Who Knew a Car Said So Much?

Ash Rupp

       A very interesting speaker, William Calvo, came to talk to our class about low-riders.  I had never given much thought to the meaning behind these modified vehicles.  Frankly, I was unaware that they had any meaning other than the owner liked cars.  I could not have been more wrong.

            According to Brenda Brights article titled ,Heart Like a Car, “Car culture in northern New Mexico (and I assume Arizona) demonstrates how local culture, as a reference and as a creation, become even more significant as national and global popular cultures create new power configurations…An examination of Espanola area low riders highlights the ways extra local processes such as mass production and ethno political mobilization are integral in the creation of local tradition in an area marked by tourism, loss of land, and labor out migration” (Bright 583).  Her article then goes on to explain how these cars are not simply cars; they tell people in the community about the person driving the vehicle.  What may appear like just a tricked-out car to some is really a badge of honor to those in the low rider community.   South Phoenix has undergone many of the same changes mentioned in her paper.  The people of South Phoenix have lost land to tourist attractions and their industries and jobs are slowly leaving the area.  These cars are a way for them to let the community know that they are still there.

            The William Cavalo went on to say that while low riders may appear to be low and slow, they really represent the power that the Latino culture has.  The cars represent community and teamwork.  While the goal is to have the best car, it is also about preserving the Latino heritage and blending the Mexican culture with the American culture.  Low riders represent an entirely new culture, a blend of where these people originated from and where they now reside.  This can especially be seen in South Phoenix because of its high Chicano population.

            I was amazed that low riders had such a long history.  The first time I had ever seen a low rider was in a Cheech and Chong movie.  Apparently they have been around in some form for nearly 90 years.  Local police have tried to suppress the low rider phenomena over the years by passing laws prohibiting some of the key attributes of these vehicles (being low to the ground, lighting, hydraulics).  As seemingly racists’ ordinances targeted the Latino population, the low-rider has evolved. 

            While the low rider represents many positive aspects about the new Latino culture, there is a down side that William Cavalo brought up.  Because Latinos in the areas where low riders are popular are typically in the lower socio-economic brackets, spending large amounts of money on an item that will not appreciate much in value, monetarily, may not be the best idea.  The speaker alluded to the possibility that this low rider phenomena may actually be keeping these Latinos in poverty and “low” in societal standards.