Low riders part of proud, political Mexican-Amercan culture

Low riders become part of a long and proud Mexican-American culture. The cars and trucks are likewise a political declaration and an expression of identity. Allie Rasmus reports

SAN FRANCISCO – The lowriders are a crowd favorite at Bay Location parades and occasions. They’ve belonged of San Francisco and Objective District culture for decades, but there is also a social and political history behind the custom-made cars and trucks.

“I feel proud, that I can do something to simply make individuals smile,” said Roberto Hernandez.

He owns a lowrider himself, and was born and raised in the Objective District. Hernandez founded the San Francisco Lowrider Council in 1980.

The colorful automobiles personalized to bump, bounce and slide down city streets “low and slow” as the stating goes, are cultural icons in Western U.S. cities, especially Los Angeles and San Francisco. The vehicles frequently include themes and styles in their custom paint jobs, that are an expression of Mexican-American identity.

“Lowriding is a Latino invention. It becomes part of our culture, it becomes part of our DNA,” he stated. “Lowriding is an art-form. It requires time, cash and love.”

If the automobile was the canvas, 24th and Mission streets were the gallery.

For years, the lowriders cruised those area streets on weekends, to display their art work: “It was a total parade, every Friday and Saturday night,” Hernandez said.

However like the Mexican-American neighborhood itself, the lowriders faced negative stereotypes and discrimination.

In 1958, California law made it illegal to run an automobile modified to sit lower than the wheel rims. The lowrider community responded by including hydraulics, to raise their customized vehicles with the flick of a switch – and prevent citations or arrests.

Hernandez stated that despite those procedures, cops in San Francisco would frequently jail lowriders for cruising in the mission. Hernandez stated he was apprehended 113 times. The citations and arrests prompted him to form the San Francisco Lowrider Council, and start arranging protests against the authorities citations.

“When we started opposing, that’s when it got worse,” Hernandez said. “They [San Francisco Police] highlighted the riot team. I met with then-Mayor Dianne Feinstein and the Chief of Police. Everybody concurred our civil rights were being breached, however nobody was doing anything about it.”

The lowrider council filed a civil liberties lawsuit against the City of San Francisco and its authorities department, and won.

“That was the beginning of the motion, understanding that when we arrange, we can create modification,” Hernandez stated.

Since then, the group has been included and active in other social movements – promoting for the Latino neighborhood on problems like Immigration and authorities cruelty.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the Lowrider Council opened the Mission Food Hub to help feed hundreds of Mission district families. The group raised and provided 70,000 pounds of food to feed farm workers in the Central Valley.

“This is a community that has actually made a tremendous impact,” said Mayor London Type at a neighborhood celebration, marking 40 years since the Lowrider Council was formed.

In some cases, Hernandez says he can’t believe how much understandings about the lowriders have altered in the past 40 years.

“Before it was taken a look at as something individuals didn’t wish to relate to, like ‘Oh, those are bad boys’. Now, it has turned into something so gorgeous that’s respected as an artform and admired around the globe,” Hernandez said.

It gives him and other lowriders a sense of pride, and a feeling that after travelling all these years, they have actually lastly arrived.