a background of purple mountains and pyramids at Lincoln Park. In the middle there’s a heart with veins going out in all directions, reading “Lincoln Park El Corazón de El Paso. Chicano Park.”
Matthew crosses the streets and points at the murals by the basketball court and says, “¿Te fijas como cada pilar tiene su tiempo? Como este era de los sixties.”
There’s a portrait of Dolores Huerta and a symbol of the Huelga thunderbird. He then points to the pillars on the other side who represent the pre-Chicano era.
Planning to graduate from the University of Texas at El Paso with a Multidisciplinary Studies degree with a concentration on Chicano Studies, Matthew is only 19 years old. “Yo estoy luchando para eso, uno de mis goals en la vida es poner nuestra historia desde chiquitos. De kindergarten hasta high school,” he says.
Through Pachucos 915, San Roman has fought to show that creating change in the world begins with knowing one’s own roots.
Gonzalez is older and grew up further from Lincoln Park, but he shares the same passion for the park and its Chicano imagery. “Si vienes un domingo o a un evento que tienen aqui… I mean, la gente se parkea seis o siete cuadras pa’ allá y la gente camina. Es algo muy bonito porque es la cultura de aquí de El Paso.” It’s a gathering point.
Gonzalez was once an engineering professor at NMSU. As soon as he got the opportunity he tried to help the Latino community. He became interested in Riverside High School, a school with low income students where they get training in engineering programs like AutoCAD and drafting .
“Yo ahí fui y comencé a agarrar chavalitos y darles internships desde high school haciendo ingeniería aquí en El Paso.” He had the chance to do that for eight years and help 43 students. They all ended up working as engineers in the city.
Some say the pachucos were born in Juarez and El Paso. It is a shared identity born in both sides during the forties and fifties when it was easier to cross back and forth. The word pachucos evokes images of large suits and flamboyant cars with high suspensions. Every detail was important and marked a distinction from the American culture.
The pachucos main goal is to be different. San Roman explains how they started to fix the cars, “Los llamamos low riders porque a los suspensions les pusimos hydraulics y pos queríamos ser diferentes. Es como el suit queríamos ser diferentes.”
Gonzalez elaborated on the importance of the suit, describing it as a living portrait. He explained, “Siempre los vas a ver que se andan corrigiendo, se ajustan o se miran el pañuelo. Yo hago mi pañuelo de este modo, otros lo hacen o no lo hacen. Otros usan corbata mas sencilla o mas complicada.”
The car is an extension of the suit. They complement each other, matching colors. It all originated in Juarez, but now El Paso is the main spot for car modifications around the world.
“Por eso cuando quieren hacer carros lowriders, vienen muchos aquí a El Paso porque aquí es de donde viene todo. De Japón han venido nomas a comprar Impalas para ir a hacerlos lowriders. Se hizo internacional,” said Gonzalez.
Lincoln Park is one of the landmarks of El Paso. It’s the place where I-10 joins the U.S. Route 54. Everything happens above the heart of El Paso and it remains below our feet to remind us of our roots.
– By Veronica Martinez
- “You see how each pillar has its own time? Like this one is from the sixties.”
- “I’m fighting to showcase our history. Since kindergarten to High school.”
- “If you come over a Sunday or to one of the events you’ll see the people park their cars six or seven blocks and walk here. It’s something beautiful and part of the culture of El Paso.”
- “That’s where I went and I started to recruit children and give them scholarships in engineering since high school.”
- “We call them low ridersbecause we add hydraulics to the suspension and well, we wanted to be different. Just like the suit, we wanted to be different.”
- “They’re always fixing themselves: they tailor or praise their napkin. I fold my napkin like this, others fold it differently. Some wear a simply tie others wear an extravagant one.”
- “That’s why when they want to build low ridersthey come to El Paso because we have all the necessary equipment. Some have come from Japan only to buy an Impala to modify into a lowrider. It became an international phenomenon.”