8/18/05

THE CHICANO LOWRIDER

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.

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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.

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THE LOW RIDER

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.

4 comments:

Skylar said...

Ain't no surprise that the Ranflas are known as hood cars, that's where they come from, and that's what the vatos, cholos, gangsters and bangers drove in. From Bombas to Regals, whenever I see one, especially on daytons or astros, I think of california no matter where I am, and I think of the stories of la calle. There's a big constituency of civillian lowriders out there, just like there always has been a grip of homies behind the wheels of these rides.

Anonymous said...

where can I find pics of cholas from 1970? Need for report.

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