The secret of winning last year’s push cart derby was “luche power,” said Victor Velasquez of “Los Little Luches Libres,” last year’s winner of the Dignowity Hill Push Cart Derby. The team continued to dress up – naturally – as luchadores and were convinced that victory would come this year as well.

“We do this for the kids, and to help out the community,” said Velasquez, “When we don our costumes – it’s even better for the                                                    kids.”

Mark Perez, Xavier Eden, and Rudy Yanez of the derby team “Los Little Luches Libres,” showing off their fierce costumes and intimidating the competition in front of the new basketball court at Lockwood Park. Photo by Alexander Gandara.

This year, however, the “Highland Flier” push cart from District 3 won the eighth annual Dignowity Hill Push Cart Derby. The team was cheered on by District 3 City Councilwoman Leticia Ozuna from Highland Park, and a rambunctious audience of more than one hundred.

Councilwoman Ozuna and San Antonio Fire Department Team, getting ready to “smoke” the competition. Photo by Alexander Gandara.

The day began with an introduction of the derby teams, names such as: “The Boneshakers” and “More Brains than Hair.” On this cloudy afternoon, more than a dozen teams raced.

From left to right Ralph Lopez, Manny Olixarez and son, Kevin Nations and Sam Lerma. Team “B-Roll” pose in front of their Hollywood-style ride while getting ready for the race. Photo by Alexander Gandara.

“We made our cart in six days, and are representing the San Antonio Film Commission,”  said Sam Lerma of team “B-Roll,” proudly sporting his elaborate push cart, fashioned to look like an old-school film camera.

Politicians, families and law enforcement agencies were present and there seemed to be a sense of rogue playfulness in the air.

The neighborhood was named for Anthony Michael Dignowity, said Dignowity Hill Neighborhood Association President Juan Garcia. Dignowity was a Czech-American who was a medical doctor, public official and writer in the 1850s.  In the 1970s and 80s it was an exclusive living area with a trolley and water system.  However – like many neighborhoods in large cities – it went through a period of decline. Recently, however, it’s been undergoing a change.

“This neighborhood used to be full of dealers and prostitution. Since the community has gotten more involved the last few years, the changes can be seen,” said Rena Moreno, the Dignowity Hill resident and derby manager behind this year’s festivities, “This event and the restoration of Lockwood Park is our way of taking back our home area,”

The heart of the action. Photo by Alexander Gandara.

The derby, typically held in the Spring, instead coincided with Texas Public Radio’s Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper ribbon-cutting ceremony for the newly renovated Lockwood Park. Janet Grojean, director of public relations for the news radio station, pointed out the impressive stone amphitheater-style seating that overlooks downtown San Antonio.

“Neighborhood associations and city blocks build a community of neighbors.  There are so many neighborhoods where people keep to themselves.” Grojean said, “Houses here have (utilized) porches and there is a character and sense of community.”

The Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper contest gathered ideas to better communities over the past several months. The submissions were narrowed down to five by a popular vote. With the help of several young architects, sponsors and the elbow grease of the neighborhood – this idea came to life in Dignowity Hill.

Congressman Lloyd Doggett was also there to cheer on the teams and to show support of the efforts at Lockwood Park.

“These neighborhood associations are extremely important and have a lot of responsibilities,” Doggett said, “I am very impressed with the revitalization efforts.”

In 2005 the Dignowity Hill Push Cart Derby was initiated by local artist Cruz Ortiz. Since then, the annual event has turned into a community-based celebration that focuses on families, kids, and the neighborhood. The push cart derby was sponsored by various organizations including the Dignowity Hill Neighborhood Association, the Project for Public Spaces,  the San Antonio chapter of the American Institute of Architects and TPR.

Alexander Gandara is new to San Antonio from El Paso. Greatly influenced by the violence of Cuidad Juarez professionally and personally, Gandara’s main focus was on politics while writing for Borderzine.com. He is currently a freelance reporter and photographer.

Iris Dimmick

Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org