Dear Mexican: I was reading an article about lowriders being modern pieces of art, displayed prominently in museums around the world. Having grown up in Española, N.M., I felt a sense of pride coming from the “Lowrider Capital of the World.”
My question is: Where did the lowrider phenomenon begin? Española may be the lowrider capital, but I have my doubts it began there. It’s a small town, and was even smaller in the 1950s. Do you have any interest in writing a little history piece? I think it would be an interesting piece, given the lowrider’s place in pop-culture and Mexican origins.
Low and Slow in Nuevo México
Dear Pocho: Española is a great little town that I visit every year on the way to the Santuario de Chimayó—but lowriders didn’t begin there. It’s only known as the Lowrider Capital of el mundo because NPR’s All Things Considered supposedly called it that, according to a 1994 article in the Santa Fe New Mexican. (I say “supposedly,” because an extensive archive search—OK, a quick Nexis® query—turned up no such citation.) And I hate to break it to Chicano academics, but lowriders didn’t even begin with Chicanos.
The term “lowrider,” besides being a sartorial adjective in use for more than a century, was first applied to hoodlums of any race, and then became lingo in Southern California kustom kulture—indeed, the earliest references the Mexican could find to cars as “lowriders” is in the classified section of newspapers in the late 1960s, under the heading “Hot Rods.” Telling is a Sept. 13, 1970, column in the Long Beach Independent Press-Telegram that mourned the disappearance of greasers (in the rebel sense, NOT the Mexican sense) in the face of the counterculture movement. “He was and is, of course, a low-rider, a cruiser, a hot-rodder, a Levi guy and a hair boy,” the column stated, hinting that the original lowriders were more likely to look like James Dean than a homie from Eastlos.
That’s not to deny that the culture of fixing up boats and bombs, and driving them low and slow, is now dominated by Chicanos—if anything, we appropriated gabacho culture for once!
Dear Mexican: When I take my wife out to a Mexican restaurant, I try to order and communicate in Spanish. My wife laughs, because she says I even change my accent. Am I just a pendejo gringo who the waiters are laughing at behind my back while defacing my beans and rice, or are they on my side and appreciate a cracker trying to sound like he came from the barrio?
Muchos Grassy Ass
Dear Gabachos: Mexicans appreciate it if you try to talk in Spanish, or use correct Spanish terms (“aguacates” instead of “guac,” for instance). Mexicans do not appreciate it if you mimic a “Mexican” accent, mostly because there is no such thing as a universal one. Try that again, and don’t be surprised if your sour cream’s tang is due to the line cook’s crema.
Ask the Mexican at email@example.com; be his fan on Facebook; follow him on Twitter @gustavoarellano; or follow him on Instagram @gustavo_arellano!