By most accounts, lowriding began in California among young Mexican Americans, who took a middle-class American symbol — the automobile — and turned it on its head. They began restyling older, more affordable cars with elegant upholstery, chrome and gold detailing, powerful sound systems and, in some cases, hydraulic suspension systems that could raise the car off the ground. These flashy creations, made to be paraded “low and slow,” also became symbols of defiance that later spread to other marginalized communities across the United States and eventually as far as Japan.
In the postwar economic boom of the 1950s, the movement continued to grow with a surplus of older, more affordable cars, said John Ulloa, an expert in lowrider culture and history lecturer at San Francisco State University. “Necessity is the mother of all invention,” he said, describing the ingenuity of those who created “something beautiful out of something that was somebody else’s trash.”
Over the years, however, lowriding became a target of politicians who linked it to urban crime, and in 1988, state lawmakers passed a bill allowing local governments in California to enforce bans on cruising. Assemblyman David Alvarez, the San Diego Democrat who introduced the bill to end the bans, said they unfairly targeted a marginalized community and gave the police “another tool to intervene, to stop and to question individuals.”
Lori Maldonado, who identifies as a second-generation Chicana, said that for as long as she can remember, her lowrider community has been playing a “cat-and-mouse” game with the authorities, moving from one parking lot to another to avoid law enforcement.
“We’ve been hassled by the police ever since I was little,” Ms. Maldonado, 48, said, recalling how her family would place sandbags and heavy house speakers in the back of cars to weigh them down, dropping them closer to the ground.