The Rebirth of Lowriding in California

Golden State municipalities are finally overturning their anti-cruising ordinances.


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Lowriding has been a part of Southern California and Chicano culture since the post–World War II era when hobbyists started using spare hydraulics from surplus aircraft parts to customize cars to ride "low and slow."

"Owning a car is the American dream," says Denise Sandoval, a professor of Chicano studies at California State University, Northridge. "Lowriding is a great example, just like hip-hop, of people using culture to tell their stories, to mark space in the United States, to say, 'This is what makes us unique.'"

By the '90s, lowriding became associated with crime and gang activity. There were also complaints that it was clogging major arteries and contributing to traffic congestion.

"You begin to see in the '90s, particularly here in L.A., anti-cruising ordinances," says Sandoval. "Black or brown men would be hanging out in the street…and the police could use them to crack down."

Vincent Palacios, who owns a car repair and alteration shop in Lemon Grove, has been lowriding since he was a teenager. He recalls when cruising was first shut down on Highland Avenue. "The police started harassing us…. They would actually measure [the height of the car] with a cigarette pack [to determine] if you were illegal." 

In the past few years, Palacios has teamed up with other lowriding enthusiasts, including Jovita Arellano, the president of the United Lowrider Coalition, and her husband, Marcos "Rabbit" Arellano, to build political support for making cruising legal again. And they were successful: Last year, National City joined several other municipalities in overturning their bans, and the California Legislature encouraged cities to reconsider their policies and start working with the lowrider community. 

To address the traffic issue, Sandoval says hobbyists have started collaborating with law enforcement to identify spaces for cruising that aren't a "public nuisance." State law still permits localities to institute bans, but there's a movement to change that as well.

"For me, lowriding is just enjoying going out on a nice day and hanging out with my friends and hearing great music," says Palacios. "It's a way of life."

News/Archival Credits: NBC; CBS; ABC; KNTV Channel 11 News; Herman Baca Papers; Low Rider Magazine June 1982: Chicano Park Fifth Annual


Photos: Vincent Palacios; Dave Parker; vhines200/Flickr; Johnny Lozoya/Low Rider Magazine 

Special thanks to Arturo Meza II

  • Producer: Aaron Adler / Dec8 Productions
  • Camera: Qinling Li & Arthur Nazaryan
  • Director: Qinling Li & Arthur Nazaryan / Dec8 Productions
  • Editor: Qinling Li