December 8, 2013
By Julio Morales
In the more than 20 years Jaime Moreno has been lowriding, he has owned more classic cars than he can remember. And although he is settled down now and he no longer uses his car to attract women, he still enjoys the perks that come with taking his ride — a convertible ‘64 Chevy Impala — out for a cruise.
“Everybody gives you the thumbs up,” said the vice president of the local chapter of the Rollerz Only Car Club.
Yet, despite decades of approval from other likeminded car and cultural enthusiasts, lowriding still has a taint of stigma attached to it.
“Even in the Latino community it’s thought of as gangs on wheels,” said Denise Sandoval, Chicano studies professor at California State University, Northridge.
Contrary to such perceptions, low-riders often adopt social codes that incorporate ideals about family, respect and pride, she said. Lowriders, much like hot rods, were part of the explosion of car culture in post-World War II America, said Sandoval, who has researched the phenomenon.
The scene’s pioneers were typically young men of Mexican origin who used cars to express their identities, which differed from those of their Mexican parents.
“They were looking for a place to belong on their own terms,” she said.
Like other pop culture phenomenon, it’s hard to say at what time and date lowriding began. However, there does seem to be some agreement that a Sacramento-based car shop owner in 1938 outfitted a 1935 Ford with features that would later become standard fare on lowriders, said Luis Plascencia, an Arizona State University assistant professor of social and behavioral sciences.
“It was not a Chicano or a Mexican that was credited,” he said.
The early scene focused on the car itself, but in time modifications and murals became just as prominent.
“The cars become the vehicle by which to present the art,” Plascencia, one of the first to write a scholarly article on the subject, said. “They become works of art.”
To this day, interest in lowriding ebbs and flows within the Latino community and beyond. That is has become as popular as it has today — which includes cross-cultural and international appeal — owes a lot to the wide reach of LowRider Magazine, Plascencia said.
But as much as the magazine hyped its purpose as being devoted to preserving and documenting lowrider culture, a review of its content over the years leaves Plascencia unconvinced.
“It wasn’t about promoting culture,” he said. “It was about their own commercial interests.”
Lowriders are also a symbol of bringing people together. Cruising, and car shows, are generally family-oriented leisure activities, where individuals of all ages gather to share stories and history, said Alberto López Pulido, ethnic studies and sociology professor at the University of San Diego.
A recently released documentary directed by Pulido traces the origins and history of San Diego-based lowriding between 1950 and 1980. The film, titled “Everything Comes From the Streets,” was intended to dispel the misconception that the lowriding scene is dominated by gangbangers and hoodlums.
“There’s a lot of wisdom, respect and knowledge that literally comes from the street,” Pulido said.
During his research, which was prompted by a lifelong Amigos Car Club member who expressed interest in having the scene’s history preserved for prosperity, Pulido discovered the rich history of the Tijuana lowrider scene of the 1950s and ‘60s.
Tijuana-based clubs of that era had the full support of the police and authorities, and enjoyed strong ties to the community. The clubs often would donate to orphanages or fundraise to support street repairs.
Similarly, Rollerz Only members are expected to be as committed to the community as they are to the club, said local chapter president Jesse Herrera.
The local chapter dates back to 2010 and has held annual fundraisers or toy drives ever since.
“You need to have a good attitude and be willing to help out,” Herrera said. “It’s not just about the vehicle.”
Source: Imperial Valley Press