Back in 1977 when it was established in Chicago’s notorious Humboldt Park neighborhood, the Latin American Motorcycle Association could not get hotel reservations when it traveled across the country.
The club was able to get police escort – but only to ensure that riders got out of town.
Things have changed dramatically in four decades.
These days, the club boasts more than 10,000 members (among them police officers) from more than 25 nations and rigorously subscribes to an apolitical philosophy that embraces all races, nationalities and religions.
“We are promoters of peace, love, harmony and nonviolence,” said Mario Nieves, the organization’s founder and international president. “We want to show that a black man, an Anglo-Saxon, an oriental from China, a Latin American, that we can sit at the table with an African and feel at home. That we are family. We want to prove that a Muslim, a Christian, a Jew and an atheist can all sit at the table and get along.”
On Saturday, approximately 1,500 members of the organization gathered at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex for its annual national rally.
Amid blaring piped in Latin music and a spread of food, members gathered to celebrate the organizations enduring mission to promote a positive image of Latino riders.
Nieves, who is from Puerto Rico, said that “back home” motorcycle clubs are part of the social fiber of the community.
“They are not thugs,” he said. “There are no perceptions that they are criminals. Everybody knows who the president is and when there’s a wedding or a “quinceañera”, the first thing you do is contract the motorcycle club to do escort. We come to America and things are so much different here. Bikers are perceived as thugs so we decided to create a club that represents what we believe and how things are like back home.”
The international association has over 160 chapters across the world, including the Americas, Asia, Europe and Australia. The members have traveled – and toured – across Puerto Rico, Mexico and Cuba, as well as the Sahara desert and Europe.
The organization bills itself as accepting of members from all walks of life, regardless of nationality, race, color, religion, social class, gender, age, brand of motorcycle, etc.
Nieves described the organization as being apolitical.
“If you brought up the point of the Ku Klux Klan or Nazis I don’t care what we are, we are against them. Period because that is survival,” Nieves said. “But if you ask about politics, we don’t get involved.”
Marc Rodriguez, the national president, stressed that the association is a touring organization – covering broad swaths of the globe. The group is recognized as one of the most active long distance riding clubs in the world.
“That’s what separates us from other mainstream motorcycle clubs,” Rodriguez said.
Nieves said travel is an integral part of the organization’s mission.
“You find that when you travel, it is much more difficult to lie to you about another culture,” he said.
One of the oldest members of the organization, Mike Ramos, who is 80, boasts that women have always been equal in the membership.
“They don’t ride behind us like in some other clubs,” he said. “They ride next to us.”
LAMA has endeavored to promote gender equality since its inception. Women – or Damas de LAMA – are known to “Ride Their Own” on trips.
“We saw that women played an important role obviously because we had good moms,” Nieves said. “I think the way a man perceives the role of women in life has to do with their own mother.”