By Ariana Palominos

When people think of East Los Angeles or Boyle Heights they often think of the 1950s and 1960s Chicano heritage: Proud Chicanos in their classic shiny cars rolling down the street, listening to oldies while people on the sidewalk stop to admire.

The peak of lowrider culture came in the 1970s with brightly painted cars fitted with special hydraulics to make them go up and down.  Unlike hot rodding or street racing, cruising focused on slow speeds, friendships and a public show.

Car cruising culture still thrives in East Los Angeles and Boyle Heights. For many, their cars, or their connection to them, become central to their cruising culture and their family life.

Klique East Los Angeles Car Club and New Life Car Club members say that even though times have changed, Whittier Boulevard remains the “hot spot” for cruising.

When gang violence spilled over into the cruises in the 1970s, police shut them down for many years, says David Solís, president of the New Life Car Club.

“Right now what we do is underground. We’re going to pass the word, this day, this time, [and cruise] until the cops get there,” Solís says.

Car clubs now use social media to communicate. They agree on a date and time to meet up and cruise until they get stopped by police.

Chicanos’ lowrider culture

Lowriders are part of the Chicano style and creativity, just like the Pachucos and their Zoot Suits, says Art Meza, author of Documenting L.A.’s Lowrider and Chicano Culture.

“Car culture is universal, but the way Chicanos show their love for their rides is very unique,” Meza explains. “Chicanos display pride that says, “This is me. I’m Chicano. ¿Y qué?!”

Many car aficionados dispute where Chicano car culture was born. Some say it came from Los Angeles. Others say Española, New Mexico, or El Paso, Texas. While there is not an exact date when Latinos began embracing car cruising, it coincided with the rise in popularity of the Pachucos, in the late 1930s into the early 1940s.

Car clubs can be found all over Los Angeles, and number in the hundreds. On any given streets where the clubs are popular you can see lines of lovingly restored cars or trucks. You can have an all Cadillac car club, an all truck club, or the old-fashioned fancy car clubs – all competing to impress.

Tina Hernández, secretary and first lady of the Loyal Alliance Southern Califas Club, says men are still in the majority when it comes to car clubs, but that is beginning to change.

“As times goes on, the women are getting out there,” she says. “There’s not too many of us, but they’re coming out and that’s a good thing.”

Car club gatherings happen about twice a month. “We all get together to do barbecues with family,” Solís says. “You keep everything within everyone that knows each other.”

Many members pass on the passion for cars to their family members and children.

“It’s a positive thing for the kids,” says Victor Hernández, president and founder of the Loyal Alliance Southern Califas Club, “We give them something else to be involved in other than being around the streets, so we try to keep it positive.” Hernandez hopes to keep the car cruising culture alive, and says he already sees it happening in his family.

“My grand kids, they have little lowrider bikes and my grandson already said that’s his,” he adds, pointing to his ‘54 Chevy.

All photos by Ernesto Orozco for Boyle Heights Beat

 

 

Boyle Heights Beat

Boyle Heights Beat is a bilingual community newspaper produced by its youth "por y para la comunidad". The newspaper and its sister website serve an immigrant neighborhood in East Los Angeles of just under...

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