When people talk about gangs in Southern California, they usually think young Black men - Bloods & Crips. But the typical gang member is not a B or C. He is not confined to South Central L.A. He lives in places like Wilmington and Pomona and Santa Ana and Norwalk and Canoga Park and East Los Angeles.
He is heir to a warrior tradition of struggle and clannish violence that stretches back to the first half of the 20th century.
Obscured by the nationwide public attention that has been paid to L.A's. Black gangs - is the fact that Chicano gang members outnumber at least 2 to 1 the Black gang members in L.A. County.

L.A. County's Chicano gangs are deeply rooted in their respective communities, and have existed for a long time. Traditionally, many older Chicano gangs have distinct subdivisions called cliques, segregated by either age or geography; these create a social network amongst the gang. In such gangs when a group of youngsters want to join or create their own clique, they ask permission from the gang veterans. In one East Los Angeles gang alone for example (White Fence), there's a chronological 17 cliques, each a formal generational layer, each with a separate name and membership that came to form part of the gang one after another since 1935.

Despite this longevity, Chicano gangs have been easy to overlook in recent years.
For one thing, deaths from their disputes have plunged dramatically during the last decades, particularly in East L.A. the nations best-known Mexican Community.
For another, their violence is diffused through many Barrios, rather than being concentrated in a single area like South L.A.
For still another, Cholos, as Chicano gang members are commonly known, are harder to recognize than they used to be. The Cholo uniform of oversized pendleton shirt & khakis, long considered part of the L.A. cultural landscape and popularized in many movies, was abandoned by most gang members years ago in favor of more subtle and individualized garb.

Still, quietly and unspectacularly, the carnage continues.
Small bits of violence, not quite horrifying enough to make headlines, percolate everywhere.
The fact remains that Chicano gangs will never love each other as far as the killings are concerned because somewhere along the line, somebody killed somebody's brother, cousin or homeboy.
What some of the older non-active veteranos and community groups have tried to reinforce is that there is a need to respect each other's neighborhood, and each other's property.

This is a code born of remote segregated Barrios that felt the need to band together against racial discrimination & hostile unknown forces, when the outside world was exactly that "the outside world", an era when connections with Mexican culture were far stronger than today's.
The code included a distinct set of traditions, rules and taboos passed down for generations. It said, violence was not committed randomly, only to settle specific scores. You did not shoot into someone's house. You did not attack bystanders. You did not jump a rival gang member if he was in company of his family.

Much of this code has fallen by the wayside. The gang-world has changed.
The huge increase in immigrants to L.A. from Mexico and Central American countries in the last decades has weakened the traditional gang structure by filling many communities with thousands of youngsters desperate for acceptance. Some commit crazed acts to win respect from other gang members, others fearful of attack from or already exposed to gangs, band together to create their own gangs.

In new gangs, where there are no older members above their 30's or 40's - nobody is teaching the new generation "la palabra - the word", how to keep true respect.
Despite all the changes, the "code of honor and respect" is still often cited proudly by Chicano gang members to make the point that they - unlike B's & C's, who are viewed as wild-eyed, unprincipled newcomers to the gang-world are part of something special.

In Chicano gangs "you gotta have a lot of heart"
Take the issue of -

(1) Snitching -

"You never snitch on anybody, not even a rival gang member" it is painfully difficult to persuade a Chicano gang member to implicate an associate or anyone else for that matter, Chicano gang members won’t roll over too easy.

(2) Bravery -

"You never rank out", don't disavow loyalty to you Barrio even if you're facing 20 rivals all alone, "fight to the death".

(3) Por Vida -

"Devoted-until death", you can never say you're an ex-gang member, you may not be active & don't bang any more, but "a gang member still - for life".

Unique to Chicano gangs, with few exceptions, nothing like it has evolved in the street society of gangs where there is too much betrayal, dread, and too lil' life predictability.

There is a lil' bit of these values in all of us Mexicans, gang members or not - loyal to the end. This bond can be as strong as family, and far stronger than warnings of incarceration or death.

To outsiders this is incomprehensible with no sense, but to a Chicano gang member it is having mucho corazon - a lot of heart.




It’s rush hour at the Seventh Street/Metro Center station, and passengers scurry through a maze of stairs, escalators and elevators like worker ants in an ant farm; commuters waiting for the train bound for Long Beach spill over the platform and onto the white textured warning strip.

This is the “Ghetto Blue” — the busiest light-rail line in the nation, and also the deadliest.

The 22-mile Metro Blue Line starts underground but journeys above to the street-level as it journeys though South Los Angeles en-route to the Transit Mall Station in Downtown Long Beach.

Thirty-five thousand people board its trains going both directions each day; most of them are poor Brown, Black, Filipinos, Chinese, Guatemalan Mayas, and Salvatruchas. The MTA’s demographic profiling shows that the median household income for passengers using the Blue Line is $17,000. The train is their primary means of transportation, carrying seamstresses, janitors and restaurant workers to their various places of business scattered along the rail line’s route.

As a 19th-century technology, rail enabled Great Britain to colonize Africa, India and China. Abraham Lincoln continued that tradition in the United States when he hooked up with the railroad lobby and used Chinese and Irish labor to create the transcontinental railway, and here locally, Henry “Huntington’s” Pacific Electric, built the Big Red Cars trolley line (part of which ran down the same corridor as the Blue Line), was built by Mexican immigrants.

Twenty-first-century rail continues in that tradition, only in reverse: Instead of exploiting the working-class-immigrant communities for their cheap labor, it conquers and imposes on them by reducing their mobility. Many of these transit-dependent riders were forced onto the Blue Line after their usual express bus service from downtown L.A. to the South Bay and to Long Beach, were canceled, leaving them with no mobility option for transportation to their jobs.

The Ghetto Blue is now more than just a train. It has become a culture, a near-sovereign civilization-within-the-city that is ruled by its own customs and, in some cases, even its own laws. The Ghetto Blue is also a moving swap meet, where passengers hustle to sell watches, perfumes, socks, incense, Kools, lotions, batteries, tapes, CDs and candy. Bus tokens become a form of currency here, people peddling for a small cash profit. The transactions go down like a drug deal, with both participants looking over their shoulders for authorities as they quickly exchange the goods. It’s a scene reminiscent of MacArthur Park.

At the Washington stop, the Ghetto Blue veers south, rumbling down like a roller coaster through the heavy industrial and residential water-tower towns of Vernon, Huntington Park, South Gate, Lynwood and Watts. Rusted old barbed-wired warehouses and factory lots filled with pallets, alternate with the residential neighborhoods along this route.
Rising on elevated concrete platforms to the treetops, passengers can look down onto the roofs and get a glimpse of the local life: carne asada, clothes hanging out to dry, shoes dangling from power lines; men working on cars, playing basketball, fighting their dogs, flying their pigeons, slapping bones and watering their lawns.

One of the most familiar institutions along this post-industrial heartland stretch is the church. Along this route, churches are second in number only to liquor stores adorned with murals depicting the Virgén de Guadalupe. And the most commonly read book on the Ghetto Blue is the Bible: If you do have hope for a future, but if you have no hope for your future, you can opt for the street life.

The gangs in the area are said to have a respect for the Ghetto Blue, and recognize that the trains are not part of anyone’s individual turf, reads the MTA’s official literature. Still, along the corridor, spray-painted bombs and tags (placas) adorn the walls, serving notice that you have now entered “tatted tribe territory.”

Thirty Eighth Street and rival Florencia 13, dominate part of this area, along with the Family Swan Bloods near the Firestone Station and the Grape Street Crips at the Watts Towers on 103rd, laying claim to sections of this territory as well.

In February 2003, the Pueblo Bloods from El Pueblo Del Rio Housing Projects barricaded the Ghetto Blue and shut down the whole system for a few hours. They placed large roll-type garbage bins on the tracks and stood upright a large 15’ x 15’ wrought-iron gate; they did so in protest against the LAPD for murdering one of their Homeboy’s.

At its midpoint, the Ghetto Blue comes to the Imperial/Wilmington/Rosa Parks Station in Willowbrook, the transfer point to the Green Line that leads to LAX. Here, cessna’s and 747s blast over the loud and windy platform; ghetto birds hover as if in a war zone.
The Sheriff’s substation is located here, and authorities routinely check passengers for their monthly passes and tickets. There are no barriers to entry onto the train system, and no turnstiles to enter the stations. Passengers ride on an honor system, and failure to produce fare on demand carries a heavy fine. The Imperial Station ranks second in the system for overall citations. Get caught here, and you’ll end up in the Compton Courthouse, where every day you’ll find a room full of Mexicans and Blacks before the judge, trying to straighten out their fare-evasion citations. And don’t even think of expectorating, that’s right; yes, you can get a ticket for spitting, even if you aim for the distant tracks, lol.

As you ride through, you’ll see Mexican flags waving from homes and nopales (cactus) along walls tagged up with “Compton Varrio Tortilla Flats.” Compton, known as the “Hub City,” has been going through a demographic change; with Mexicans now accounting for half of Compton’s residents. But as the Mexicans threaten to displace the old and long established Black community, Compton remains one of the poorest suburbs in the United States. The rundown, boarded-up houses and empty lots are said to resemble South African shantytowns, and the stray dogs and Homies feeding their huge iguanas “hippie lettuce” become the wildlife. Here, tribal warfare comes not from Zulus with machetes, but from Pirus with MAC-10s.

And just like South Africa, The Hub is a city trying to recover from economic apartheid, from manufacturing jobs lost with white flight, and competition between Blacks and other ethnic minorities for a few poorly paid jobs. As the Ghetto Blue rumbles through Compton; A Black Homeboy breaks it down -

“see, they want us to compete for the crumbs,” he shouts, “but Blacks and Mexicans need to hook up and collaborate! Fuck the bullets and bullet trains!”

The train journeys on through the industrial areas of Rancho Dominguez and Carson, between L.A. and L.B., passing by the main cargo route - the 710 Long Beach Freeway. On the east bank of the L.A. River, the river runs strong, and this little patch of green nature is like an island — “a Pacific island.” From Artesia and the Willow Station, the scenery begins to change with the population, which now includes Filipinos and Samoans. The train fills with sounds of the lovely Tagalog tongue, spoken into cell phones and between men and women, and Samoan aigas, mothers and their children in strollers. In the children playing in the parks and the open spaces along the way, you get a rare flash of natural beauty along this route of the Ghetto Blue.

Most of the time, though, the Blue Line’s human cargo is like a herd of guinea pigs enlisted in a mass-transit experiment gone bad. With its electric wires crisscrossing the horizon looking like stitches across a deep cut, the Ghetto Blue is a microcosm of the city — a huge scar running through L.A. that needs to be healed.

“This will be the end of the line,” the train operator says over the intercom after the 59-minute ride, and “thank you for riding the Metro Blue Line.”


Low & Slow

Candy apple red, twice pipes and low to the floor," Cheech Marin describes Santa's sleigh from a low rider’s point of view. After all, what resident in the Southwest could identify with a snow sleigh in our deserts? To the rest of the country, the highly decorated older car slung low on its small tires, has become a symbol of an alternative lifestyle, low and slow.

Originally centered in El Chuco and East Los, their popularity later spread to the rest of Tejas, Arizona, Nuevo Mexico, Colorado and the Midwestern States. Low riders then went on to cruise their way through America. and now they are world renown.

Don't let the age of low-riding fool you, low riders came forth as a rebellion against the hot-rodding middle-class Anglo-Americans of the 1940s, and what started as a proud accomplishment by a talented group of Pachucos, has turned over the last 60 years, into the covetted cruiser style of todays street scene.

Young Chicanos watched their Jefitos customize their Chevy’s from top to the bottom. First he rebuilt the engine, and then he stripped the body down to the bare metal before painting it. All of the chrome on the car was re-plated. Then the car had to be reupholstered in velvet.

The cost of customizing the ride inside and outside nowadays is extraordinary. So much money is spent on La Ranfla, that many now won’t drive them regularly on the streets for fear of damage or carjacking. It is ironic that the low rider tradition was started by earlier generations who couldn't afford a new Ranfla, and instead improved on the car they owned at the time. Now this generation spends a ton of money and time to continue the customizing tradition.

The phenomenon of customizing done by Car Clubs which creates unique show-vehicles, is nothing less than true works of art depicting the individualistic self-expression of Los Chicanos.

Each Ranfla is unique. First of all, the engine needs to be in good repair. Next, removing one-half of the suspension coils lowers the vehicle. Smaller tires, and wire wheels, known as mags, are added for the ground-hovering cruiser. Extra details are added for each individual's taste. A circle of chrome-plated welded chain in 6-, 8- or 10-inch diameter can replace the steering wheel, and electric antennas can also be added. Chrome dummy spotlights or "dummies" and a pair of decorative exhaust side pipes compliments the ride. To give La Ranfla performance and social challenge to other low riders, hydraulic pumps are installed to the front and rear ends, and the slick look of the ride without door handles is achieved by replacing the door handles with "pop doors,” which open with a concealed switch.

There are three different types of paint jobs available for the enthusiast: metal flake, pearl finish and candied finish. Metal flake finish starts with five coats of colored lacquer. Next three coats of clear lacquer mixes with colored metals flakes are applied, followed by eight coats of clear lacquer.

For the pearl finish, clear lacquer mixed with a "mother-of pearl" powder is applied after the base color to produce a rainbow effect. Then come the eight coats of clear lacquer.

The candy finish is achieved with a base of five coats of gold or silver lacquer. The color layer is now added, and three coats of clear lacquer follow to make a glasslike coating much like a candied apple. Finally, eight coats of clear lacquer follow.
Colorful geometric designs, door pinstripes and painted murals can take a month or more to complete the exterior paint job.

Next comes the interior transformation. The low rider tradition is to re-upholster the seats, door panels, ceiling and dash in velvet. Even the trunk can be lined in velvet. And for additional luxury -velvet covered swivel seats, small chandeliers, sound system, television, wet-bar, and etched glass detailing, further customizes La Ranflita’s windows and windshields.

The total cost of customizing La Ranfla runs well into a small fortune to say the least.

The low rider pride and hard work of his masterpiece now goes on to be show-exhibited at car shows and conventions. Gone are the days when the local Dairy Queen was the setting for competitions. Today Bajitos compete for trophies and national prominence in custom car magazines.

Cruisin’ is the low rider favorite activity -- how else could anyone appreciate the $3,000 paint job? Low rider also must assume the correct driving posture: slouched all the way down in a cool comfortable manner. "Because La Ranfla always must take center stage."

In April, a 1969 Ford LTD low rider owned by the late David Jaramillo of Chimayo, Nuevo Mejico, was sold to the Smithsonian Museum for its permanent collection. "Dave's Dream" caught the eyes of Smithsonian curators when they were looking for items representing the -

- “culture of the Rio Grande Valley.”

His Ranflita is black, covered with candy apple red lacquer mixed with multicolored iridescent metal flakes. The side of the ride sports a wide gold stripe along with ribbons, butterflies and stars, and the interior is upholstered in red and black velvet. In the back, a television sits waiting to be turned on.

La Carrucha took Jaramillo years to complete and is a source of pride for the whole Chicano Familia, for it is the first low rider in history to go into any museum.

The low rider, beginning as an Pachuco answer to the hot-rod, is a source of pride for the owners of these "raites, who pour their heart on its creation, as well as much time & labor into their dream machines.

El Ruco having so much more deeper value than any amount of feria spent.

La Ranfla is a symbol of self-expression and an extension of the individual through functional art form.

“Bajito Y Suavecito” is entirely in consort with the Chicano cultural life style.


Lowriding In America

By Lonewolf

The lowrider culture in America today has mistakenly become increasingly associated with gang violence and crime, but in reality, lowriding culture is a form of expressive art which works to unify the Chicano community through the celebration of pride in culture and heritage.

Stereotypes exist as a result of the media, law enforcement agencies, and
conservative white-America. These stereotypes have their basis in a wide variety of abstract concepts, and people today base these concepts upon what is portrayed by tv and films, the actions of law enforcement agencies, and the opinion of conservative white-America. The film industry has used movies such as Boyz In Tha Hood and Friday to depict lowriders as drug dealers and gang members. And drawing from the sensationalism of these two lifestyles, the movie writers are able to grab the audience's attention by offering a glimpse into these bad-boy lifestyles.

For lowriders, cruising has been a traditional-pastime, and cruising is a form of unification amongst the lowrider community. This pastime has traditionally been a major part of the lowrider culture, allowing the driver to show off his work of art and see the masterpieces of others as well. Cruising has been a way for those of the lowriding community to join together and celebrate. Unity is perhaps the most important aspect of this community. This is seen through the unity that lowrirders seek in the mutual pride of their car, lifestyle, tradition, and culture. Nation-wide car shows are held in every small town in which a lowrider can be found, and if one is not held nearby, then that lowrider has no objection to just go crusin’ around for several miles to show off his ranfla.

The popular culture of lowriding has been present since the early 1930's, having its roots in the subculture of "Pachuquismo" and later followed by the Chicano & Cholo images. But the historical, traditional, and cultural importance of this art form cannot be suppressed or belittled. Lowriding, which to some may seem as a mere term to describe the hobby of a greaser or car buff, has more cultural and political significance than is seen at first glance.

Not only used as a means of transportation, lowriders have used their vehicles to voice their opinions on several issues. In every step the low rider takes in creating their carrucha, from the choice of car, to the design on the hood and car color, “he is representing” a community's tradition, aspirations, and history.

Pride in history and vice of opinion can be seen in the murals painted across hoods, on the backs of windows, and on the trunks of these cars. Some themes are religious: the Virgin of Guadalupe and roses, a suffering Christ figure -symbolic of spiritual redemption and salvation. Others are representative of pride in the Mestizo Raza, such as 'La Indita" (Mexican Indian girl), an Aztec princess, or an Aztec warrior with an Indian maiden in his arms. Other important themes reflect pride in Mexico's history: Mexican famous revolutionary heroes like Pancho Villa or Emiliano Zapata, and beautiful femenine representations of the Mexican woman, suach as the Mexican Charra (cowgirl) with sombrero.

It can be said that lowriding is gang-related, but not in the way most believe. A lowrider allows Chicanos to display their art, giving youth a positive alternative lifestyle to gang-banging and incarceration. In addition, it stresses education through the learning of skills, thus inspiring and persuading the youth to make wise decisions.

As for the lowrider depicted in Boyz In The Hood, the driver embodies several different values than that of the dedicated lowrider. A car being driven by a drug dealer is “bought as-is,” -not a product that has had love, passion, and dedication poured into it. It is quite typical of lowriders to purchase an old-model american made car. The focus is not on the ready made product, as is the case when most middle-class average Americans purchase a car. Lowriders are more interested in the finished product; what the ride will look like after it is lowered, painted, muraled, and completely re-upholstered.

Lowriders are in it for the long haul, for the customization process is long and costly. Whether or not they can afford this is not a question, as many lowriders take years to save up and complete their carrucha. Even when others consider the ride finished, the owner, never satisfied with anything less then perfection, always finds room for some type of improvement.

Another important factor to take note of is the acknowledgment that this, to the lowrider, is not merely a hobby. Apart from investing a great deal of time and energy, the low rider takes pride in the fact that their ranflitas are functional and a part of their daily routines, i.e. driven to-and-from school, work, church, as well as taking it for the Friday-night cruise.

The motivations of the Chicano to associate himself with the lowrider culture can be seen through his work and actions. To the dedicated lowrider, the vehicle becomes a work of folk and popular art. The lowrider “attitude” or lifestyle, being a fusion of the popular American car-culture and Mexican cultural traditions -has also been a form of embracing as well as rejecting both these labels.
Not purely American, nor Mexican, the Chicano lowriders have utilized their personal expressions--to reach an artistic symbolism, similar to what others have done through music, murals, and literature.

Just as the Pachucos of the 1930's & 40’s established a culture to call their own, the lowrider culture, has become “a means to display symbolically the Chicano experience, and through it control their contradictions with the dominant Anglo-culture (e.g., confrontations with the law, political powers, and the never-ending stereotyping by the media), which continously denies them their proper and respectful role in society.



By Lonewolf

The Low Rider is a direct result of America's hands-on affair with the automobile, which mushroomed over the past century to the point where the car is the most powerful and persuasive symbol of contemporary life.

Growing up in America involves two important rites of passage obtaining a driver's license and owning your own car. A car means freedom, power, speed, and lots of attention, especially from the opposite sex.

Low riders, hot rods, stock cars and dragsters, demolition derbies, car shows, motorcycle clubs, psychedelic vans, and art car parades are all a product of our car culture. Whether you're White, Black or Chicano, man or woman, loaded or in rags, your ride is probably the most public and highly visible expression of your personality. As it is said, “you are what you drive.”

The low rider is the quirkiest, most creative, and most difficult to categorize of all types of vehicles. Low riders borrow from fine art, folk art, outsider art, street art, advertising, automobile industry, current trends, religion, science, politics, literature, sex, architecture, design, photography, the landscape, and nearly anything else you can think of.

The low rider ancestors are the colorful jeepneys of Las Filipinas, the painted buses & decorated taxicabs of Mexico, and even the Gypsy wagons of the Southwest.

The low rider is a personal power object, a fetish if you will, expanded and augmented by adding references to the outside world. It is an artistic experience in which the creator identifies and defines his own uniqueness. In a sense, he marks it until he feels culturally secure in it. He creates and builds it to gain security by means of art, animating that which is his, with symbols of himself.

The low rider of the United States help shape a community's sense of itself by stressing the continuities that exist from generation to generation. This is true for both, the low riders and hot rods. It is difficult to determine which came first. Some say that the roots of both lay in car racing, which grew out of moonshiners outrunning the law during the prohibition era. But most everyone seems to agree that they both began life in Southern California.

Low riders are said to been born among Mexican-Americans in the 1930's, even though it didn't catch the attention of the media until much later. In fact, some car historians note that pin striping was first done in the 1920's. Painted flames became popular in the 1930's, abstract patterns were the rage in the 1960's, and the more realistic murals emerged in the 1970's.

"Low rider" refers to any lowered car, truck, van, motorcycle, or even bicycle. Heavy-duty hydraulic suspension systems are installed to allow the ride to be raised or lowered on command. There is an element of surprise about this that continues to attract attention.

Why this desire for a ride, that is "low and slow, mean and clean?
"It's a studied public presentation of self,” the better to see and be seen.
Low riders defy danger in their low retreat, and the relaxed, leisurely pace of the Chicano is in direct contrast to the frantic Anglo-American.

The practice of driving slowly also derives from car club caravans, where you are on parade. It is vital that everyone is able to admire and appreciate your custom bodywork, and the costly candy apple lacquer finishes of iridescent, glitter flecked or pearlized paints. "Thirty or so layers of paint: a primer, a pearl, a couple of clears, a tint and a clear, another tint, another image, and you can look right down into one of these paint jobs."

Add to this an airbrushed mural, spectacular pin striping, and chrome that has been re-plated and polished to a mirror finish. Outfit the inside with crushed velvet and velour upholstery, shag rugs, funny horns, and mean sound system, and you’re ready to cruise on a Friday night in maximum style.

Rather than an antisocial gang related activity oldenly associated with it, low riding is a uniquely Chicano form of ethnic self-expression. In the Alturas Film “Low 'n Slow, The Art of Lowriding,” one Pachuco speculates that cruising dates back to the promenade in small Mexican towns where the men walked one way and the women walked the other, like peacocks on parade, they strut and show their stuff.

On the other hand, the low rider artist is following naturally in the footsteps of the mural renaissance school of post-revolutionary 1920s Mexico. It is public art at its most vital and accessible. Or perhaps as another Pachuco summed it up succinctly, it's that "We noticed that the foxiest and coolest chicks went home with the Vato with the cleanest ride."

In many ways, the low rider is a product of the Barrio and working class do-it-yourself roots. Making a virtue out of economic necessity, preferring to put their money where it can be seen rather than "under the hood." And besides, anyone can break out a wad of cash for a new car, but only an artist with soul can create a low rider. And he did it "to glorify the mundane, to apotheosize it, and to make it grandiose and holy." Objects of a materialistic society in the name of art, the low riders focused their attention on the controlled values of Anglo-America.

This approach to embellishing and enlivening the skin of the car is, rooted in popular traditions utilizing essential working class skills such as fitting, cutting, welding, etc.
"These works are extraordinary, carrying the sensibility of weight-of-the-underclass weariness coupled with red-eyed determination, both grim and joyous, of the working class Mexican."

Pachuco & Chicano artists’ interest in the art of low riding is symptomatic of a major break from mainstream art of the twentieth century and the desire to address a larger audience. They prefer to take their art to the public rather than wait for the public to enter the rare gallery that will show their work. They no longer would accept a passive role in society; with the attempt to communicate a message to the person on the street about socially relevant themes.

This artist works outside of and in ignorance of academic reference and approval, with an object that he fashions into a remarkably original work of art, with a cultural purpose.
Like the folk artist who makes his artistic statement deviating the norm of acceptance, the low rider blazes his own trail away from the collective and into a world of his own.

Perhaps in our exploration of the roots of low rider, we should look even further back to the prehistory of mankind when making images or fetishes was not art as we know it, but rather a highly personal connection with nature. It was, ultimately, “a way of knowing and understanding a hostile world.”

The visionary low rider, seeks to restore the lost unity of myth and science, instinct and intellect, spirit and nature. His creation provides him with a focus for concentration and a jumping-off point for the expansion of his ideas. Working in isolation, he connects with something larger than his own work, and it is this experience that nourishes his spirit and keeps him creating.


It’s a cold rainy day in Los Angeles, and Arnold is doing what he does almost every day, kicks -it at his vending spot serving customers. Arnold, a 17-year-old member of the 18 Street gang, is the son of Mexican immigrants. He speaks Spanglish skillfully, mixed in with the local urban slang, and wears the traditional uniform typical of the Mexican youth of his Barrio; black trenchcoat, baggy pants, and meticulously clean white athletic shoes. Arnold has never traveled outside of Southern California and rarely ventures beyond a three-mile radius from his domain.

Arnold stands at the end of a long and familiar global commodity chain. The lil’ dime bags in his fist contain $10 hits of crack cocaine that look like jagged, disfigured pieces of sugar cubes. By the time the cocaine hits the streets of L.A. in the form of crack, it has already been touched by more than a dozen people in several countries. But Arnold has no interest in its global supply chain. His daily concerns and activities revolve around the few city blocks which compromise his every day world, and his aspirations reaching just as far. Arnold’s day is spent doing what other 17-year-olds do -sleeping, hanging out with the homeboys, trying to score on fine ladies, playing x-box, and just having some fun. He deals crack for only a few tic tocs a day and goes home with around $50 profit, lil’ more that what he’d make working at Mc D’s.

Arnold’s image-that of a young, inner-city gang member –is transmitted, exploited, and glamorized across the world by the media and Hollywood. The increasing mobility of info on the web, movies, and music, makes it easy for gang wannabes to get info, adapt personalities and distort gang behaviors. More often than not, these images of gang life are not only simply exaggerated; they’re flat-out wrong. Flashy cars, diamond rings, and wads of cash are not the gang world norms.

Hustling to make ends-meet, trying to put food on the table and shoes on his baby’s feet, while at the same time trying to stay out of the pen, wearing the same revolving wardrobe of clothes week after week, and trying to get himself some trade-tech schooling for a job that isn’t there anymore, just unemployment waiting around the corner, that is what is more typical for a young man like Arnold.

Nonetheless, the images of a glamour life as a gangster in the streets of Los Angeles prevail and continue to be displayed as truth to the world audience of youth around the nation; planting seeds in young minds who are to follow the road set before them by a lying government and their economic guru partners in true crime.

In the popular consciousness, the prevailing images of street gangs are one of two kinds. Gangs of drug-vending thugs who terrorize the neighborhood, and the other of drug-running/trafficking gangs with narco-terrorist connections. This spits out from the media and inept governments which seem to enjoy the easy job of linking the gang problem with the drug use problem in the Americas. However, reality shows that only a small percentage of gangs or its memberships are involved in any organized type of dealing or trafficking. And the vast majority of those gangs who are involved, are essentially filling the void in urban economies, a void which replaces all those labor jobs being sent overseas, those same jobs which traditionally served as a means for social stability in the neighborhoods.
Most street gangs lack the organization or leadership to operate internationally in the clandestine networks, instead, most street gangs engage in a little bit of drug use, larceny, fighting, and small cafeteria style drug dealing.
That being said, there now appears to be a handful of gangs who are reaching for the stars. Eighteen Street, Mara Salvatrucha, Sureños 13, Crips, Bloods, and the Latin Kings, are some of the street gang names which serve as a cover for the organization and development for a global reach in the underworld, no longer working solely as runners and distributors, but as mafias in their own right.
No longer are some of these street gangs bowing down as sub-servants to the Drug Kingpins of the narco world, for they are coming to realize that their hold and control of the streets, as well as their hold on funneling and distribution routes, is more valuable to the overseas suppliers than they were led to believe in the past.
Until recently, street gang membership was a common part of city boyhood and not terribly detrimental. Homeboys left the life as they got married, got a job, joined the military, or simply grew out of it. But as times changed and with the age in world economics, some street gangs as well have changed and adopted to make ends meet. Globalization and the resulting exodus of manufacturing jobs from the urban centers to the third world, has left city neighborhoods geographically and socially isolated and, more marginalized then ever before. Not surprisingly, street gangs and their violence have increased ten fold with globalization, and today, street gangs serve as de facto families, protectors, and employers for its members. Gang members are staying in the gang longer, and young women are beginning to re-enter the ranks, becoming ever increasingly more involved in their every day business operations.
Globalization and Street Gangs exist in a paradox: Gangs have become not only a national phenomenon, but an international one as well; not because of the gangs themselves becoming transnational, but because at the same time that globalization isolates poor neighborhoods heavily populated by gangs, law enforcement and immigration criminalization practices continue to help spread gang activity and culture.

GANGS have in a sense, GONE GLOBAL…



There can be no certainty about when, where, or who originated the zoot-suit.

The zoot-suit “tuxedo” never has been attributed to any single group or ethnicity.

Historically, “everybody got their own claim to it”. The Filipinos in the west coast had what was termed by some as the Hawaiian look – a radical style with a “long” coat, pancake hats (recognizable by their flattened tops), and thick-soled shoes. The Blacks of Harlem had the “killer-diller-coat”, which was a “drape” shaped coat with padded shoulders, and a one tone color scheme. Even the Italians had their own version, a bit more in line with the Italian Mobster suit of the 20’s, but with bufont (elvis) type hairstyle and “trench” coats.

The word ZOOT comes from a Jazz term used when referring to something extravagant, something with flash, and that is exactly what the zoot-suit developed into by the 30’s, “cool & smooth”, yet definitely projecting a flashy appearance. By 1943, the year of the infamous zoot-suit riots, it had become the uniform of a whole generation of youth through out America. It distinguished itself as a form of youthful attire that was tied in with rebelliousness. The zoot-suit began to be sung about, swung about, and memorialized on stage & screen, becoming immortalized in time.

Undoubtedly, the zoot-suit had its birth as “fashion”, but where did it originate in its infancy is the subject of many discussions on the topic. There is several commonly referred to stories that speak on the origin of the zoot-suit. One taken from the New York Times front-page article written during the zoot-suit riots of 1943, makes the claim that a certain Clyde Duncan, a black bus worker from Gainesville had purchased the first tailor-made zoot-suit after having seen and been inspired by Rhett Butler in the movie “Gone With The Wind”. Another story originates the zoot-suit in Britain after the First World War when people elated that the Great War and “rationing” was over, indulged themselves with outlandish styles of fashion. From the export of British fashion through out the farthest reaches of the British Empire, the style is said to have reached Hong Kong and then onto Manila, right at the time when Filipinos were migrating in large numbers to Hawaii and California. The Filipinos brought with them the style and after intermingling with the Mexican Gangsters and partaking with them, the zoot-suit style in Los Angeles took a path of which now is the look with which we are now most familiar with. Yet another story, and one that is taken to be “the real”, argues that the zoot-suit grew out from the Swing-Jazz culture. In particular from places such as “Harlem’s Night-Life” purporting to the exhibitionist style of the on-stage band performers of the times and their extravagant costumes.

Another story that scholars have given credibility to, is of the Pachuco zoot-suit originating from the military uniforms of the ZOUAVES (French Foreign Legion), ex-soldiers who remained in Northern Mexico after their abandonment by Napoleon, who chose to remain in Mexico instead of returning to France. Later, many of them also migrated north to the borderlands amongst the waves of others. These ZOUAVES had a very distinctive baggy colorful uniform, and the Legionnaires had a legendary reputation of being tough daredevil warriors. The wandering bands of performing Gypsies whom also displayed an extreme baggy and colorful art of dressing, along with adorning their bodies with tattoos and earrings, were copied and later became the trademarks of the Pachuco style of extreme colorful bagginess in their attire, with accessorized adornments, incorporated along with the reputation for toughness.

Many historians point out to the unique and autonomous culture that Mexican-Americans created for themselves, which allowed them to survive and resist racial oppression as the context in which the “glamorous” zoot-suit was born. The assertion is made that the Pachucos laid claim to their own bodies through the clothes they chose, and altered them to fit their attitude. The hairstyles, the dances, the stroll, and the language, they devised for themselves, and in doing such, they were displaying and asserting their right to control public spaces usually dominated by whites.

The Mexican poet Octavio Paz, wrote a book “The Labyrinth of Solitude” in which he sheds light on the Pachuco style and establishes a framework under which the Zoot-Suit can be understood within the context of the “pachuquismo” attitude in the borderlands. From the changes in labour and social order that the waves of immigrants encountered when coming in contact with the ambivalent experience between two cultures, the birth of a unique style of attire was born, much in-line with “pachuquismo” identity. It is at the borderland town of El Paso (aka: El Chuco), where the theory of the origin and spread of the zoot-suit lies in. And it is through the “El Paso-Los Angeles trail”, - the path that goes hand in hand with the migration and dispersal of this culture along the major Mexican cities of the Southwestern United States (referred amongst Chicanos as AZTLAN), - where the zoot-suit culture gained popular National recognition. It is at this conjuncture that the Pachuco Zoot-Suiters interactions and relationships with other ethnic groups is crucial, for it was in an era when American Swing-Jazz music, and motorcars were at the center of a subculture of wild living, an era in which breaking the rules of social etiquette was hip, an era full of “isms”, from feminism to gangsterism. This was the era when Prohibition (18th Amendment) escalated smuggling, and gangs grew in numbers and became more organized – thus the subculture grew right-along-side prohibition. Drugs at this time, mainly marijuana, heroin, and cocaine, came into wide use, and Stylin’ became the child of liberalism in a society in which everyone wished for an outlet from the mediocrity of their limited world surrounding them. When Prohibition ended, the subculture of jazz, drugs & stylin’ did not go away, and neither did the gangsters. It was during this era that the Pachucos in the urban areas from El Paso to Los Angeles became known for their style of dress, idioms of speech, and their counterculture activities.

The Pachuco phenomenon passed beyond the “fashion fad”, for it produced a cultural entity of nonconformity symbolism, displayed as “in-your-face” ethnic pride rebellion. Pachucos walked around making political statements through fashion and speech. They developed a unique language called Calo, a unique argot that employed words and phrases absorbed from the language of the Gypsies, creatively applied to Spanish terminology, and imaginatively adapted transformed English loan words. They also developed a mannerism in which hand and face gestures combined with body movements in a display of “cool communication”. They transformed a “relaxed night-out tuxedo” into a “flamboyant outfit” tailor-made from fine-cloth materials. The outfit (tacuche) included Baggy trousers (tramos) held high on the waist and cuffed snugly at the ankles, supported by either suspenders or a thin belt around a set of 3 or 5 waits ear loops. A sport coat (carlango) that fitted wide at the shoulders and hung down to the thighs. Shoes (calcos) pointed at the toes, with metal tips and heels & two-toned color black with a white middle. A long decorative gold watch chain displayed conspicuously from the trouser belt ear loops drooping down below the knees then back up to the trouser pocket. A fedora type feathered hat (tando), with long groomed slicked back hair with ducktails and kept down with pomade. A silky dark or bright colored shirt (lisa) complimented by a short but wide tie. When Pachucos borrowed from white or black forms, be they clothing or music, they virtually always altered them to suit their cultural taste – a practice that continues to this present day with the Chicanos. Every time something was borrowed from a style of others, the Pachucos quickly deformed and altered it, and they did so in an exaggerated or mocking way.

Although the zoot-suit was worn by young people of various ethnic groups, it was only after the Pachucos stylized and accessorized it with everything from attitude and body movement to lingo – taking it from a “fashion-fad night-out tuxedo” to the baggy flamboyant outfit – that became the beacon of youthful rebelliousness. The Mexican poet Octavio Paz called the zoot-suit, “a symbol of love and joy – of horror and loathing, an embodiment of liberty, disorder, and the forbidden”.

In the 1940’s, the “Negro Quarterly” and “Crisis”, both part of the independent press of America, wrote editorials in which they pointed to the zoot-suit being the “product” of a particular social context. They emphasized the importance of Mexican-American youths in the emergence of the zoot-suit style, in whose tentative ways, they tried to relate their appearance on the “streets” to the concept of “pachuquismo” – this encompassed a social-cultural-fabric that arrived from Mexico in the waves of immigrants urban America. It is important to distinguish between the zoot-suit culture of African & Mexican-Americans, while both are expressions of countercultures and reflect alienation of young men in America; they remain different in their appropriations of history and of “their own versions”. The depression brought on widespread unemployment and poverty, causing many young people to feel like “dead ends”. This phenomenon of the dead ends was taken to the stage and screen where it proved an enormously popular image in which many identified with. By the 1940’s American fashion was still gangster oriented, and the gangs gravitated largely around minority ethnic groups. The zoot-suit reigned with Mexican-American gangs, but in many cities, especially those on the jazz scene, many others also wore the zoot-suits. Los Angeles went on to become a mecca for jazz artist, and Blacks, Mexicans, and Filipinos thrilled to the jazz culture, although the Pachucos also had a separate taste in music as well, this being el Mambo, la Rumba, el Danzon, Guaracha and los Botecitos. Music and dance style facets were continuously in flux, and projected varying degrees of influence from Latin to Black on the Pachuco zoot-suiters.

While Pachuco zoot-suit”ism” spread across the Southwestern U.S. it also spread south into Mexico, and to other unexpected areas such as urban areas of the Midwest. The culture surely gained “International” recognition through its propagation in “Mexican Cinema” after famous comedians and actors in the caliber of “Tin Tan and Resortes” from El Paso/Juarez & Mexico/Tepito’s Barrio Bravo respectably, unabashedly took on and propagated the Pachuco style to the world. As some dissertations on similar topics allude, pachuquismo, jazz musicians, ethnic migrations, and the zoot-suit riots are some of the factors catalyzing the spread of the zoot-suit as a dress style.