The Man Behind the Machine

There is no way you can miss him. You hear him first. He approaches the parking lot with a growing roar coming from a  pristine 1994 Harley Davidson Low Rider. He is not simply a motorcycle driver. He is a biker.

With a fresh mohawk, a sleeve of tattoos, black jeans and boots, he walks around campus with an intimidating and unapproachable look. He puts a twist on his masculinity with earrings, feathers, bracelets and rings.

A symbol that appears to be a swastika, gnarly scars and a dark shade of Ray-Bans that cover his eyes are enough to make most people stay away, but it is also makes some people wonder who he is.

His name is Jose Juan Vasquez, but most people call him Rufio. The 26-year-old former Marine came back from war and found himself inspired by freedom.

After a few years of sweat and hard work, he was done with the military and ready to begin his civilian life. The Kansas-born biker, who was raised in Texas, followed his free spirit and thirst for self expression and landed in California.

“My pursuit every day is to enjoy life, because I had it almost taken away from me several times,”  he says.

Used to a lifestyle of brotherhood, it is not surprising that Rufio found comfort in a biker community -a loyal crowd with a strong connection.

His style is specific.

Black pants hide dirt and oil stains. Combat boots are suited for oily floors and using heavy equipment. A vest with multiple pockets keep important items such as phone, wallet and keys easy to reach.

“The style of the vest, or the cut as we like to call it, really speaks to who you are. You can look at a man’s vest and see where he is coming from, what his personal beliefs are, what kind of attitude he has,”  Rufio explains.

“Mine is inappropriate and humorous,” he says with a smile on his face.

Rufio brings attention to himself by wearing a symbol called the “Whirling Log,” which most people confuse as a swastika. Although most people associate the symbol with terror, for Navajo Native Americans and other cultures it is a sacred symbol that represents life, prosperity, success, healing, luck and eternity.

“I don’t see a symbol of hate,” he says.

The Whirling Log symbol comes from a Navajo tale of a man who was an outcast from his tribe. Despite the dangers he would face, the man took a risky and long journey down the San Juan River. When he came back, he was seen as a brave man, but it was the knowledge he brought back to the tribe that helped them succeed as a group.

“I’m on this search for knowledge. I’m out into the world on my own river, except it’s asphalt instead of water,” Rufio says.

Rufio believes that looks can be deceiving. Despite his tough exterior, he says that he likes being approached rather than being judged by his appearance.

“I’m all about sharing knowledge and love,” he says. “Ask me some real questions. Get to know me. I’m free. I live in a country where I fought for my rights. I should be able to dress and look how I want.”

He attributes his rough exterior to the tough love he received from his mother, Sylvia Vasquez.

“She wasn’t necessarily there to pick me up off the ground. She taught me how to pick myself up,” he says.

The Chicano mother of four raised her children to be independent. As a cancer patient, Sylvia wanted them to be self -sufficient if the disease took her life.

“We knew how to take care of ourselves,” says Rufio’s older brother, Rogelio Vasquez.

Today, Rufio lives his life day by day. What brought him to Los Angeles is his dream of one day opening a motorcycle museum, which would show the history of motorcycles and bikers.

“There are stories being told over campfires in the middle of nowhere that you will never hear about. And those are the stories I want to bring to light,” Rufio says.” This is not something that I am interested in for the meanwhile. No. It is my life mission to preserve motorcycle history and culture.”

Rufio’s friend Larry “Wizzard” Cook, 56, agrees that a motorcycle museum is needed. He thinks that bikers are a significant part of American history.

“When you go to a motorcycle museum all you see is motorcycles. That’s not the whole thing,” he says. “I want to know who bought it, who rode it. I hope Rufio pulls this off.”

Vasquez plans to transfer to University of California, Berkeley or University of California, Los Angeles.

“I have a 4.0 I’m a hard working individual. I will do what it takes to get me where I want to go,” Rufio says.

He hopes when people see him around campus they won’t be afraid to say hello. Rufio says he is not a dangerous criminal like most people assume, and that despite his intimidating look he is an approachable guy full of dreams and goals.