La Times Portrays Gangster Lowriders as Mainstream America
Print Friendly and PDF

The Los Angeles Times loves to pretend that the massive demographic change caused by the Mexicanization of the American southwest is of no consequence. Sometimes the paper rewrites history entirely or ignore the cultural effects of Mexifornication, such as failing schools, increased gang crime and balkanization.

This tendency showed up in a recent news article, where a big lowrider show in Kern County was reported by the paper as if it were some sort of traditional American event, rather an expression of la Raza. There was no mention of lowriders’ Hispanic origins. The piece didn’t even celebrate diversity, but wrote as if lowriders had been a part of California ever since cars began.

Instead of learning about the Mexican fondness for decorating automobiles (and turning them into large bouncing toys), one reads that the Lowrider Nationals is a fun event for car enthusiasts and the whole family.

Please. Lowriders reflect Mexican gangster culture transplanted to America.

Lowrider Nationals car show cruises into Bakersfield, Los Angeles Times, August 5, 2011

Think of the words “Southern California” and several iconic images come to mind: palm trees in the breeze, well-toned men and women on the beach, the Hollywood sign, and lowriders moving slowly down the boulevard.

Modified to ride only inches from the ground, top chopped and refitted, custom paint job burnished to a proud shine, the lowrider since the 1940s has appropriated L.A.’s ubiquitous car culture — the famously gridlocked traffic, the pollution, the inability to walk the neighborhoods — and re-imagined the automobile as the ultimate urban art form. 

On Sunday, the 14th annual Lowrider Nationals event brings together hundreds of these cars for an entertaining and family-oriented day of auto shows, concerts, dance clubs, and food trucks at Kern County Fairgrounds in Bakersfield.

Rick Muñoz, the event’s producer, sums up the dynamic between the city driver and his vehicle: “The lifestyle of the urban person is very flashy and very loud — the cars certainly match that lifestyle.”

With more than 10,000 people in attendance and approximately 750 cars competing among four categories, Lowrider Nationals is the country’s largest urban car show. The size and scope of the event, along with the cash prizes (up to $1,000 for winners in each category), have drawn cars and those who love them from as far away as Miami, New York and Chicago.

Each of the four categories has a national champion: cars, trucks, bikes and DUBS (a custom rim designation meaning at least 20-inch rims — “dub” being slang for the number 20). Each category also has trophy and plaque awards for several specialties — imports, Euros, etc. But the winner of the major categories takes home the cash — which Muñoz says is the largest offered at any urban car show — and also a Super Bowl-style national champion diamond ring.

According to head judge George Torrez, who has been judging the competition for several years, he and the other judges consider a wide variety of components in a vehicle. “We look at the quality of the paint job, the craftsmanship of the car, the engine, the interior, the hydraulics and the overall display,” Torrez says. “There have been moments where I’m staring wide-eyed at the details and modifications of a car and ask myself, ‘How did the car owner go about doing that?’”

For instance, one show favorite is a 2009 Cadillac Escalade that Muñoz refers to as “a Transformer,” with a custom red paint job as well as a trunk, hood and four doors that can detach like puzzle pieces, allowing the car to transform into an entirely different design.

Or the 2004 Dodge Ram that won first place in last year’s best of show truck category. Scooby, the vehicle’s owner, built what he calls “a one-of-a-kind lime green truck with a chrome undercarriage, a waterfall in the back capable of holding up to 120 gallons of water, 20 8-inch woofers in the back seat and swivel chairs for front seats.”

It is this wild creativity with each car, truck or bike that inspires Muñoz to call the vehicles “pieces of art on wheels.”

One of the most anticipated competitions at Lowrider Nationals is the hopping contest, in which cars equipped with hydraulic or air-powered suspensions bounce off the ground as high as possible. With cars flipping over, windshields popping out of their frames and sparking battery wires causing cars to catch on fire, this is the dangerous, high-excitement, anything-goes segment of the day.

Families flock to the event, and several of the participants and sponsors have stepped up to make sure kids are welcome. Dr Pepper, a loyal and lead sponsor for Lowrider Nationals, brings an 80-foot-long, 18-wheel big rig to the event that transforms into a nightclub for kids and teens ages 11 to 19. The nightclub includes a DJ stand, dance floor, a bar sampling various Dr Pepper flavors, multiple flat screens and an Xbox and Wii gaming station.

For Muñoz, this event is not only a chance for car lovers to show off the work, creativity and energy they put into transforming their vehicle, but also an opportunity to give back to the community. This is the first year that Lowrider Nationals is holding a food drive for a local food bank in the city of Bakersfield. Attendees who bring a can of food during the first hour of the event will get $5 off their ticket price. Muñoz hopes that by doing this he will also help break negative connotations and stereotypes that come to mind with the word “lowrider.”

“Often, lowriders are assumed to be gangsters or troublemakers — this is so far from the truth,” he says. “This is our way of giving back to the community and of showing that we’re all about breaking stereotypes.”

Print Friendly and PDF