© 2024 WEAA
THE VOICE OF THE COMMUNITY
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Help us keep this community resource alive by making a contribution today!

The history of lowrider culture and its multigenerational reach

Fernando Perez displays his marina blue 66 Chevrolet Caprice to other low rider enthusiasts.
Iman Maani
Fernando Perez displays his marina blue 66 Chevrolet Caprice to other low rider enthusiasts.

In the mid-twentieth century in Southern California, colorful painted classic cars would cruise the boulevards. From Cadillac El Dorados to Chevy Impalas, these lowriders were rolling art installations with chrome rims and white wall tires, with the cars meant to be driven "low and slow" as they hugged the pavement. Set on hydraulics, the cars would be able to, in the flip of a switch, become lowriders one second and street-legal vehicles the next.

Over the decades, laws in many California cities prohibited people from lowriding, due to the fostered stereotypes that associated cruising with gang violence. In 1958, the enactment of Section 24008 of the California Vehicle Code banned modifying cars so that the frame would be lower than the bottom of its wheel rims. In 1988, California state lawmakers passed a bill that allowed local governments to pass anti-cruising ordinances. Despite such restrictions being in place, lowriders found ways to bypass the law, allowing for the culture to endure and spread globally.

Last year, California signed a bill to prohibit bans and anti-cruising ordinances that many felt targeted Mexican-Americans. Since the enactment of the new law on January 1, lowriders across the state can cruise without the fear of being cited or towed.

Low rider enthusiasts gather together in San Fernando for a cruise night.
/ Iman Maani
/
Iman Maani
Low rider enthusiasts gather together in San Fernando for a cruise night.

Fernando Perez, also known as Birdman, is a low rider enthusiast. He owns a marina blue 66 Chevrolet Caprice. For Perez, lowriding is a way of life.

"It's what I know, it's how I am, how we are, the way I dress, the way I walk, the way I talk, the way I look," Perez told Morning Edition.

Cesar Ibarra, a lowrider enthusiast as well, agrees, " It's not a hobby for me. It's my lifestyle. I grew up into this."

For Perez, he hopes lowriding culture continues to be passed down. Just as he had gotten a lowrider bike when he was kid, he got one for his son.

"He's got a lowrider bike, I built one for him. He's a little baby Birdman from Ghetto Car Club," Ibarra said.

Ibarra believes lowriding culture will only continue to grow. "It's a family thing. I got two daughters. My youngest daughter loves it. She's also looking for a car to follow her dad's footsteps, " he said.

A lowrider bicycle is on display at The Midnight Hour Records in San Fernando.
/ Iman Maani
/
Iman Maani
A lowrider bicycle is on display at The Midnight Hour Records in San Fernando.

Denise Sandoval is a professor of Chicana and Chicano studies at California State University, Northridge. She says lowriding is multigenerational, with its culture creating "space for the family to celebrate community, to celebrate the culture, to celebrate cultural pride - pride of being Chicano."

Sandoval adds that lowriding emerged during a time where Mexican-American communities faced segregation and racism. Ever since the 1800s, Mexican-Americans had experienced systematic discrimination, from illegal deportations to mob violence to school segregation. Despite decades of institutional discrimination, Mexican-Americans continued to find ways to culturally and artistically express themselves. Around the 1940s, it was through lowriding.

"It's the one way that communities, particularly working class communities, historically have created space for themselves to not just express how they want to portray their culture," Sadoval said.

A growing barrier to passing down the culture is the expenses of customizing and upkeeping a lowrider. Sandoval shares that the price of cars for her generation has risen.

"Today, it's really expensive. These old cars can be like $30,000 and up," she said.

With the cost of living increasing, younger generations are finding creative ways to remain connected to the culture.

"You see it with lowrider bicycle clubs where you see a lot of young boys and even girls that are learning to appreciate customizing their bicycle and being part of a club," says Sandoval.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Tags
Iman Maani
Iman Maani is a production assistant on Morning Edition and Up First. She began her journalism career at Member station NCPR in Canton, New York. She has also worked on the political docu-series, Power Trip, that covered the midterm elections. Iman is a graduate from St. Lawrence University.