San Francisco lowriders celebrate 40 years of cruising and fighting police harassment: NPR


A Lowrider rides three wheels on Sunset Blvd. in Los Angeles’ Echo Park neighborhood in July.

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A Lowrider rides three wheels on Sunset Blvd. in Los Angeles’ Echo Park neighborhood in July.

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Growing up in the Mission District of San Francisco, Roberto Hernandez loved zoot costumes. He also loved art. It was only a matter of time before he started lowriding.

“It was in my DNA,” Hernandez said.

As soon as he could, he bought his neighbor’s 1964 Chevy Impala and started to drive “low and slow”.

Hernandez was drawn to the elaborate paintings on the hoods and trunks of other lowriders, which had lowered bodies that hovered just above the street, and the hydraulic systems that made them bounce a few meters above the ground. He recalls “the joy of being able to sail with a few other lowriders and then being whistled or waving to people.”

But by the late 1970s, as lowriding gained popularity among Latinos in Southern California, lowriders were also becoming a target for law enforcement.

Roberto Y. Hernandez, founder and chairman of the San Francisco Lowrider Council, stands at the entrance to an exhibit on counseling at the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts.

Roberto Y. Hernandez


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Roberto Y. Hernandez


Roberto Y. Hernandez, founder and chairman of the San Francisco Lowrider Council, stands at the entrance to an exhibit on counseling at the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts.

Roberto Y. Hernandez

“At one point it was bumper to bumper for 20 blocks. It was like a parade every Friday and Saturday night,” Hernandez said. “It was something the police just weren’t able to handle.”

Police issued citations, made arrests and even closed Mission Street, the main thoroughfare in the neighborhood where the lowriders would roam.

But the application of local laws was not always equal. The lowriders were mostly Latin American, and Hernandez said that explains the ferocity of the police crackdown.

“It was racial profiling at its peak, and it was discrimination,” he said. “All over town, on the west side of town, there were white children running for pink underpants. And they never laughed at them.

Eventually, Hernandez, who said he had been arrested 113 times and beaten by police more than once, got it. He and several other lowriders filed a lawsuit against then-San Francisco mayor Dianne Feinstein and the police, alleging violations of their civil rights.

In 1981, Hernandez brought together a group of auto clubs to form the San Francisco Lowrider Council, an advocacy organization that was helping lowriders resist police brutality at the time – and which has just marked its 40th year of service. activity.

How lowriding has evolved over the years

The exact origin of lowriding is a matter of debate, but in general it was a Chicano invention in and around Southern California after WWII.

“It starts in the Mexican-American experience of the southwestern United States, in the barrios,” said John Ulloa, professor of history and anthropology at Skyline College and lowrider.

It started as a hobby for blue collar workers. Gas was cheap so lowriding was an inexpensive way to have fun with friends. He also united the Chicano communities of the Southwest and became a vector of local community organization.

Visitors to the Peterson Automobile Museum in Los Angeles examine the Gypsy Rose, a 1964 Chevrolet Impala and one of the most famous lowriders in history, in this 2008 file photo.

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Visitors to the Peterson Automobile Museum in Los Angeles examine the Gypsy Rose, a 1964 Chevrolet Impala and one of the most famous lowriders in history, in this 2008 file photo.

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For many years it was a Latino subculture, but lowriding gained popularity in 1979 when the film Boulevard nights was freed, tackling the low-slung cruisers onto the silver screen. The film brought renewed attention to lowriding, but it also reinforced the stereotype that lowriding was associated with gangs and crime.

“You had a lot of cops who just didn’t like lowriders, and they wielded their authority to write any ticket or violation or invent whatever they wanted,” Don Alonzo said, vice-president of the Low Creations Car Club, on the tension between lowriders and the police.

But lowriding has only rebounded higher in the public consciousness. Rappers Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg scoured music videos in lowriders to promote Dr. Dre’s hit album in 1992, The Chronicle. Ramone, a character from the Disney movie Cars, is a lowrider. This year alone there were lowriders in a Business model featuring artist Mister Cartoon who aired during the Super Bowl, television’s most coveted advertising space.

The Lowriders bounce as high as they can in a car jumping competition at the Los Angeles Coliseum in 1996.

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The Lowriders bounce as high as they can in a car jumping competition at the Los Angeles Coliseum in 1996.

Stewart Cook / Getty Images

“I was doing a mapping for my next publication on the worldwide diffusion of lowriding, the globalization of lowriding, [and] I started mapping where the lowriding is, and I think the most accurate map is … where there isn’t, “Ulloa said.” Where is the lowriding now? It’s everywhere.”

Lowriding has grown from a local custom to a global phenomenon, from Japan to Germany to Brazil.

The cruise was taboo. Now it’s precious

The city settled the lawsuit brought by Hernandez and other lowriders several years after its filing.

Hernandez said he turned down the city’s offer of monetary payment and the final settlement guaranteed lowriders’ right to sail, led to the construction of a park and gymnasium and saw several police officers leave the force.

“It wasn’t about the money,” Hernandez said. “It was all about discrimination and blatant selective racism and excessive use of force by the police.”

The San Francisco Lowrider Council plaque on display at the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts.

Roberto Y. Hernandez


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Roberto Y. Hernandez

The 40-year trajectory of the San Francisco Lowrider Council has just been commemorated in an exhibition at the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts. San Francisco city officials have even proclaimed a recent Saturday as “Lowrider Day”.

According to Alonzo, who is also a board member, lowriders are viewed very differently today than they were in decades past.

“I’ve been pulled over by cops a couple of times, and it wasn’t because I was driving dirty or something or I had any violations or anything like that or my recording wasn’t valid or anything. something like that, ”Alonzo said. “They stopped me because they wanted to see my hydraulic setup.”

Ulloa, who hosted a academic conference on lowrider culture this year, said the growing popularity came with a problem: the cost to participate in the old blue-collar hobby has jumped. “It’s about redefining who can enter, where and under what circumstances people embrace culture without citation,” he said. “It also causes a certain dissonance within the culture, as people are excluded from the game.”

These days, the San Francisco Lowrider Council remains a diverse organization, Hernandez said.

“We’ve been stereotyped by the media and by a lot of people as being drug dealers and gangbaners and so on,” said Hernandez, who is also a community organizer and spear the Mission Food Hub during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Part of that stereotype was, ‘Well, how could they afford these kinds of cars and put all that money into cars?’” He added. “Well, we are working! “

Board members include college professors, teachers, lawyers, construction workers, divers and a sheriff.



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