Original Article: electrek.co
The Vibrant History of Lowrider Car Culture in L.A. | Travel | Smithsonian Magazine
Candy paint jobs with glimmering specks of metallics. Custom upholstery of magenta velvet. Bouncing hydraulics cruising low and slow. The names “Purple Rain” and “Erotic City” gleaming from the lacquered frames.
These are words that could only describe the famous lowriders belonging to L.A.’s Chicano community, which are the subject of photographer Kristin Bedford’s new book, Cruise Night. For the project, she spent five years immersing herself in Mexican American lowriding clubs in East Los Angeles, attending all of the events she was invited to—weddings, funerals and quinceañeras—where the members would display their cars. The result is a series of photos that, like the cars themselves, tell a visual story of how lowriders—the term refers to both the cars and their owners—have used customization as a means of resisting a homogenizing American society that too often suppresses the creativity and pride of its minorities.
Bedford’s interest in the nexus between art and activism originated at an early age. Growing up in Washington, D.C., Bedford’s father, political filmmaker and activist Chris Bedford, raised her with an awareness of, and appreciation for, iconic Chicano activists like Cesar Chavez and Ruben Salazar, a journalist with the Los Angeles Times from 1959 to 1970 and the first Mexican American to write about Chicanos. Despite the fact that these figures were culturally and geographically far away, they were always in “the back of my head,” says Bedford. When she eventually moved to L.A., one of the first things she set out to find was the Silver Dollar Café, the site in East L.A. where Salazar was murdered in 1970.
The roots of lowriding in L.A. trace all the way back to the 1940s, when car culture was beginning to take hold across America. This was especially true in southern California where families began purchasing cars in order to adapt to the expanded cities of the new, post-war urban landscape.
Like their white counterparts, Mexican American veterans were also purchasing cars with the money they were earning from their service in World War II. As the “hot rod” trend swept the country, which comprised mainly of vintage models like Ford Model-Ts being modernized with enlarged engines for speed, Mexican American vets, deftly employing the mechanical training they had received in the army, began to tweak their cars in their own garages as a means of distinguishing themselves both on and off the road. Tinkering with the engines, painting the exteriors and even adding weights in the back to lower the bodies, Mexican Americans were purposefully altering their cars—Chevys, which were in surplus at the time and designed with an X on the bottom that made them easy to modify were especially popular—so that, unlike the “hot and fast” hot rods, their cars would be “low and slow.”
Steve Velasquez, a curator of cultural and community life at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, explains that, “lowriding is a reflection of that Mexican American post-war experience.” (The museum has a 1969 Ford LTD that David Jaramillo of Chimayo, New Mexico, converted into a lowrider he called “Dave’s Dream” in the late ‘70s.) Unlike the hot rods that were taking the country by storm, the lowriders were “about something different.”
As Mexican Americans began to collectively reimagine their identity from an empowered perspective during the Chicano Movement in the 1970s, lowriders took on a more formalized political function. Car clubs, which were forming at this time, began offering community services, like fundraising for the United Farm Workers labor union and hosting health initiatives. “Yes [they] liked talking about cars and working on cars,” says Velasquez of the clubs. “But they also started to create these community events. The car aspect was 10 percent, and the social aspect was 90 percent.”
The Chicano Movement also involved the rediscovery of pro-pueblo imagery by artists such as Diego Rivera—imagery including flowers, warriors and geometric designs that borrowed heavily from stories and myths belonging to Mexico’s Indigenous groups and eventually made its way onto the cars. “You can see changes in artistic practices, how car clubs are being created and why they’re being created. You see the shift where it’s more community-focused, and you see the [same] shift in art,” Velasquez says.
As evidenced by Bedford’s portraits of young people and their cars, lowriders are still in fashion today—it’s even possible that, with the popularity of lowriders in Japan and Brazil, lowriders are, at least on a global level, more popular than ever. Locally, they even continue to serve a public function. According to Velasquez, club members in L.A. organized to deliver food and other supplies to workers stranded in central California during the Covid-19 pandemic. Although less people are buying their own cars, the traditions continue because the cars are being passed down intergenerationally among family members.
The strategic use of style as a modality of resistance is one of the key elements that attracted Bedford to producing her collection of photos. Calling the cars “mobile canvases,” she says it was immediately clear to her that customization is a way to have a voice. “Cruising down the boulevard, in your own car, realizing your own vision, is a way of saying: I’m here,” she says.
From intimate close-ups that show Aztec figures painted on the cars’ exteriors to wider shots that showcase the Mexican flag hanging over a trunk, Bedford’s photos depict the way lowriders fold Mexican cultural symbols into their own work as a means of asserting a sense of ownership over their heritage.
Other homages to traditional customs are visible in the portraits of the lowrider owners themselves. In one notably quiet photo, a teenage girl is captured in a reflective moment as she looks away from the camera; a flower tucked behind her ear serves as a reference to Pachuca style, a trend defined by broad-shoulders, high-waist trousers, combed hair and a silver chain dangling from a waistbelt that also emerged among Chicano boys in the 1940s as a symbol of rebellion. Bedford says this is also a reference to the Zoot Suit Riots of 1943, another example of a time in which Mexican Americans in Los Angeles deployed style and aesthetics—in this particular case, fashion—to protest the systemic inequality they were experiencing in white society. Bedford believes these details contribute to the “L.A. quality” of the photographs.
Bedford’s own artistic process was entirely self-directed, and she says the book was created in isolation. Foregoing working with an editor or art director, she was the one who picked out the photos, sequenced them and selected the wonderful quotes from different members of L.A.’s lowrider community that are included as part of the oral history.
“I let the photos guide the story,” she explains. “Once I start making photos, I don’t have an agenda. I make the work and then go back to my studio and see what the photos are telling me.”
Bedford believes this is the way for her to remain honest to her project and to avoid falling into the trap of replicating work that already exists. She adds, “I live in mystery for my entire project, and I let the photos tell me what it’s about.”
Bedford hopes that her work will contribute to rewriting the public’s misunderstandings about lowriders, who are often ignorantly associated with gang activity and violence. In 1958, the state of California passed section 24008 of its vehicle code, which went so far as to outlaw any car on a public road if any of the car was “lower than the bottom of the wheel rim.” Soon after, hydraulic systems that allowed drivers to raise and lower their vehicles came into play. This is the type of stigma and racism that Bedford seeks to challenge. “What I bring through my experience and my art form is how I experienced the beauty and nuance and sophistication of this community, and of the cars they’ve created,” she states.
Estevan Oriol, noted L.A. photographer and member of the Pegasus Car Club, says that Hollywood has contributed to the negative stigma attached to lowriders, and it’s important to him to let people ask him questions so that he can help “educate and enlighten them” about lowriding’s rich history.
“No one is going to rob a bank in a car that has a custom bright yellow paint job,” he says with a hint of sarcasm. “For most guys that I know, this is their baby. The last thing they want to do is jeopardize themselves in their car.”
Oriol has been documenting lowriders from inside the community for over two decades. His work has been featured in books, exhibitions and, most recently, the Netflix documentary L.A. Originals, which he produced and directed. As an L.A. Chicano, he says that lowriding is in his DNA—and that he’s been a lowrider since before he even owned a camera.
“[This] isn’t a project for me,” he says proudly. “It’s a way of life.”
He remembers the excitement he felt when he bought his first lowrider—a Chevy Impala SS —in the late ‘80s. It was something he had wanted for a long time because the lowrider was the “car for our culture, like our version of the Fons.”
Although Oriol enjoys showing up to parties and events in his lowrider, the best part is getting to actually experience the drive.
“The Sixth Street Bridge going from East L.A. to downtown, that’s my favorite drive in L.A.” he says. “You can see the downtown skyline. You just start your music at that stoplight at Sixth and Boyle, and then you just cruise like 30 miles an hour. You take up the whole bridge with one song, drag it out. That’s how I like to end my lowrider day. There’s no better feeling.”
This content was originally published here.
This Simple Program Allows People to Transport Their Stuff Without a Car
When was the last time you had to move something that you couldn’t carry with your own two hands? Maybe it was a big haul of groceries, a new piece of furniture, or a large bag of dirt for your garden? How did you make that trip from the supermarket, the furniture store, or the garden center? My guess is that you took your car or, if you don’t have a car, perhaps you negotiated to borrow a friend’s truck or paid to take a rideshare.
A few weeks ago, I was chatting with my brother Michael, who’s lived in Berlin for the last couple of years, and he casually mentioned that he had just been to pick up a bunch of wood from the hardware store for a new bed he’s building himself. The mode of transportation he used to pick up that wood was a free cargo bike—one of dozens that are located all over the city and available for use from anyone who needs them.
This sounded like such a simple and brilliant solution to a challenge that anyone without a car (or who shares a car with other family members and can’t always use it) has probably faced. So I wanted to share a little about the program with you here. Please hold your “that’s Europe, we could never do it in America” judgements until the end.
To start with, let’s talk about cargo bikes. The ones in this Berlin program are simply bikes with a large open box attached to the front that can hold a surprising amount of stuff. They’re built to make pedaling seamless and easy with whatever load you’re hauling. As you can see from these photos, they can carry anything from a Christmas tree to a mattress to your children.
Michael explained how the program, called fLotte Berlin (“fleet Berlin”), works: You register online and sign a basic “terms and agreements” sheet. Then you’re free to peruse the live map that shows what bikes are available where. These bikes are housed at an assortment of shops and public places like grocery stores, parking lots, and even pubs. You can book immediately or reserve ahead for a future date. For his wood pick-up, my brother selected a bike that happened to be kept at a bookstore and when he arrived, he simply showed the bookstore employee his ID and she brought out the bike for him.
One thing Michael said he appreciated about the program is that, “it’s all day—not one of these ‘you can have it for 30 minutes and then it has to be returned’ things.” That made his trip easy because he didn’t have to worry about rushing back within a given timeframe. We all know how deliveries and pick-ups—especially with bulky objects—can take longer than we’d planned on by the time you’ve figured out how to maneuver the thing out of the store and into your vehicle. Based on photos of the bikes in use, I can also see that some people are using them to take day trips to go sledding or skiing—again, a situation where a full day of access simplifies things.
Another huge asset to the program, Michael said, is that it’s completely free to use. You don’t have to put a credit card on file or pay by the hour. In the case of fLotte Berlin, the bikes were paid for by the local government (through an environmentally-focused fund) and the program is managed and maintained by a nonprofit bike advocacy group, Der Allgemeine Deutsche Fahrrad-Club (the German Cyclists Association). They’ll even send a volunteer out to your bike for emergency maintenance if you break down mid-ride.
I remember the summer when I moved into my first real grown-up apartment after college. My then-boyfriend/now-husband and I were furnishing our place with the bare minimum of items we could afford from thrift stores and the side of the road. We didn’t own a car, so I walked to Goodwill and found a decent bedside table for $10, only to exit the store and realize I was never going to be able to carry the thing home on my own. I ended up calling a Lyft and awkwardly sticking the table in the driver’s trunk, praying I wasn’t going to dent his vehicle in the process and thankful that he allowed me to use his trunk at all. A cargo bike I could operate on my own would’ve made that whole experience so much easier and cheaper.
This bikeshare program—much like a tool lending library—makes sense because cargo bikes are quite expensive and most people wouldn’t need or want one for daily use. It’s just those occasional moments when you’re trying to bring home a big bag of dog food from the pet store or deliver a pile of baby items to a friend who’s expecting.
While the program was founded only a few years ago, fLotte Berlin currently boasts almost 19,000 registered users and my brother said that, now that he’s aware of it, he’s starting to notice the cargobikes everywhere. According to the fLotte website, the average trip on one of their bikes is about 9 miles—far enough that you’re definitely not going to walk it (especially not while carrying something big), but not so far that it’s a grueling ride. This bikeshare program is perfect for brief trips within a small town or city.
Ok, so now here’s the part where you say, “But that’s Europe. How could it possibly work here?” Cargo bikeshares like fLotte Berlin are indeed present all over Europe and I have yet to see them take root in the US. Why is that? Part of the reason is just that cars—not bikes—are the standard mode of transportation for most Americans, because we’ve built our cities around the car. But that doesn’t mean we can’t shift things gradually.
Realistically, I think a program like fLotte would make the most sense in a town or city that has a good bit of its traditionally developed downtown/main street core intact. Those tend to be places where biking feels safer because streets are more narrow, inducing slower traffic, and where destinations are closer together (compared to a suburban stroad-filled area). Another great place to pilot a cargo bikeshare might be a college campus. Think how many students would appreciate access to a free pedal-powered vehicle to help lug a stack of books home from the library or bring a bunch of food to a potluck. In places where many residents don’t have access to a car, a cargo bikeshare program could make a real difference.
My brother did point out one reason that such a program might be a little more challenging to pull off in the US: a cultural one. Germans just tend to be a bit more rule-abiding, in his experience. “In Germany, it’s not like the US where people would try to get away with as much as they could,” Michael says, “If you ruined the bike, you would know that, as a German, you weren’t getting away with it.” (As an example of this rule-abiding culture, my brother has shared stories about seeing someone drop a piece of trash in his neighborhood, only to have another person walking down the street scold them and tell them to throw it in a garbage can.)
His point is that the bikeshare program works on a free basis because people who use it are collectively invested in its success, taking good care of the bikes and not trying to steal them. As it says on the fLotte Berlin website (translated from the German): “The fleet is a voluntary project that only works as long as everyone participates in a respectful and appreciative manner.”
What do you think? Could a program like this benefit your community? What would it take to make it happen?
For more resources on biking and examples of communities that are doing a good job of investing in this affordable mode of transportation, visit the Bike section of the Strong Towns Action Lab.
Cover image and all other images in this article are via fLotte Berlin.
This content was originally published here.
Podcast: Tesla opening Supercharger network to other EVs, supercomputer, Mustang Mach-E GT, and more
This week on the Electrek Podcast, we discuss the most popular news in the world of sustainable transport and energy, including Tesla making moves to open Supercharger network to other electric cars, Tesla’s latest supercomputer, Ford Mustang Mach-E GT range, and more.
The post Podcast: Tesla opening Supercharger network to other EVs, supercomputer, Mustang Mach-E GT, and more appeared first on Electrek.
Original Post: electrek.co
Banks1 month ago
Financial Blacklisting: Wells Fargo Shuts Down GOP Senate Candidate Lauren Witzke’s Bank Account
Energy1 month ago
As Biden Dismantles Trump’s Energy Independence Policy Look for More Gas Lines, Increased Prices and Imports Greater than Exports
Science1 month ago
Physicians, scientists believe doctors’ group deserves Nobel Prize for finding ‘most powerful COVID-19 killer known to science’
Science1 month ago
Is Malcolm Turnbull the only Liberal who understands economics and climate science – or the only one who’ll talk about it?
Medical1 month ago
Baby girl born at 24 weeks with feet the size of pennies proves medical doctors wrong
Uncategorized2 months ago
Medical1 month ago
It’s Official –Maine State Nurses Association/NNU Certified as Union for RNs at Maine Medical Center
Current Events1 month ago
World Cups among 97 events UK Sport hopes country can host over next decade | News News | Sky Sports