By Maria Garcia
San Diego Lowriders: A History of Cars and Cruising
Alberto López Pulido and Rigoberto “Rigo” Reyes
The History Press, 2017
There is a new and exciting book titled “San Diego Lowriders: A History of Cars and Cruising”. Authors Alberto López Pulido and Rigoberto “Rigo” Reyes capture a history and culture that is not always thought of when the history of San Diego is related.
This book begins with the roots of lowriding and introduces us to organized car clubs. The authors emphasize the pride and respect Lowriders had for their community, for their cars, and for each other. Car clubs became a focal point and have remained a common ground for community drivers to the present day.
The general public is not aware that Lowriders are actually part of the history of San Diego as early as 1950. They are also unaware of how misunderstood the culture of Lowriders has been. This book is not only informative, but also provides insight into the standards and the culture of Lowriders. It also gives a clear picture of how and why Lowriders have affected the world of cars and even bicycles.
In San Diego, Lowrider history began in Old Town with a name: Mathias Ponce. Mathias begin lowering cars and cruising in the early 1940s, long before any of us knew about lowering cars. His club was the Sierra Car Club, which is considered to be the first car club in San Diego. The Sierra Car Club held its meetings in the Old Town Recreation Center and a favorite hangout was the Presidio.
Some of Mathias’ ideas for modifying cars came from what he refers to as “junking,” which involves going through piles of junk car parts and seeing how you can utilize them. The experiments with those parts led to him learning how to lower the rear end of the car, which resulted in both a new look and better performance. Mr. Ponce and two other men soon gained recognition for their skills for customizing cars, and this is one of many, many stories.
The book includes a pictorial history of over 100 pictures (including several pages in color) which document the contributions and the lifestyles of the Lowriders. Poster dances have been a part of the Mexican and Mexican-American communities since the early 1950s and Lowriders enjoyed holding these dances to show their work as well as raise money for the community. (Poster dances referred to the dances sponsored by one of the clubs that were mainly promoted by colorful posters.)
This book teaches us about car clubs from San Diego to Tijuana. Communities such as Sherman Heights, Otay Mesa, and San Ysidro are all well known for their clubs. Most people know that Highland in National City was a popular location for cruising, but few people knew that Playas de Tijuana was also a popular location.
One of the authors’ goals was to inform others not only of the history of Lowriding in San Diego but also of the culture that was a vital part of their lifestyle. The authors refer to eight qualities of Lowriders: creative spirit; an independent spirit; cultural pride with movements of historical renaissance; activism in keeping Chicano ideals alive and vibrant; community ervice; collectivism; mindfulness of traditions and rituals; and cultural continuity. They go on to explain that these qualities are not to be taken lightly and are part of the Lowrider’s life style.
Until I read this book, I did not think about car clubs as having their own culture. I saw them as groups of mostly men whose common bond was cars. In reality, there are many aspects to the culture of Lowriders. I shared this book with Alex Ortega, a member of the Pachuco Car Club and asked about his thoughts about the book and the realities of the Lowrider lifestyle. He responded “Tto be a Lowrider is a way of life and is reflected in their respect for each other”. The message of respect is evident throughout the book. He adds that their club motto is peace, unity, respect, and familia.
There is a chapter dedicated to a women’s car club. In the early days of the car clubs, women were prohibited from being club members. As we think about the roles women have played in Chicano history, we rarely think of Lowriders or car clubs. The first women’s Lowrider car club was the Ladies’ Pride Car Club of South San Diego, founded by Chris Cano, Lauren Vera, Elsa Castillo, and Sandra Ardilla. These women broke the glass ceiling before we knew there was a glass ceiling.
Who should read this book? Anyone who is interested in history, anyone who is interested in Lowriders, and anyone who wants to be entertained. Regardless of your age or gender, you will find this book worth taking the time to read. This book will be available for purchase at the Chicano Park Celebration.
For more on San Diego Lowriders: Everything Comes from the Street