Low riders-- yet another example of the appropriation of a culturally significant practice to the glitz and glam of MTV fan fare. However, Sunday's “Ridin' Low in the 3-6-0” will attempt to reclaim lowrider culture, and celebrate low-riding as a communal and culturally fortifying pastime. Brought to Red Square for the seventh year, from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. on May 20, by Western's chapter of El Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano/a de Aztlá¡n, or MEChA. The event is a celebration of Chicano culture and a chance for the campus community to join forces with our surrounding non-university affiliated neighbors to enjoy lowrider culture.
“The lowrider show is a chance for the entire community, and specifically the Chicanos and Chicanas and Latinos and Latinas in the area to gather together in a show of solidarity and pride in our culture and people,” said Luis Ibarra, MEChA's current budget authority member.
Ibarra emphasized the communal aspect of the event, highlighting the fact that most of the car clubs and private participants drive from Ferndale, Mount Vernon and British Columbia to participate in the event. This year's “Ridin' Low” will feature dance and juggling performances, as well as games, contests (such as the infamous jalapeno and watermelon eating contests) and food vendors, in addition to the lowered cars, trucks, motorcycles and bicycles that will be on display. The vehicles will be competing for several awards, such as Best in Show, Best Bike, and will also compete in a Hopper contest.
MEChA intends to both entertain and educate spectators. For the first time since the inception of Western's low-rider show, a low rider tribute exhibit is being displayed in the Viking Union Gallery (VU 507) until May 25. The exhibit acts as a historical supplement to the main lowrider event on Sunday, displaying photographs of classic lowrider cars, while also displaying brief written excerpts on the history of lowrider culture taken from Paige Penland's book Lowrider: History, Pride, Culture.
“The actual low rider history -- it's just another one of the strong aspects that the Latino culture has as a way to celebrate our heritage,” Ibarra said. “It's one of the many facets of our culture. It's something that a lot of people have never seen and it's something unusual, so we thought it would be really fun to have this show â€“ not just for us, but for a lot of students who have never experienced this.”
According to Penland, the origin of lowrider culture has ties going back to traditional Mexican courting practices. Penland calls low-riding “an automotive extension” of the Mexican equivalent of “the paseo,” an act where young singles of the opposite sex walk in opposite directions around a circular road, making eyes at one another. However, it wasn't until the Zoot suit fever broke out in 1930s Southern California and Texas that low-riding began to make its way as a cultural phenomenon. In barrios, or Mexican neighborhoods, Zoot-suiters, or “pachucos,” began weighing down the trunks of their cars with sandbags to achieve a lowered effect. Soon, as custom alterations to vehicles became more and more impressive, the low-riders came to symbolize pride and community within Chicano culture.
However, as the practice of low riding became more and more elaborate over the decades, the practice gained a somewhat negative affiliation, as low riders became aligned with gang culture and the gang-influenced rap music of early 90s popular culture. Part of MEChA's goal with the event at Western, is to revive those feelings of pride in lowrider culture.
“Something we always strive for is to educate people,” said Maribel Galvan, co-chair of MEChA. “A lot of lowrider culture is seen as gang related, kind of a bad part of Latino culture, but it is a very intimate, very family based and very family oriented. So we want to bring that aspect to the show. We want to break down that negative stereotype and show that it is a positive thing.”