MEZCLA: Making Little 500 History

Sketch of Mezcla team logo.

I processed a new accession for the Indiana University Latino Cultural Center (La Casa) records, which doubled the size of the original collection. Since this new accession was much larger in size and scope than the present collection, I was able to rework and alter the entire collection that resulted in the formation of new series, such as Administrative, Correspondence, and Publications,  and consolidating old series to new reimagined ones, such as Associations, Events, Subject Files, and General Files. The newly updated collection now has eight boxes total, and it is my hope that it is better presented for researchers, students, and community members who have an interest in the Latino community in Bloomington and at Indiana University. While processing this collection, I came across a folder titled MEZCLA, as well as several sketches of a bicycle with Mezcla stylized across the top, and I was curious to learn what this was exactly. After looking through the folder and searching online, I learned that Mezcla is a Little 500 team, the first Latino Little 500 team to be exact. A year ago, I had the opportunity to look through and start processing the scrapbooks for the IU Student Foundation Little 500 event, so seeing this team, Mezcla, mentioned in the Latino Cultural Center records really stood out to me. Since the Little 500 race is happening again, I thought it would be fitting to highlight a piece of Little 500 history.

Since 1951, the Little 500 bicycle race has been a treasured student and university event and has seen many changes over the past 70 years. Originally, it was a male student dominated event but in 1988 the first women’s race was held. Starting out as a modest event where the bicycle race was the only attraction, in the decades that followed the Little 500 grew into a weeklong event of activities that included, at times, the Mini 500 tricycle race , concerts, golf tournaments, talent shows, fashion shows, and regattas. Over time, the event would also see historical firsts in terms of increasing the representation of underrepresented students and communities in Bloomington and at Indiana University.

Indiana Daily Student April 22, 1996 newspaper clipping featuring Jerry Gutièrrez.

In 1995, the formation of the first Latino team was a significant step in the diversification of the majority-white  Little 500. The event can be costly for teams without sponsorships, so various letters of sponsorship were sent out to companies starting in winter of 1995. Jerry Gutièrrez, a member of the first Latino team, drafted numerous letters asking for sponsorship well into the summer of the following year. Unfortunately, most companies’ responses were rejection letters, but that did not discourage history being made. Some of the original riders who participated in the first race and interested riders included Jerry Gutièrrez, Ben Abney, Derrick Espades, Gus Chavez, Sergio Magan̂a, and Erik Teter. The 1996 race, the 46th annual race, was the debut race of the Mezcla Little 500 team. The men’s team qualified in this race with a time of 02:41.53.1, with a placement in the 11th row. At the race, Mezcla placed 31st and completed a total of 176 out of 200 laps.

Indiana Daily Student April 17, 1996 newspaper clipping of the design for the Mezcla jersey.

In 1998 Mezcla became a student organization with the purpose of providing an avenue for Latino students to participate in the Little 500 race. For the next three years, Mezcla qualified and raced in the Little 500, with their best race in 1998, wherein they placed 12th and completed 195 out of 200 laps. After 2001, the men’s Mezcla team leading riders had all graduated, and it would not be until 2005 that the men’s Mezcla team would qualify again.

In 1997, a group of female students were ready to carry on the Mezcla legacy as the first women’s Latino Little 500 race team. That year the first women’s Mezcla team placed 23rd with a time of 01:11:08.889 and completed 93 out of 100 laps.

The Herald Times April 22, 2004 newspaper clipping featuring Anette Soto, Barbara Alvarado, and Liliana Cortez.

It was not until 2004 that the women’s Mezcla team would qualify again for the race, though the team would go on to compete in nine additional races through 2014, the last time they qualified. The riders from the 2004 team were Josefa Madrigal, Anette Soto, Liliana Cortez, Monica Reyes, Rosa Bonilla, and Barbara Alvarado. The women’s Mezcla team’s best race time wise was in 2005 with a time of 01:08:50, while their best race lap completion was in 2014 with 97 out of 100 laps completed, placing them 16th.

If not for the Coronavirus pandemic, the 2020 race would have been the 70th Men’s race and 33rd Women’s race. However, the race was rescheduled and is happening once again on Wednesday, May 26 in the Bill Armstrong Stadium.

For more on this piece of Indiana University history – and more – the Indiana University Latino Cultural Center records can be viewed by appointment with University Archives.

One thought on “MEZCLA: Making Little 500 History”

  1. I love to hear from the little 500 since I raced in 1962 for Phi Kappa Tau and in the alumni race in 2008 when I purchased my new IU bike!!

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