Listen to the Full Portraits in Color Episode
Historians trace lowrider culture back to the early 30’s and 40’s as an extension of pachuco culture. If you’re unfamiliar with pachuco culture, check out Edward James Olmos in Zoot Suit. Yes, he was in other movies beyond Stand and Deliver! Some historians trace its origins to the El Paso/Juarez region, while others say it originated in the barrios of East LA. We’ll leave that debate to the Tejanos and the East Los crowd. Post World War II, many ex-military men from the southwest migrated to Los Angeles to work in aircraft factories, bringing along their passion for customized rides. By the 60’s, lowriders became identified with the Chicano movement, as these cars began to symbolize a proud cultural identity that still exists today.
These cars are an artistic expression of familia, culture and religion. They glow with brilliant colors, religious symbols, and wired rims. You might see the sparks fly from their bodies scraping the pavement as they creep down the street “low and slow” or hear the squeaks of the hydraulics as they bounce from side-to-side.
Lowrider culture has had significant influence in the worlds of music, fashion, and art. Back in the 70’s, you could hear War’s Chicano Rock anthem Lowrider pulsating from car speakers on downtown streets from Burque to LA. The marriage between car culture and music re-emerged in the 90’s with videos featuring South Central LA rappers Eazy E and Dr. Dre. Remember the G-thang video? Lowrider influenced fashion even made its way into mainstream pop music. Do you remember Gwen Stefani rocking the chola look in her early No Doubt days?
Lowriders as an expression of mobile art can be found in prominent art galleries, in national museums like the Smithsonian, and adorning international avenues from Japan to Australia. Facebook groups highlighting Lowrider Culture have six-figure followings and towns, like Española, NM have branded themselves the Lowrider Capital of the World.
I think it’s safe to say, the culture has officially moved from the underground to the mainstream.