A lowrider isn't just a car, and it's not just for driving. They represent the social, political, and artistic triumphs of Chicano culture.
Many believe lowriders cruised their way to Los Angeles from El Paso, Texas, and still others will tell you they came from the other side of the Mexican border in Cuidad Juarez, but nobody can deny that lowrider culture literally reached new heights thanks to Los Angeles and, well, hydraulics. In fact, you can't tell the story of transportation in the City of Angels without talking about lowriders.
You see, a lowrider isn't just a car, and they're not merely for driving from point A to point B. They also represent the social, political, and artistic struggles and triumphs of Chicano culture.
Lowriders are one element of "La Pachucada," the Pachuco style born in El Paso, Texas, in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Mexican actor German Valdes brought the zoot suits pachucos wore to the silver screen, and the Godfather of Chicano Music, Lalo Guerrero, sang about the style on many of his songs. Mexican-American pachucos took great pride in their appearance, so naturally that meant their cars had to be "reet complete" (cool) as well.
I first experienced lowriders as a kid watching the movie Born in East L.A. Watching a car bounce up and down the way it did was unbelievable to me. I mean, cars weren’t supposed to do that. As I grew up in the Boyle Heights section of Los Angeles and went on to junior and senior high school, lowrider sightings were common. You’d see them cruising around school every day as the 3 o'clock bell rang and school was let out.
Now that I'm an adult, I go out and look for lowriders. Though I don't own a lowrider of my own, I hit every car show I can. I appreciate their beauty, their owner's creativity, and overall need to be original or have something all their own—just like we try to be as individuals. About a year and a half ago, I began snapping pictures of lowriders with my phone, editing them, and sharing them with friends and family.
Sandbags that were used to lower cars in the late 1930s were replaced by hydraulics in the 1970s. Then, the cult classic movie, Boulevard Nights, introduced the rest of the world to the late 1970s lowriding scene happening on Whittier Boulevard in East LA.. One of the taglines from the movie was "Everything happens on the boulevard." Whittier Boulevard was the place to see and be seen. Customized classic cars cruising low and slow turned the boulevard into a car show every weekend. The 1991 movie Boyz N the Hood introduced many more to lowriding and how it was done on "The 'Shaw" also known as Crenshaw Boulevard.
Nowadays, lowriding has become a universal phenomenon. Local car clubs have gone international with chapters all over the world. My photos of lowriders have also reached a global audience thanks to the efforts of a hometown fan of my work—my wife. She's been supportive of my photography hobby and helped me open up an Etsy shop to sell prints of my photos.
One of my friends, Santino Rivera, who happens to be an independent publisher, approached me with the idea of collaborating on a book about lowriders and the culture they embody. We’re in the process of putting it together—its working title is Lowriting: Shots, Rides, and Stories from the Chicano Soul. The book will feature my photography and include poetry, short stories, and essays about lowrider culture.
Some big names in the literary world—I don't want to give anything away just yet—have offered to contribute their work to the book. But I also know from my own experience that lowriders have an impact on the average person, too. Santino is currently accepting submissions, so if you’re interested in contributing, email him at SJR.BSP@gmail.com. Let's keep the tradition of riding slow and low alive.
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All images (cc) courtesy of Art Meza