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Where Did Lowriders Come from?
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Dear Mexican: I was reading an article about lowriders being modern pieces of art and displayed prominently in museums around the world. Having grown up in Española, New Mexico, it brought a sense of pride coming from “the Lowrider Capital of the World.” My question is where did the lowrider phenomenon begin? Española may be the lowrider capital, but I have my doubts it began there. It’s a small town and even smaller in the 1950′s, do you have any interest in writing a little history piece? I think it would be an interesting piece given it’s place in pop-culture and Mexican origins.

Low and Slow in Nuevo México

Dear Pocho: Española is a great little town that I visit every year on the way to the Santuario de Chimayó, but lowriders didn’t begin there. It’s only known as the Lowrider Capital of el mundo because NPR’s All Things Considered supposedly called it that, according to a 1994 article in the Santa Fe New Mexican (I say “supposedly” because an extensive archive search—okay, a quick Nexis® query—turned up no such citation). And I hate to break it to Chicano academics, but lowriders didn’t even begin with Chicanos. The term “lowrider,” besides being a sartorial adjective in use for over a century, was first applied to hoodlums of any race, then became lingo in Southern California kustom kulture—indeed, the earliest references the Mexican could find to cars as “lowriders” is in the classified section of newspapers in the late 1960s, under the heading “Hot Rods.” Telling is a September 13, 1970 column in the Long Beach Independent Press-Telegram that mourned the disappearance of greasers (in the rebel sense, NOT the Mexican sense) in the face of the counterculture movement. “He was and is, of course, a low-rider, a cruiser, a hot-rodder, a Levi guy and a hair boy,” the column stated, hinting that the original lowriders were more likely to look like James Dean than a homie from Eastlos. That’s not to deny Chicanos that the culture of fixing up boats and bombs, and driving them low and slow, is now dominated by them—if anything, we appropriated gabacho culture, for once!

When I take my wife out to a Mexican restaurant, I try and order and communicate in Spanish. My wife laughs because she says I even change my accent. Am I just a pendejo gringo that the waiters are laughing at behind my back and defacing my beans and rice, or are they on my side and appreciate a cracker trying to sound like he came from the barrio?

Muchos Grassy Ass


Dear Gabachos: Mexicans appreciate if you try to talk in Spanish, or use correct Spanish terms (“aguacates” instead of “guac,” for instance). Mexicans do not appreciate if you mimic a “Mexican” accent, mostly because there is no such thing as a universal one. Try that again next time, and don’t be surprised if your sour cream’s tang is due to the line cook’s crema.


Ask the Mexican at [email protected], be his fan on Facebook, follow him on Twitter @gustavoarellano or follow him on Instagram @gustavo_arellano!

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  1. polistra says:

    Yup. It probably began with the ’48 Hudson and ’49 Merc, both irresistibly low and rumbly by design. Kustomizers extended the lowness to other cars. The later development of hydraulic controls to make lowriders dance is distinctly Mexican.

  2. J1234 says:

    Lowriders really started with “timing associations” that existed in America in the 1930′s and ’40′s, at least with regards to modified cars of common origin (like Ford.) It was originally a wind resistance thing, and had little to do with style, but early on people appreciated the rakish look it gave their ’32 roadsters and chopped coupes. This stuff predated drag racing by decades; the early stocker dragsters kept the low timing assoc. look until the Ramchargers (a bunch of engineering students) discovered (in the late 50′s/early ’60′s) that a jacked up car had better traction. That’s why the convention is that a ’49 Merc is lowered, while a ’55 Chevy is often made to look like a gasser.

    By the early 1950′s the lowered thing was probably more about style. I don’t think the shoebox Fords and Mercs had much of a presence in timing associations, though I could be wrong. There were some Hispanic folks involved in developing the west coast hot rod culture and look, though. This guy was one of the early greats:

  3. Pepe says:

    Suffice to say that Lowrider culture has nothing to do with Mexico.

    As nearly all things in So Cal, like your burritos, have nothing to do with Mexican culture.

    Even the “Mexican” white Euro film directors and Lebanese actresses currently residing there.

    Those absurd, obnoxious tattoos and the bald heads you now see in Hollywood portrayals of “Mexicans/Americans” are now working their way down to Mexico, unfortunately.


  4. Chevys and a distain for shock absorbers.

  5. U really make the pilgrimage every year?

  6. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    There have always been hot rods that are low, but the lowrider is differentiated by having high energy hydraulics that make it bounce up and down as opposed to staying low.

    The original inspiration for hydraulics was the French Citroen, an odd looking car that had factory hydraulic suspension. It had a lever like a landing gear knob that would raise or lower its ride height by several inches, but not quickly.

    Mestizo mechanics with aircraft industry experience from the California aircraft plants got the idea to do something similar with the dirt cheap hydraulic cylinders and pumps that could be had for scrap prices at surplus stores. They found they could make the front and rear go up separately and if they used enough batteries on what was supposed to be a 14 volt aircraft pump it would really jump. Unlike the white hot rodders they didn’t care about speed, they wanted the visuals of a car that went up and down suggestively.

  7. Wally says:

    Regardless, they’re dumb as dirt, let the Mexicans have them.

  8. IvyMike says:

    Santuario de Chimayo, Espanola, and a restaurant question reminds me how long since I had Tinga Beef at Rancho de Chimayo. Is it still there? Love that place. We were alone sitting quietly in the pews at the Santuario one weekday when the Nuns walked in. They all stared at my girl friend because they always know a lapsed Catholic when they see one. Except for the nuns the Santuario is home to a deep and loving Spirit being…

  9. In the late seventies, straight (no trick hydraulics) low rider Asian pickup trucks were all quite the rage in Central America. There was even a special closed road course stock car class for them. I never could grok their popularity for general civilian pendejo use though, given how shitty the roads were.

    But back to S. Califas Jumpin’ Bean Vatomobile culture– and I have a question for Gus on this one. Do those little spicy trick mamitas that model on the hoods and decks of those sleds put out a pretty good piece of ass? Will they roll with a bolillo?

  10. Frank Zappa ‘Dogbreath In The Year Of The Plague’ from ‘Uncle Meat’

    ‘Primer mi Carucha Chevy ’39
    Going to El Monte Legion Stadium
    Pick up on my Weesa she is so divine
    Helps me stealing hubcaps
    Wasted all the time.
    Fuzzy dice, bongos in the back
    My ship of love
    ready to attack’

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