Harley riders are outlaws. Sports-car drivers are… compensating for other areas. And guys who drive pickup trucks are rednecks. It’s clear all these stereotypes are pretty ridiculous/one-note… so then why do lowriders continue to get pigeonholed with bad associations?
With the Lowriders movie coming out soon, now seems as good a time as any to take apart some pernicious myths about lowriders and lowrider culture.
Sure, lowriders are a feast for the eyes, but it’s not simply about the bling. The root of lowriding is social and political. During the post-war period, Detroit ramped up car production. This led to a spike in availability of used cars, especially for Chicano immigrants in the barrios. And many war vets returned home with newfound mechanical skills, a handy talent for car modification.
Lowriding arose as a way of expressing pride in the face of acute discrimination. Mexicans were looked down upon by society as a whole, and so they used cars — an American icon — as a way of expressing and re-defining their identity. By forming a subculture they created community and collectivity, something that the white mainstream didn’t offer them.
Cruising through town in a statement car, self-tailored and customized, was a way of rolling their life story through the city that excluded them. Young Chicanos gained a voice. (This is where the family portraits, Mexican icons, and religious symbols on lowrider hoods come in.) Lowriding is the heritage and legacy that oppressed groups refused to be quiet about. African-Americans also developed a lowrider movement to confront racial oppression. Nowadays, anyone can lowride, and there are a vast number of car clubs for people of all races and identities.
While lowriding is predominantly male — with murals of pin-ups and other scantily-clad women on hoods — female lowrider car clubs have been cruising through California since the 1970s. The Lady Bugs (all of whom had VWs Beetles) were the first all-Chicana lowrider club, hitting their peak around 1975. Even though some lowrider clubs still don’t allow women, times have changed, with more and more car-show trophies going to female-owned lowriders.
One of the best-known female lowrider clubs today is the Unique Ladies, an embodiment of working-class Chicana feminism who even have had a documentary made about them. They have won an array of trophies as they challenge gender stereotypes within the lowrider world, while multiple members are moms who want to pass on their love for lowriding to their kids.
Lowriding is, in fact, very much about community and family. A lot of lowrider clubs seek to keep young people away from street life, and have strict rules not to accept members who have gang affiliations. Furthermore, the environment around lowrider car shows is one of bringing the whole family along, of throwing big BBQs and organizing fundraisers. Lowrider club members from different cities often pick each other up from the airport and help out when a lowrider needs a specific skill or a part for his or her car.
The stereotype of lowriding being a gang activity is more connected to Hollywood movies portraying cholos and pandilleros, as well as judgemental, old-school notions around tattoos being undesirable. But in the end, lowriding is about respecting your elders, your tradition, and heritage. As members of the famous Imperials Car Club say, “We don’t lowride to outdo other clubs, we lowride because we love to lowride.”
Not necessarily. There are different types of lowriders. The two big categories are cars that are customized for showing and cars that are customized for hopping. The latter ones do monster or extreme hopping with the help of hydraulic suspensions and have to have their engines changed practically every time they compete.
Show lowriders, however, are sometimes not even safe to be driven on a highway. These hyper-customized cars entail years of work and have the bling to prove it: golden, chromed, or steel braided parts; interior chandeliers, coffins, or slot machines; mirror balls, sound systems, and masterpieces of art as paint jobs, among other modifications. Regardless of the type of lowrider, the love for these cars demands lots of restoration, dedication, and perfectionism.
You can get a full immersion into cruising culture starting May 12, when Lowriders, starring Melissa Benoist, Theo Rossi, and Eva Longoria, hits theaters.
Astrid Harders is a senior writer for Studio@Gizmodo.