The Harlistas Put a New (and Scruffy) Face on Latino Motorcycling

The wide open road has been repeatedly used as the backdrop for stories of personal growth, camaraderie and reflection.

The idea of hitting the pavement with no destination and only the rise and setting of the sun to guide your way can be appealing to many – possibly to none more so than the motorcycling community.

Bikers worship the road and the immersion into open air that comes with a ride from the seat of a “Hog” – a nickname for a heavyweight motorcycle, for all you non-bikers.

Through a generally tough and bearded outward appearance, serious motorcycle club members often speak of the tranquility and spirituality associated with the ride and the real connections between fellow members. But nearly as often, outsiders associate biker gangs with the image of rowdy, intimidating outlaws with criminal and separatist tendencies.

The fact is, the Sons of Anarchy types are the minority, and most members are law-abiding citizens, many of whom are rooted within generations of Latino families.

Award-winning director Alfredo de Villa ("Nothing Like the Holidays") profiles this segment of the community with his new documentary “Harlistas: An American Journey,” which debuts on Mun2 Friday night.

De Villa screened his 90-minute film last week to an appropriately boisterous crowd of tattoos, goatees, a few brave civilians, leather and, well, more leather. Sponsored by Harley Davidson, the NY screening of “Harlistas” captured the attention of the room with four rarely told stories of Latino families deeply entrenched in the motorcycle culture.

The film follows four different stories:

-- The four charismatic and humorous Rod Brothers from Queens, NY

-- Nicaraguan immigrant Shorty and his occasionally estranged adolescent son, Junior, of Chicago

-- Grief-stricken and spiritual Danny Huerta from Baldwin Park, California

-- And Lonnie Gallegos and Jerry Ramírez, who together navigate the complicated relationship between stepfather and stepson in the crime-laden streets of Alhambra, California

Contrary to many “gang” documentaries, de Villa goes out of his way to emphasize the importance of the nuclear family in his film. While the allegiance to their clubs is evident, each story showcases the absolute loyalty to their immediate family and gives a close and unique look into Latino father/son relationships.

It does not go into some of the more negative stereotypes associated with motorcycle clubs, but it touches on the familial turmoil that can result from a life on the road. Though it is one of the first documentaries profiling Latino motorcyclists, the overriding focus is the male experience within the family structure.

Through his lens, de Villa is able to capture the few chosen minutes when machismo is put aside for genuine affection between the men and their families.

Erica Y. López has written for and is a regular freelance contributor for Fox News Latino. She can be reached at

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