Motorized: Cruising Culture

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Steven Meckler photo

The lowrider, that unique urban phenomenon made popular in the East Los Angeles barrios, is also a sub-culture marker, brimming with real-people stories about coming of age, community and expressive culture aesthetic. In Tucson, lowriders authentically keep alive the artistic lowrider traditions and the cultural scene, with the car shows and clubs projecting the art form and pageantry of the movement.

Angel Valencia, a lowrider and Pascua Yaqui tribal member, is Car Show Coordinator for the Pascua Yaqui Festival of the Arts, an annual cultural convergence with large club and Yaqui participation. The following narrative by Valencia gives BorderLore a window in the Yaqui lowrider experience.

By Angel Valencia
Entering the car culture:
My first exposure to this life style was growing up on the Southside of Tucson near South 6th Avenue and seeing lowriders cruise by in front of my childhood home on their way to a cruise, wedding or whatever it may have been. I recall seeing car club plaques in the rear window, reading, “New Style Car Club” or “Sophisticated Few” CC. I remember visiting the car show downtown at Tucson Meet Yourself and seeing classic cars from Dukes CC, thinking of how I would love to have a car like that.

As a teen I would buy Lowrider magazines, and I finally bought my first Impala at age 19. From then on I got involved with Artistics CC. Today I host a Car Show with the Pascua Yaqui Festival of the Arts to help promote our lowrider lifestyle.

Lowriding self-expression:
In my case: Family, friends, work, and education are on a higher level of importance, before lowriding. At the same time, being involved with the lowrider lifestyle is also a full-time thing. When I walk out of my home, and see my Impala sitting in my driveway, I get a sense accomplishment as well as the drive to continue working on my (what seems to be never-ending) project. I use my lowrider as a form of self-expression, by giving my car all the “bling.” By this I mean personally I never use jewelry or flashy clothes, but my vehicle will shine its chrome Dayton wire wheels and bright blue paint and you’ll hear me coming as I blast my stereo.

Yaqui Lowrider Pride:
I feel that in our community there is a strong appreciation for the lowrider culture. From ages 8-80, all appreciate the time, effort and cost that goes into building a lowrider. Our community gets a bit nostalgic when people see a vehicle from the 50s, 60s or 70s in great shape driving through the neighborhood. I’ve heard numerous stories about former Impala owners wishing they still had one. And there are the kids who wish to own a lowrider when they get older.

Engaging Community:
Car clubs and lowriders are just like many other organizations that are involved in the community. Lowrider clubs help each other with community events and church happenings, Christmas toy drives and fundraisers for various causes. Through our clubs’ community service, we spread awareness about causes that naturally are part of our community and become a part of our everyday lives. For example, with my involvement in the Pascua Yaqui Festival of the Arts, I continually seek out up-and-coming artists to highlight in our efforts to showcase Yaqui people. We support local causes that benefit our community and, in turn, the community supports us in our lifestyle.

Tucson Car Culture today
Tucson’s car culture, including clubs and individual riders, is alive and doing a great job in contributing to the lifestyle. There are a number of Tucson car shows each year, hosted by various car club like Stylistics CC, Groupe CC, Nemisis CC, and more. Car Clubs like Old Memories CC, Imagination CC, Amenaza CC, Bajito CC , Cristales CC, Goodtimes CC and Swift CC host outings including cruises and picnics. I also like to acknowledge car clubs like Dukes CC and Sophisticated Few CC, serving Tucson and Southern Arizona more than 20 years. Many individuals and businesses, like Big Blue photography and PB Photography, are part of the lowrider community; they’re contributors in the digital age who show love for the lowrider lifestyle with camera in hand.

Technology Impact
Across the world, technology advances. The car culture also adapts to the change. Sites like now cater to the lowrider lifestyle and are used to connect with other lowriders; Facebook frequently is used to share information about upcoming events and car shows.

Technology directly impacts the vehicles, as well. Cars that were once cruisers along Tucson’s avenues, now also perform as performance vehicles, due to advancements in car building.

In our Yaqui community, my hope for anyone who is interested in the car culture: Rise up, find your dream car, and build what best represents your individual style – just like the rest of the builders in our lowrider community.

If anyone would like information on lowriders, I suggest talking with owners about their accomplishments. If you have a chance to talk to the person driving the lowrider, I’m sure those individuals will be more than happy to talk about their cars.

— Angel Valencia

Lowrider culture
[left to right] Fiesta Grande lowrider; Cherry Bomb Dolls at Pascua Yaqui Festival of Arts;
Car club participation at Pascua Yaqui festival

  • Online lowriding resource:
  • Tucson Chapter, Cherry Bomb Dolls (a high-style national non-profit social club that embraces the pinup and car scene while raising funds for local communities):
  • Books:
    • Tatum, Charles M. Lowriders in Chicano Culture: From Low to Slow to Show: California: Greenwood, 2011
    • Rivera, Santino J. (Art Meza, Photographer) Lowriting: Shots Rides and Stories from the Chicano Soul Florida: Broken Sword Publications, 2014
    • Chappell, Ben Lowrider Space: Aesthetics and Politics of Mexican American Custom Cars: Texas: University of Texas Press, 2012

by Celestino Fernandez, Ph.D.
(excerpts from October 2010 Tucson Meet Yourself Magazine)

The term lowrider refers to 1) initially, automobiles, and later also bicycles and motorcycles that have been customized in certain ways; 2) the individuals who own, drive and show these automobiles and 3) the subculture that has developed around the automobiles and the events at which they are shown.

While today several racial and ethnic groups, including Latinos, African Americans, Anglo Americans and Asian Americans, participate in low riding, the phenomenon originated and continues to be most popular in the Mexican American community. This cultural practice is popular in both urban communities such as Los Angeles and San Jose, and rural communities such as Espanola, New Mexico (the self proclaimed low rider capital of the world).

It is widely believed that it began in the early 1950s, in Los Angeles, about the time that young white males began customizing their automobiles as “hot rods.” Lowriders are almost the antithesis of hot rods. Lowriders are first and foremost about appearance, not performance.

Modifications and Material Culture
The most important customization has to do with the lowering of the automobile to be close to the ground. In the 1950s, this involved putting heavy objects in the trunk and floor of the back seat, such as bags of sand (or cement) and bricks. In the 1960s, lowering cars meant removing the suspension coil springs and melting or chopping them before reinstalling them. But the major breakthrough came in the 1970s with the application of hydraulic systems that allowed the driver to lower the automobile literally to the ground and to raise it to legal driving height with the flip switches and use of hydraulics.

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