Breaking Stereotypes and Re-identifying Lowrider Culture: Lowrider Roll Models
Lowrider culture. What comes to mind? Cholos, drugs, and half-naked women in hypersexualized poses by fancy vehicles with the song “Lowrider by War?”
Growing up in Southern California, lowrider culture was a regular affair in my life: from going to car shows with radical hop competitions to having neighbors and friends owning iconic automobile masterpieces that are universally recognizable in the world. As an observer of this unique lifestyle that is known worldwide, Lowrider Roll Models series tells real stories that will break any preconceived notions that you might have of the culture.
For those who can only share their two cents on lowriders based on what they’ve seen in rap music videos, gangster-related movies, like Boulevard Nights (although it was awesome to see Cheech Marin playing lowrider in the Disney favorite Cars), and such critically acclaimed video games like the Grand Theft Auto franchise, specifically GTA San Andreas, and the Saints Row franchise, has contributed in the mainstream media fabric as one-dimensional or the most two-dimensional, until Lowrider Roll Models series, granting lowrider culture its true three-dimensional ability in storytelling.
Lowrider culture has been around for more than a half-century. It’s an automotive subculture from Chicano culture, intersects races, generations, and it has a common law for the love of oldies–also known as Chicano Oldies and old school, music from the Ritchie Valens’ days of the 1950s to the Funk era of Zapp & Roger. There’s a whole sub genre of music called Chicano Lowrider music such as “Summer Nights” by Lil Rob. For the record, Art Laboe is a cultural saint to lowriding too.
To get an intimate understanding, let’s go to the root of this culture phenomenon where identity is formed. The lowrider culture started out in cities like Dallas, San Francisco, Portland, Phoenix, Chicago, but as history sources point, it fully developed its identity in Southern California, particularly between cities like East Los Angeles, Santa Ana to San Diego in the 1940’s, when the public transportation industry got derailed through the monopolization by corporations like GM Motors, Firestone Tires and Standard Oil of California (now known as Chevron). If you despise LA for the smog, traffic, and bad parking, this part of history could tell your why, but LA has stepped up their metro public transportation game in the recent years, but still has a lot of catching up.
As the automotive culture evolved in this region of the world, by the 1960’s, it went two directions dictated predominantly by race–Chicano/Mexican Americans and White folks. An example of this contrast in the custom car culture is the muscle car vehicle; the design was inspired by power, ex. Ed “Big Daddy” Roth. As with lowrider culture, it focused on keeping it classic with the drive of rasquachismo, where the visual design is unique to each vehicle and the must-have hydraulic system, an art-and-craft of showmanship for the whole community to see.
If you haven’t experienced this rare urban sighting cruising through your community, and I say rare because in many cities cruising has become outlawed on the notion that it’s “too gangster,” picture this:
It’s Sunday and the sun is setting. You’re taking a cruise around the city when you spot a caravan of lowriders, from the 40s to 80s with vibrant paint-jobs, in cruising state, and time slows down. In a sense, it’s almost like the spectacle of seeing a herd of majestic animals in their natural environment.
With everything I mentioned, Lowrider Roll Models tells those real modern nostalgic stories that make the fabric of the lowrider culture. Directed, produced and post production supervised by Kico Velarde, a bonafide Chicano filmmaker, which I find critically important because the storyteller is just as important as the story in cultural relativity.
There are four episodes out and each one is unique, and to say the least without spoiling anything, it’s a very well-produced episodic series that is worth your time and will redefine your perception of a subculture/lifestyle. You’ll be happy our stories are being told. These are real human stories that break stereotypes about the automotive lifestyle of the lowrider aficionado.
Lowrider Magazine is in a huge image shift right now. They want to be a respected car culture magazine. That’s why they have taken the girls out of the magazine. If you look at the magazine now it’s all about the cars. Roll Models is their 2 phase at rebuilding the Lowrider Magazine identity so that it will not only reflect the true craft and art that goes into every car, but it also breaks stereotypes of lowrider owners.
For more on the history of lowriders: Low and Slow: The History of Lowriders.
Michael Montenegro. Chicano. Filmmaker. Activist for media diversity.