By Christina Rose
Riders of the Latin American Motorcycle Association thunder around the corner on huge bikes, looking like tough guys in black leather vests and club colors. But these bikers, two police officers and a firefighter, have a positive goal in mind.
Founders of the New Haven Chapter, Elias Mendez and Jose Maldonado are both from Puerto Rico but now call New Haven their home. They began researching motorcycle clubs in 2009, but once they found L.A.M.A., they fell in love with the concept right away. “Motorcycle clubs have a lot of baggage, and we didn’t fall under their qualifications,” Mendez said. “But this is an association.”
The Latin American Motorcycle Association, or L.A.M.A., is a world-wide organization with nearly 75 chapters in 14 countries. Mendez noted, “We have chapters in Germany, Spain, Italy, Venezuela, Mexico, Uruguay, even Cuba; all over!”
Belonging to L.A.M.A. means you are part of a brotherhood, Maldonado said. “Say I am going to Florida. I’ll bring my vest, my colors, call somebody and say I want to stop by their clubhouse. They treat you like family everywhere.”
Being there for each other and the community is what it’s all about. “We support all the cancer events, especially for children. We did a run for Haiti a couple of years ago, and when one of our member’s step-son passed away, we did a run for him. We just got together with the New Haven firefighters, who gave a $1,000 scholarship in our name,” said Maldonado, who is a firefighter for the New Haven Fire Department.
The New Haven chapter has about 20 members who attend events of other chapters across the country, but especially enjoy their annual trips. Two years ago, members took their bikes to Puerto Rico. “We rode all the way around the island for 14 days, it was beautiful,” Maldonado recalled. “Everybody still talks about it. People were waiting for us; there was a party everywhere we went.”
Against the backdrop of the Long Island Sound and New Haven’s food trucks, eyes hidden behind dark sunglasses, Mendez is the epitome of the cool cop. Grinning, he said, “If we can get through the red tape, we’ll go to Cuba next year.”
Member Richard Burgos joined L.A.M.A. through Mendez, a friend and fellow police officer. As part of the Motorcycle Unit of the New Haven Police Department, they ride as escorts when L.A.M.A. comes through town.
Burgos, who enjoys riding motorcycles for work and pleasure, said, “We get to meet so many people, the networking itself is fun. Everybody has a different enthusiasm for how they personalize their bikes.”
Mendez agreed. “The nice thing is we actually get to meet people from all of the Latino cultures. And I have to say, I have met thousands of people and have yet to meet anyone negative. Everyone treats you like they have known you forever. There is unity, and everybody brings their wife and children. The whole family thing is very important.”
Each year, the chapter hosts an annual fundraising event. “When we have our event the chapters from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, all the way down to Florida, they’ll come and spend the weekend. It’s fun, family oriented, and a safe environment,” Mendez said.
Burgos also said as members of the police department, they bring a lot to the club on a professional level. “We pass on information to the novice and weekend riders. They don’t really come out all the time so you have to watch what they do.”
Burgos said that being on a motorcycle “is a whole different ballpark” than driving a car. “Your head is on the swivel all time. You have to be aware of what’s around you.”
To become a member of L.A.M.A. you must have a desire to ride and participate in events. “You have to have a valid motorcycle license and bike bigger than a 750,” Maldonado said. There are $10 monthly dues, most of which goes back to assisting members in need.
Maldonado said it takes almost a year to become a full member, but after that the only requirements are, “Be willing to ride and have a good time.”