Community Paper (researched)

M.F.

Lowriding In America

The lowrider culture in America today has mistakenly become increasingly associated with gang violence and crime. In actuality, lowriding culture is a form of expressive art which works to unify the Latino community through the celebration of pride in culture and heritage.

Stereotypes exist as a result of the media, law enforcement agencies, and conservative America. These stereotypes have their basis in gangs and crime, but cover a wide, abstract range of concepts. People today base these concepts upon what is portrayed by-TV. and films, the actions of law enforcement agents, and the opinion of community leaders (conservative America).

The film industry has used movies such as Boyz In Da Hood and Friday to depict lowriders as drug dealers and gang members. In one particular scene out of Boyz In Da Hood, "Big Worm" (the neighborhood drug supplier) pulls up in his sparkly-green '64 Impala and flicks a switch, thus lowering his car. Drawing from the sensationalism of these two lifestyles, the movie writers are able to grab the audience's attention by offering a glimpse into these bad-boy lifestyles.

For lowriders, cruising has been a traditional-pastime. But the prevalent stereotypes existent in this society have led to widespread efforts attempting to ban this tradition. Charging that the lowrider drivers attract drug peddlers and gang activity,and create massive traffic problems when cruising, many cities across the Southwest have taken action to ban cruising (). In cities like Modesto (whose cruising strip was immortalized by George Lucas' film American Graffiti), and Palm Springs, cruising has become regulated through different methods. An ordinance enforced in many towns is one that prohibits cars from passing the same spot in the road more than once every four hours. Aside from being fined, cars can also be towed and impounded for months on in ().

Complaints about the cruising in some cities have been brought on by the merchants and residents located on the cruising strips. In Modesto, merchants and residents claim that cruising is ruining their neighborhood. On the weekends, due to traffic jams,business on the McHenry strip drops by up to 30% (cite).

However, cruising is a form of unification amongst the lowrider community. This pastime has traditionally been a major part of the lowrider culture, allowing the driver to show off his work of art and see other works as well. Cruising has been a way for those of the lowriding community to join together and celebrate. Although some merchants in Modesto claim the loss of business due to cruising, others claim a loss due to the lack of it. The cruising ban in some cities has hurt the businesses dependent on the crowds for their survival. Along with the new cruising ordinances passed in Palm Springs has come, financial ruin for small business owners dependent on tourism, No longer the scene during spring break, college and high school kids have decided to pump their money into Lake Havasu (LA Times).

Unity is perhaps the most important aspect of this community. This is seen through the unity that lowrirders seek in the mutual pride of their car, lifestyle, tradition, and culture. Nation-wide car shows are held in every small town in which a lowrider can be found, and if one is not held nearby, that lowrider has no objection to driving several miles to show off his "ranfla." Main attractions at the sponsored events include car hopping, (using hydraulic pumps on both the front and rear end to make it "hop") to see whose car hops the highest, competition for the best looking ride, and competition for the best stereo system.

The historical, traditional, and cultural importance of this art form cannot be suppressed or belittled. Lowriding, which to some may seem as a mere term to describe the hobby of a "greaser" or "car buff," has more cultural and political significance than is seen at first glance.

With its roots in the subcultures of "Pachucoism" and the "Cholo" image, the popular culture of lowriding has been present since the early 1950's. "Pachucos" refer to Mexican American youth in the 1940's known for wearing zoot suits with broad shoulders and baggy pants that were tied at the ankle. They were referred to as "Zoot Suiters," a term that came to be associated with "hoodlum" by media sensationalism. Cholos were the next generation of Mexican Americans with a distinctive way of dressing, including neatly pressed baggy khakis wom with T-shirts. These two subcultures are the results of a cultural hybridization of the Mexican and American cultures.

Not only used as a means of transportation, lowriders have used their vehicles to voice their opinions on several issues. In every step the low rider takes in creating their " carrucha," from the choice of car, to the design on the hood and car color, he is representing a community's tradition, aspirations, and history (Bright, 95). Pride in history and vice of opinion can be seen in the murals painted across hoods, on the backs of windows, and on the trunks of these cars. Some themes are religious: the Virgin of Guadalupe and roses symbolic of her, a suffering Christ figure, and lowriders cruising beneath the outstretched arms of the Virgin of Guadalupe (entitled "Cruising Together"). Others are representative of pride in the Mestizo race: 'La Indita" (Mexican Indian girl). an Aztec princess, or an Aztec warrior with an Indian maiden in his arms. Other important themes reflect pride in Mexico's history: Mexican revolutionary soldiers, famous Mexican heroes (Pancho Villa, Emiliano Zapata), and a Mexican Charra (cowgirl) with sombrero. ( G 291)

It can be said that lowriding is gang-related, but not in the way most believe. Bajito Onda, a non-profit organization dedicated to giving all youth positive educational lifestyle alternatives, is an example. A lowrider magazine that allows teens to display their art, whether it be drawings, or pictures of their lowrider bikes, stresses education, not incarceration. In addition, this magazine is a medium inmates and ex-convicts may use to persuade the youth to make wise decisions. Inmates share their own stories of where they went wrong, warning youth of the consequences behind crime and violence.

As for the lowrider depicted in Boyz In Da Hood, the driver embodies several different values than that of the dedicated lowrider. A car being driven by a drug dealer is bought as-is, not a product that has had love, passion, and dedication poured into it. It is quite typical of lowriders to purchase an old-model American car. The focus is not on the ready made product, as is the case when most middle-class average Americans purchase a car. Lowriders are more interested in the "finished product;" what the car will look like after it is lowered, painted, muraled, and completely re-upholstered. Lowriders are in it for the long haul, for the customization process is long and costly. Whether or not they can afford this is not a question, as many lowriders take years to save up and complete their "ride." Even when others consider the car "finished", the owner, never satisfied with anything less then perfection, always finds room for some type of improvement.

Another important factor to take note of is the acknowledgment that this, to the lowrider, is not merely a hobby. Apart from investing a great deal of time and energy, the low rider takes pride in the fact that their cars are functional and a part of their daily routines, i.e. driven daily to school, work, church, as well as taking it for the Sunday cruise.

The motivations of the lowrider to associate himself with the lowrider culture can be seen through his work and actions. To the dedicated lowrider, the vehicle becomes a work of folk and popular art. The lowrider attitude or "lifestyle," being a fusion of popular American culture and Mexican traditions, has also been a form of rejecting both these labels. Not purely American, nor Mexican, the Chicano associated with those of the lowrider circuit has utilized their personal expressions--to reach an artistic symbolism, similar to what others have done through music, murals, and literature. Just as the Zoot Suiters of the 1940's established a culture to call their own, the lowrider experience as Mexicans living in a country whose "Americaness" is based upon the dominant anglo culture has "become a means to control symbolically the contradictions between Chicano experience ( e.g., confrontations with the law and bureaucracies and stereotyping by the press) and dominant culture roles generally denied them (Bright 97).