The Politics of Low and Slow/Bajito y Suavecito

University of California Press
Chapter Title: The Politics of Low and Slow/Bajito y Suavecito: Black and Chicano
Lowriders in Los Angeles, from the 1960s through the 1970s
Chapter Author(s): DENISE M. SANDOVAL
Book Title: Black and Brown in Los Angeles
Book Subtitle: Beyond Conflict and Coalition
Book Editor(s): Josh Kun, Laura Pulido
Published by: University of California Press. (2014)
Stable URL:
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access to Black and Brown in Los Angeles
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Hollywood movies have often presented sensationalized and racialized
images of lowrider culture in Los Angeles that have commonly led to the
misconception that lowriders are “gangs on wheels.” Boulevard Nights
(1979) was one the first movies that visualized lowrider culture in East
Los Angeles by connecting it not only to the culture of “gangs,” or la vida
loca, but also to Chicano culture by capturing the lingo, music, art, and
cruising of Chicano lowriders in the late 1970s. In one scene, the protagonist, Raymond, takes his ruca/girlfriend and younger brother, Chuco,
The Politics of Low and Slow /
Bajito y Suavecito
Black and Chicano Lowriders in Los Angeles,
from the 1960s through the 1970s
Denise M. Sandoval
As far as I am concerned, it all started here [Los Angeles].
Period. This is the lowrider capital of the world. Everybody
tries to imitate what’s done here. That’s always how it’s
going to be. . . . LA is it.
—Ted Wells, Professionals Car Club
We had three cultures. We had our Mexican culture at home.
Our mother spoke to us all in Spanish. Then we had our
pachuco culture—we were pachucos. And we had our Black
brothers out there. We had a variety and that was good.
—Fernando Ruelas, Dukes Car Club
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The Politics of Low and Slow | 177
to cruise on Whittier Boulevard on a Friday night in his royal blue 1976
Monte Carlo (with its small chain-link steering wheel and hydraulics
setup) as disco music blares in the background. When Chuco sees his
cholo friends, he gets out of his brother’s car and into a 1940s lowrider
that is blasting oldies. The movie shows the links between the lowrider
pachuco past and the Chicano urban reality of the late 1970s, and it has
been a very popular movie within many Chicano communities .
Yet, what I find significant is that it also portrays lowriding as a
primarily Chicano cultural scene. Twelve years later, not only would
Boyz n the Hood (1991) put lowriding in South Central (and Crenshaw
Boulevard) on the map, but also it celebrated the popularity of gangsta
rap on the West Coast. The night scene on Crenshaw has gang member Doughboy (played by Ice Cube) sitting in his champagne gold 1963
Chevy Impala convertible, discussing religion and street politics with
his homies as other lowrider cars line up on the boulevard, socializing.
When schoolboy Tre and his childhood friend Rick, a star athlete and
Doughboy’s brother, join them, there is a gang confrontation, Crips
and Blood signs are flashed, and then the social scene on the Shaw is
disrupted by the gunfire of an AK-47. Lowriding on Crenshaw in the
early 1990s is portrayed in the film as a primarily African American
activity, when in fact that era saw the community undergoing a demographic shift toward Latinos, and both Black and Chicano lowriders
frequented “the Shaw.”
Boyz n the Hood and Boulevard Nights share themes of gang violence, family connections, hypermasculinity, and brotherhood, as well
as the struggle to move out of one’s neighborhood for a better way
of life. Yet, each movie portrays lowriding as racially/ethnically specific to the urban spaces of East Los Angeles and South Central. What
is overlooked, however, is that each of these communities, Black and
Chicano, has shared a similar history of struggle in Los Angeles and
that at moments cultural expressions, such as lowriding, have led to
interconnections and the creation of multicultural spaces. It is the passionate love affair for lowrider cars that has often bridged the gaps
between East Los Angeles and South Central or South Los Angeles.
Los Angeles Lowrider s
Lowriders in Los Angeles not only reveal their owners’ passion for
classic cars but also speak to the importance of visualizing and communicating cultural identity and community.1 Using their vehicles as
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178 | Denise M. Sandoval
canvases for creative expression within the urban landscape, lowrider
owners document the rich and vibrant social and cultural history of
nuestra ciudad (our city). Lowriding is an everyday cultural practice for
some Chicanos, and they are often cited as one of the creators of their
culture (Trillin 1978; Plascenia 1983; Lipsitz 1990; Stone 1990; Bright
1995; Mendoza 2000; Penland 2003; Sandoval 2003). More important,
the history of lowriding speaks to the long history of interconnection
between Chicano and Black communities in Los Angeles, reaching back
to the swing and jazz scene of the 1940s and to the R&B and rock ’n’
roll scene of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. The West Coast sound created by single artists and groups such as Lalo Guerrero, Chuck Higgins,
Etta James, Richard Berry, Brenton Wood, Thee Midniters, Tierra,
and War, who explored the rhythms and beats of jazz, swing, blues,
R&B, mambo, and rock music (Lipsitz 1990; Macías 2008), became
the soundtrack for lowriding in Los Angeles, especially the music of
Thee Midniters, Tierra, and War, who wrote songs that specifically
catered to the lowrider community (Reyes and Waldman 1998; Molina
2002). The explosion of hip-hop culture in the 1980s and 1990s in Los
Angeles also displayed this interconnectedness and transformed lowrider culture. Groups and artists such N.W.A., Ice-T, Cypress Hill, and
Kid Frost consistently employed lowriders in their videos as part of the
West Coast hip-hop culture, and this had an impact both nationally and
internationally. Los Angeles history reveals moments in which Mexican
Americans and African Americans have used the dominant urban landscape in order to re-create their community and their cultural identities.
In the years since the 1965 Watts Riots, Los Angeles has often been
portrayed as a city full of racial tensions, and the mainstream media
have focused in particular on “Black and Brown” tensions in South
Central, resulting from gang violence, issues over immigration, and
even interactions between Blacks and Latinos in schools. Often overlooked, though, are the many historical moments in which these communities have come together through their love of similar cultural
expressions, such as fashion, music, and cars. Documenting and understanding the earlier Black and Brown cultural histories of Los Angeles
through lowrider history will, I hope, help illuminate the present and
offer possible insight into how cultural expressions such lowriding offer
avenues for understanding the ways these two communities have historically lived, worked, played, and created a “brotherhood” by cruising together. A core theme found within the many stories of lowriding
is the pride and respect lowriders feel for their cars, their car clubs, and
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The Politics of Low and Slow | 179
for other lowrider participants. Other themes include the importance
of family and brotherhood. “Brotherhood” is a particularly fascinating
and important aspect of these communities that embrace and practice
multiculturalism. In my many years of research, I often heard that the
love of lowrider cars is what brings these men together, and this precedes any “race” solidarity. But, as these stories reveal, “race” is, in
fact, an aspect of how intercultural connections happen in Los Angeles
through the love of lowrider cars.
Lowriding is an art form and a “way of life” that continue to express
vividly the intersections of race, class, and gender, along with respect
and pride. These expressions are most salient in the generation of lowriders active from the 1960s through the 1970s, a period often considered the “cultural renaissance” of lowriding and an era in Los Angeles
history in which lowriders often faced segregation and discrimination
for their cruising activities on L.A. streets. This essay utilizes oral histories with Chicano and Black lowriders, in particular, the Ruelas brothers (Julio, Ernie, and Fernando), who founded the Dukes Car Club of
Los Angeles, the oldest lowrider car club still in existence, and who are
considered the “godfathers of lowriding.” I also include their friendship
with two African American lowriders: Terry Andersen and Ted Wells.
The Ruelas family history begins in South Central Los Angeles, not the
typical Chicano barrio experience of East Los Angeles, and provides an
entry point for examining the sociohistorical interconnections between
Chicano and Black cultural spaces in Los Angeles through the practice
of lowriding. This essay grounds itself in the Chicano cultural space
of lowriding in the key years of the 1960s through the 1970s, since
Chicanos are the first group that organized car clubs in Los Angeles
and also had the first magazine, Lowrider, beginning in 1977, and
beyond that it examines, through the case study of the Dukes Car Club,
how Chicano and Black lowriders interacted. The Chicano story of
lowriding is central to L.A. history, as well as to lowrider history in
general, since it has been one of the most documented and visualized
aspects of that history. More important, the politics of bajito y suavecito/low and slow has been the mantra that has defined this cultural
space and Chicano cultural identity.
The Politics of Bajito y Suavecito
There is a conceptual framework for understanding the transformations and continuities of Chicano cultural identity within the urban
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180 | Denise M. Sandoval
landscape based on certain cultural knowledge of barrio life—a “barriology.”2 In Barrio Logos: Space and Place in Urban Chicano Literature
and Culture, Raul Villa examines how within Los Angeles, workingclass struggles and cultural movements of Mexican Americans can be
mapped.3 He labels these cultural movements and struggles “barriology,” which is the documentation of the tensions based in “the practice of everyday life” for barrio residents of Los Angeles. Villa further
explicates the importance of barrio life to cultural space and identity:
“Manifesting alternative needs and interests of those of the dominant
public sphere, the expressive practices of barrio social and cultural
reproduction—from the mundane exercises of daily round and leisure
activities to the formal articulation of community defensive goals in
organizational forums and discursive media—reveal multiple possibilities for re-creating and re-imagining dominant urban space as community enabling place.”4
Villa’s analysis is helpful as a starting point for examining how car
culture in Chicano and Black communities has involved a re-creation
or a reimagining of the urban landscape of Los Angeles. As such, I
would like to add to Villa’s analysis of barriology the politics and practice of bajito y suavecito. Bajito y suavecito is not only a “leisure activity” but also a system of cultural knowledge grounded in the everyday
practices of urban life. Lowriders, in choosing a particular aesthetics of car customizing, have created a subculture that has moved them
beyond the barrios or neighborhoods of Los Angeles through the performance of mobility. Automobiles, especially in the 1950s and 1960s,
allowed individuals or groups a means to transcend the limits of neighborhood. As lowriders cruised the boulevards of Los Angeles, they
visualized their particular aesthetics to people outside their communities, who sometimes viewed them in the same manner they viewed the
zoot-suiters, as juvenile delinquents or gang members. Many of these
negative representations were due to the dominant media outlets like
the Los Angeles Times newspaper. Luis Alvarez (2008) addresses how
this racialization affected Black and Brown male bodies: “Popular discourse characterizing nonwhite youth as animal-like, hypersexual, and
criminal marked their bodies as ‘other’ and, when coming from city
officials and the press, served to help construct for the public a social
meaning of African American and Mexican American youth. In these
ways, the physical and discursive bodies of nonwhite youth were the
sites upon which their dignity was denied.”5
In an era in the 1940s, when ethnic minorities were expected to
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The Politics of Low and Slow | 181
conform to Anglo-American styles of dress, the wearing of zoot suits
enabled young Chicanos and Blacks to challenge the expectations of
the dominant culture. It also meant that cultural identities were often
fluid and multicultural. The pachuco/zoot-suiter, through his clothing
(the suit originated in African American jazz/swing culture), language,
and style, embodied resistance and cultural adaptation, just as a lowrider did in choosing to recustomize his American-manufactured automobile and drive it low to the ground.6 In addition, both styles are
visual and performative in calling on the white dominant society to see
them. Unfortunately both styles were often seen in a negative light by
the dominant society and even criminalized. In the 1940s, pachucos/
zoot-suiters were seen by the dominant culture as juvenile delinquents,
even people to be feared, as they were, for example, in the case of the
Sleepy Lagoon murder in the summer of 1942, as well as in the Zoot
Suit Riots of 1943.7 Stuart Cosgrove explains the importance of the
zoot suit within the American culture of the early 1940s: “The zoot suit
was more than the drape-shape of the 1940s fashion, more than a colorful stage prop hanging from the shoulders of Cab Calloway, it was in
the most direct and obvious ways, an emblem of ethnicity and a way of
negotiating an identity. The zoot suit was a refusal: a sub-cultural gesture that refused to concede to the manners of subservience.”8
The pachucos existed between both American and Mexican identities, creating their own space defined by the working-class roots of
the barrio. To see and be seen, as a visible marker of difference, yet
also of sameness by creating a community—of pachucos/zoot-suiters
and eventually lowriders. Both subcultures within Mexican American
communities were an expression of youth attempting to make a new
identity for themselves, as well as incorporating the themes of pride,
respect, brotherhood, and family. Over time, the pachuco and the lowrider became iconic symbols of a Chicano culture that is rooted in the
process of adaptation through the forces of Americanization (Sánchez
1993). But the pachuco/zoot-suiter is also the beginning of a Chicano
identity rooted in rebellion and resistance found in the philosophy of
low and slow.
Therefore, the politics of low and slow has a long cultural legacy in
Mexican American barrios in Los Angeles as a philosophy of cultural
resistance and a way of life that requires corazón/pride, respect, carnalismo/brotherhood, and family or community. It is a cultural process that is both fluid and active, since at its core it is about being seen
and visualizing a particular identity that is individual and collective as
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182 | Denise M. Sandoval
well as interethnic. The use of cars and boulevards is a tactic to create
“community-enabling space.” Lowriders become narratives or visual
texts of working-class life—secondhand cars customized to be extravagant and luxurious—and of their owners’ expressions of their individuality and communities. These cars establish links between consumer
car culture, labor (skills), and gendered class and “race” positions. Low
and slow is more than car aesthetics; it is also a cultural expression that
is grounded in the urban sociohistorical experiences of Chicanos and
African Americans in Los Angeles. Their cars, moving low and slow
across the land of a thousand freeways, have helped to break down
some of the barriers that separate the inhabitants of Los Angeles.
The History/La Historia
Lowriding in Los Angeles is a direct result of the post–World War II
car culture boom when automobile manufacturing resumed and the
demand for new cars increased. The rise of automobile culture in the
United States has been discussed at length by Tom Wolfe (1965), James
Flink (1975), and Cynthia Dettleback (1979), to name but a few. After
World War II, the automobile industry quickly resumed producing new
cars, which resulted in a surplus of used cars that could be bought
by veterans, youth, working-class people, and ethnic minorities. Los
Angeles was the perfect location for the explosion of car culture, since
“in the 1950’s Los Angeles’ automobile industry was booming, with
five factories in the county, it was the country’s second-largest producer of cars and tires in the United States, after Detroit.”9 This situation, along with the affordability of used cars, was capitalized on by
many working-class youth in Los Angeles. As Ernie Ruelas recalled,
“You would buy a car in the 50s for fifteen dollars, it was easy to put
dual pipes on it, you know, lower it and if you messed that one up
you go get another one.”10 For African Americans, California in particular afforded economic opportunities, as well as freedom from Jim
Crow segregation in the South, though they did face discrimination
out West in the form of housing covenants and other racial restrictions in public accommodations. According to Flamming, “Restrictive
covenants would be undone not by legislation but by the NAACP’s
dogged legal efforts, which finally resulted in favorable rulings in the
U.S. Supreme Court during the late 1940s and early 1950s.”11 As housing opportunities for African Americans changed after the 1930s, automobile ownership flourished for this community. For instance, a survey
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The Politics of Low and Slow | 183
of 12,142 African American households in Los Angeles in the 1930s
found that 42 percent owned automobiles.12 Also important to mention
is the flourishing motorcycle culture within African American communities in California; in fact the formation of motorcycle clubs in the late
1940s and 1950s (Jimenez y West 2008) preceded the establishment of
the lowrider car clubs in the late 1960s and 1970s (Penland 2003).
Another important aspect of the evolution of lowriding is its connection to American car culture in general. The surge in lowriding must
also be framed within the proliferation of car leisure activities after
World War II, such as hot-rodding, drag races, car shows, and demolition derbies. Cars were a extension of one’s identity, becoming status symbols for working-class youth. Many car customizers used their
vehicles to express resistance to the culture of conformity that existed
in the 1950s. Historians trace the origins of lowriding to the birth of hot
rod culture in the 1930s and 1940s in Southern California, an activity
that was popular among many Anglo youth. This new “rebel culture,”
which transformed American popular culture after World War II, was
captured in some notable Hollywood movies in the 1950s, such as The
Wild One (1954), Blackboard Jungle (1955), and Rebel without a Cause
(1955). Nora Donnelly elaborates further: “Hot rod culture evolved as
an antidote to the cultural conformity of the 1950s. . . . For the first
time in American history, American teenagers were free to invent their
own identities. How loud and fast your car roared became the external emblem of self for the postwar generation of teens. . . . Working on
your car became an acceptable craft and an artistic outlet.”13
The various structural conditions inherent in the post–World War
II economy created an environment that fostered a love affair between
American males and their cars. Both hot-rodding and lowriding
began as inherently masculine activities and remain so to this day. As
an expressive form, lowriding was an affront to the (mostly AngloAmerican) hot-rodders, who raised their cars off the ground and drove
them fast. Lowriders practiced the opposite tactic: their cars were lowered to the ground and meant to go slow. Each car culture created a
distinct aesthetics beckoning the viewer to look at the cars and pay
respect to the cars’ owners. For Chicano and African American lowriders this was particularly significant in a time period when they were
often degraded in Los Angeles because of their race/ethnicity, class,
and gender status. The cars represented a source of pride and quickly
gained popularity in Chicano and Black communities. As Ted Wells
recalls, “If you go down a street when I was growing up, your lowThis content downloaded from on Fri, 27 Mar 2020 23:58:01 UTC
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184 | Denise M. Sandoval
rider was the only car you had. You drove to school, to the store, on
dates. . . . Back then during the week, during the day, there were hundreds of lowriders on the streets.”14
Lowriding had specific connections to life in the barrio for Mexican
Americans, as Mexican American youth were also racially segregated
within Los Angeles. Many Mexican American men had achieved recognition during World War II through their participation in the armed
forces, yet their position within American society remained unchanged:
Mexican Americans continued to be treated as second-class citizens.
According to Acuna, “The de facto exclusion of Mexicans from public facilities, schools, trade unions, juries, and voting was common in
many sections of the country.”15 In California, beginning in the early
part of the twentieth century, Mexican American children were placed
in schools and classrooms separate from their Anglo American peers.
In 1946, this practice would be declared unconstitutional by the federal
district Judge Paul J. McCormick in the Mendez v. Westminster School
District case, a precursor to Brown v. Board of Education (1954). This
reality was also shared by African American veterans, who also continued to face de facto and de jure segregation in public facilities and
schools and also began to fight for their civil rights. In the everyday
life of these working-class youth and men, automobiles then offered an
avenue to transgress the limits of territory or their barrios or neighborhoods through the mobility of their cars. Michael Stone’s analysis of
the impact of car culture on Mexican Americans can also be applied
to African Americans, since this cultural expression influenced perceptions of community and cultural identity: “Lowriding must be seen in
light of changing self-perception of class and ethnic identity on part
of Mexican American youth, as played against the broader context of
American youth culture, the ‘car culture,’ the mass media, public education, military service, and the world of work.”16
Furthermore many World War II veterans, especially among
Mexican Americans and African Americans, gained mechanical skills
through their work in shipyards, military motor pools, and airplane
hangars. Many of these men were also part of the “52–20 club,” in
which the U.S. government paid them benefits of twenty dollars a
month for one year after discharge for their military service. This extra
income and the mechanical skills they acquired through their wartime
service then made it possible for veterans to purchase and maintain a
new or used car.17 Manuel Cruz recalled how Chicanos put their skills
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The Politics of Low and Slow | 185
for car modifications to good use, and in the process they created a distinct car aesthetics:
The cars were fixed this way—a ’36 Chevy club coupe would get its front
fender skirts off, no spot lights or skirts on it, usually a ’34 Ford would get
its front fenders and back fenders taken off. The best ones were the two
door convertibles. Chicanos started fixing their cars. They would put dual
pipes, rubber flaps with reflectors on them that went on the back of the rear
flaps or license plates, skirts for their cars, one or two spot lights, white
walls. If you wanted a lowrider, the only thing you could do then was put
sand bags or cement sacks in the trunk to make them heavy . . . that was
before metal shocks. Those were the first lowriders in LA in the 40s.18
Automobiles allowed both economic and physical mobility. A car
represented a middle-class American dream that was now available to
working-class people; it also created a means for Chicano and Black
lowriders to physically transgress the boundaries of racially segregated
neighborhoods in Los Angeles.19 Their participation in car leisure activities also formed a collectivity with other lowriders and maintained
the link found in many popular cultural forms in which the individual uses popular culture to create a community with others. The cultural space that lowriders created in the 1950s initiated a communityenabling space within the barrios of Los Angeles, much as the pachucos
and zoot-suiters of the 1940s did. Ruben Ortiz-Torres writes: “With
the advent of lowrider culture, the individualistic American dream of
driving away to escape it all has been replaced with the notion of driving together. Lowriders organize in car clubs and go cruising on the
weekends on specific boulevards, updating the old Mexican practice of
walking around a town plaza on Sundays in order to socialize and flirt
with girls. They drive slowly, pumping their music and blocking traffic,
messing with a social system that is not eager to accept them.”20
Hydraulics marked the beginning of a new era of lowriding in
Los Angeles. In 1958, Ron Aguirre, a Chicano from Los Angeles,
installed the first hydraulic system in a 1957 Chevrolet Corvette. The
setup allowed his car to be lowered or raised with a flip of a switch,
an important innovation in the lowriding scene. The hydraulic parts,
which consisted of hydro air pumps and dumps, were surplus parts
from World War II fighter planes that assisted in lowering and raising
the wing flaps. During the 1960s and 1970s, a large number of lowriders would purchase government surplus parts at Palley’s Surplus in
Vernon (a setup cost forty dollars in the 1960s) and have them installed
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186 | Denise M. Sandoval
at places such as the Ruelas’s shop in South Los Angeles, Dick and
Ron’s in Hawthorne, Bill Hines’s shop in Compton, and Al Sullivan’s in
Hyde Park. These surplus parts were a valuable asset to the lowriders,
since they could ride as low as they wanted to on the boulevard, then
return their cars to a legal ground clearance with the flip of a switch if
they saw the police. Because the California vehicle code stipulated that
no part of a car could be lower than the bottom portion of the wheel
rim, the police often wrote tickets to owners of lowrider cars. Many
lowriders felt they were targeted more than hot-rodders on L.A. streets.
The official lowrider label began to be used in the 1960s, and according
to Lowrider magazine, the term was first coined by the police after the
1965 Watts Riots. Jack Kennedy relates in Lowrider: History, Pride,
Culture, “They [the police] were using the term ‘lowrider’ as a derogatory term for the young black kids that were causing all the trouble. . . .
They said that they were kids who drove cars with no springs and no
seats so they could ride low.”21 The term lowrider, which began as an
insult, took on new meaning as youth and young adults redefined it as
a source of cultural pride.
The Dukes
Los Angeles is the birthplace of the oldest lowrider car club still in
existence, the Dukes, which was founded by the Ruelas brothers. The
Ruelas brothers are an example of the strength of the lowriding tradition based on la familia (brotherhood), respect, and pride. Within the
Ruelas family, lowriding is a tradition that is passed on from one generation to the next, from father to son to grandson. The important legacy
of the Dukes to lowrider history was celebrated in 2007 as its members
welcomed their forty-fifth anniversary as a car club. The Ruelas brothers proudly call themselves pachucos and Chicanos. They are known
for customizing ’39 Chevys, a choice that made them stand out from
the rest of the lowriders in the 1960s and 1970s, when most lowriders
customized cars from the 1950s and 1960s.
The story of the Ruelas brothers reveals the cultural links between
Chicanos and Blacks in Los Angeles through the practice of lowriding. During the 1950s and 1960s, the Ruelas brothers grew up in a
South Los Angeles neighborhood that included pockets of Mexican
American neighborhoods, like 41st Street and Alameda, but the schools
they attended were in primarily African American neighborhoods.
According to Flamming, by 1960 the area along Central Avenue was 95
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The Politics of Low and Slow | 187
percent black, and there was a “seven mile stretch of African American
neighborhoods locked between Main Street and Alameda.”22 The high
school that the Ruelas brothers attended, Jefferson, was within this
Central Avenue district, and even though they were in the minority,
they were respected by African Americans there. Ernie Ruelas once
explained, “We were known as the ‘black Mexicans.’ Our black brothers respected us for having courage.”23 Two African American friends
of the Ruelas brothers, Terry Anderson and Ted Wells, remember
meeting the Dukes in the early 1970s, an event about which Anderson
remarked, “These guys had me at their home for quinceañeras (celebrations of teenage girls coming of age), funerals of car club members
who died, and holidays. They took me into their family.”24 The politics of low and slow in South Central Los Angeles became a way to
bridge the two divergent cultures of Mexican Americans and African
Americans, and in the process life-long friendships would be formed.
The story of the Dukes is not unlike other histories of lowriders in
Los Angeles who live in multicultural communities, yet the story of
the Ruelas brothers, the OGs (which abbreviates “original gangsters”
but is used to mean veterans/veteranos) of the lowrider scene in Los
Angeles, is a fascinating chapter that visualizes the interconnectedness
of Blacks and Chicanos.
The Dukes’ story begins south of downtown Los Angeles on 41st
and Long Beach Avenue, in a time period in L.A. history when being
Mexican was a reason to be seen as “inferior” to Anglo Americans.25
In the mid-1950s Josefina Ruelas, a single mother, immigrated from
Tijuana to Los Angeles with her four boys (Julio, Oscar, Fernando,
and Ernie) and settled in with Uncle Tinker and Tia Chana. These relatives had settled in South Central Los Angeles in the mid-1930s and
had an automotive shop. Uncle Tinker, who became a father figure to
his nephews, introduced the boys to auto mechanics in an attempt to
keep them off the streets, and in the process, he taught them about taking pride in their work. The most important lesson that he imparted to
them was the positive influence of la familia working together. These
would be lessons the Ruelas brothers passed on to their own sons.
The love affair with cars began at a young age for Julio Ruelas, who
is the oldest brother: “I got interested in lowriding through my family. Already our uncles were lowriding, and I was growing up seeing
them. And around the neighborhood everybody had a low car with
dual pipes. So that is when I took it from there, and I followed it
ever since.”26
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188 | Denise M. Sandoval
When each of the brothers reached age thirteen, each had a car that
he began to customize, and each became a “specialist” in certain areas
of car customizing. For example, one brother specialized in bodywork,
one in upholstery, and another in electrical wiring. Since each one possessed different talents, they built cars as a team. Even though they
were not able to drive these cars legally, the brothers still took pleasure
in their customizing work. Fernando recalls:
Well, my first car was a 1949 Chevrolet four door; it was a deluxe. I bought
it in 1963. And I bought from an individual that lived in Watts as a matter
of fact. I paid fifty dollars for it, actually my brother went and bought it for
me, because I was only thirteen years old. I was too young, so my brother
bought it for me. And fifty dollars was a lot of money back then; it was like
per se thirty thousand to buy a car right now, or forty. So it was a lot of
money. It was my first car, and the first thing I done on that car is I dropped
it. And you know the methods back then to dropping a car if you didn’t
have any money, there was two, three methods to do that, so we would
either heat the coils up in the front, put a lot of weight in the back. Cement
rocks anything that’s weighing and lowers it down. But the very early years
of the lowriding, they would drop the front a little bit and leave it like in
a slant like this, and they called it “Diego”—you know like baby Diego.27
The early style of low and slow (before hydraulics) captured the
imagination of Fernando and his brothers. The process of building a
car became a family effort as the brothers worked together. Family was
a central tenet of life in the barrio, and one’s neighborhood also became
part of one’s extended family. Carnalismo, or brotherhood, among men
in the neighborhood produced barrio social clubs or gangs.28 For the
Ruelas brothers, having an uncle who was a mechanic afforded them
the opportunity to learn about customizing firsthand at a very early
age, as well keep them off the streets of South Los Angeles. One of the
Ruelas brothers explained:
He didn’t want us in the street, hanging out with the guys. Very early age he
would take us out to the junk yards to pick up bicycles, this was in the 50s,
1954, and we’ll get the Schwinn cause that was a better looking bike . . .
we done all kinds of crazy things to lowered Cadillac lights sticking out of
the back with original blinkers, you know how they had back at that time.
With raising the big handle bars, like they’d be sticking up like that, maybe
we will be real creative. We’ll even get that and make motor bikes out of
them, we’ll put lawn mower motors on them.29
Fernando learned the laborious process of “bodywork” at a young
age, a process he labeled “the old-fashioned way.” Early on, his uncle
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took the boys to scrap yards and taught them customizing skills.
Fernando was just twelve years old when he started shooting his first
metal flake (a method of painting a car). His brother Ernie meanwhile
learned electrical wiring from Uncle Tinker by working on an old
radio. Their mother also supported their activity, since it kept them off
the streets and gave them something productive to do. As young boys,
the Ruelas brothers were a part of the phase of lowriding in which car
owners took pride in working on the cars themselves, as opposed to
those in the present era, who take their cars to various shops around
Los Angeles if they can afford to. The Dukes created a historic and
classic lowriding standard that others have followed, and this standard
also reflects the different generations of lowriders as well as the different customizing styles of each generation. Ernie Ruelas remarks,
The early styles were historic, and you can’t even find paint anymore to
paint the cars that way. I believe that the ways that people install their
hydraulics are also different. The old way, especially for old cars, there was
only a small amount of people who knew how to do it that way. It was a
professional installation, and now people do not cater to that installation
so much; they just throw it in there and that’s it. Before, people were very
much into research—how it works right, how it rides right, and also how
it changes. I think that hydraulics in our day were more for style symbol to
keep your car low and to ride smooth and all that.30
These features also made the car stand out, especially to law enforcement. The police wrote tickets to those who violated the law that no
part of a car could be lower than the bottom portion of the wheel
rim, which made lowriders one of their favorite targets. Fernando
Ruelas worked for thirty-five years on installing hydraulic setups, and
he recalled the treatment lowriders received from police in the 1950s
and 1960s.
Back in the earlier days, per se the police department they didn’t like low
riders, and they just were out there just to knick pick, you see, . . . what
they could find. In opposed to the Anglo they wouldn’t bother them, but
they would bother the Latino low rider a lot, because basically they probably figured “What is this guy doing in this nice looking car?” so there was
a big feedback on the earlier years. In opposed to the late, like we are now,
things have mellowed down. . . . it’s still there, but it’s not as exposed as it
was back then.31
The Ruelas brothers readily admit that as boys in the late 1950s they
joined the 38th Street gang out of a need for protection. The 38th Street
club achieved mainstream recognition during the Sleepy Lagoon murThis content downloaded from on Fri, 27 Mar 2020 23:58:01 UTC
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190 | Denise M. Sandoval
der case of 1942, when twenty-two of their members were found guilty
of crimes ranging from assault to first-degree murder through an unfair
and racist trial. More important, living in South Central in the 1950s
and 1960s required the Ruelas brothers to adapt to three cultures.
As young members of the 38th Street, they proudly called themselves
“pachucos” and had to interact with their pachuco brothers through
music, language, and dress. They also had to interact with Mexican
culture in their home, where their mother spoke to them in Spanish,
and they were exposed to Mexican music. Then at school and in their
mostly Black neighborhood, they had to interact with Black culture in
order to be accepted. Brother Fernando explains this influence of three
cultures on Chicanos living in South Los Angeles in this time period:
“We had three cultures. We had our Mexican culture at home. Our
mother spoke to us all in Spanish. Then we had our pachuco culture—
we were pachucos. And we had our Black brothers out there. We had a
variety and that was good.”32
Jefferson High School historically produced many musical artists
that the brothers were influenced by and some they knew personally.
Artists like Etta James, Richard Berry, Arthur Lee May, and even Barry
White all went to “Jeff.” African American music was a cultural bridge
to American culture for many Chicanos living in Los Angeles, who
lived in the same neighborhoods as Blacks or in neighborhoods adjacent to Black communities, which often in turn encouraged intercultural exchanges (Lipsitz 1990; Macías 2008). Ernie Ruelas also explains
the importance of that intercultural connection in shaping his identity
and the car culture’s lure for him: “My family went to school in South
Central. We were the minority there. Nine Mexican boys and girls at
Jefferson High School. Looking back at that, it made me what I am. We
understood each other. We liked cars and that brought us together.”33
The love of cars is what brought some Chicanos and Blacks together
in the streets of Los Angeles in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The
Ruelas brothers’ reputation as good customizers earned them respect,
and they were even invited into the homes of their Black neighbors and
invited to cruise with the Black lowriders. As Terry Andersen explains,
growing up on the West Side, he did not even know Latin lowriders,
but “everyone heard about the Dukes because they came into the ’hood.
They were accepted. They showed no prejudice.”34 Ernie Ruelas recalls
that they would work on cars owned by African Americans, adding,
“We treated them with respect.” Yet there were spaces in Los Angeles
where neither group was accepted or respected. For instance, Lynwood
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was called “Lynchwood” by Chicanos and African Americans, because
if they drove into that neighborhood, they were quickly escorted out by
the police. They learned early on that Lynwood was only for white people. As Ernie recalls, “Even when white people moved out, the police
department maintained a ‘keep it white attitude,’ and a person could
get hit with a flashlight by a cop.”35 Even in Huntington Park, a person
could not be out on the streets after 10 p.m. These are areas that bordered the lowriders’ own neighborhoods, but they learned early on the
stigma of both being Black and Mexican in the streets of Los Angeles
and driving the particular cars they owned. As Ernie says, “The police
left the White hot-rodders alone; they did not get harassed.”36
In 1962, the Ruelas brothers realized their passion for cars was
enough to start their own car club, which also caused some tensions in
their neighborhood. The Dukes car club became an alternative to gang
life—or la vida loca. The car club initially was perceived as a threat to
the control of the neighborhood by the 38th Street gang, and it caused
some initial hard feelings between that gang and the Dukes. Yet, this
tension would soon vanish as the Dukes soon brought honor and
respect to their neighborhood. Fernando remembers those tensions:
Well actually the first thing you had to do is you had to get out of the gang
you were in. Because when you were in a gang and you were trying to start
a club, your peers, your gang members, they didn’t want a club, ’cause
you got to understand when I grew up we were pachucos, and that’s the
hard thing there. You’re going to do a club, you going to get individuals.
It doesn’t take one, two, three guys to start a club to begin with, and back
then you had club members that per se it was a social club so it was cars. . . .
So we had to hassle there with our neighborhood guys to start this. So it
was a big impact here; you know, you hassle with a society out there then if
you are going to do a neighborhood club, and it was pretty hard, especially
the neighborhood where I grew up—38th Street over there—its family history known with the Sleepy Lagoon murder and all this. So there’s history
there, so it was very hard to break away the pachuco image and to turn it
into a car club thing.37
For the brothers, car clubs as social clubs provided an alternative
option to gangs by creating a social environment that was considered
respectable. So eventually the 38th Street gang agreed to let the brothers start a car club, since it would bring pride and respect to the neighborhood. In the 1970s Black car clubs like the Professionals, the Compton chapter of the Majestics, and the Individuals were established. As
Ted Wells recalls, “When I turned sixteen and got a driver’s license,
you got a car, you were either a hot-rodder or a lowrider, and I chose
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192 | Denise M. Sandoval
a lowrider.”38 Black lowriders Ted Wells and Terry Anderson cite the
Ruelas brothers as early innovators, and they often visited the brothers’ shop in South Los Angeles. Yet, when the streets were turned into
community-enabling space for Chicanos and Blacks, cruising locales
were structured along lines of race/ethnicity. Chicanos cruised Whittier
Boulevard in East Los Angeles, and Blacks cruised Crenshaw Boulevard. One reason these cruising spots were “racialized” in the development and transformation of Los Angeles neighborhoods is that historically East Los Angeles was a Mexican American neighborhood, and
the neighborhood around Crenshaw Boulevard was primarily African
American. So, if a Mexican American cruised Crenshaw in the early
days of the late 1960s and early 1970s, they had to be invited by an
African American car club. And if an African American cruised Whittier Boulevard in this same time period, they also had to be invited.
Many of these protocols would disappear though by the late 1970s,
as lowriding and cruising grew in popularity, and lowrider car shows
became more well organized. For example, the first large-scale lowrider car show at the Los Angeles Convention Center occurred in 1979,
and it was sponsored by Lowrider magazine.
Cruising has been an important aspect of lowrider culture and a
popular pastime for American youth since the 1950s. The boulevards
of Los Angeles became the perfect site to showcase their custom creations, and many lowriders have seen themselves as the “Picassos of
the Boulevards.” Until the end of the 1970s, one of the most popular
cruising venues in the United States was Whittier Boulevard in East Los
Angeles. At the height of its popularity in the 1960s and 1970s, Whittier
Boulevard was the ideal place for working-class Chicanos to show off
their cars, pick up dates, and have fun. According to many veteranos
of that time, Whittier Boulevard had everything a young man desired:
cars, music, and girls. Many labeled it “Chicano Disneyland,” a playground for barrio youth. Whittier Boulevard was alive every weekend
as the top cruising spot in Los Angeles, and the Dukes were an important part of that scene. Each lowrider club had its own spot on the
boulevard, and the Dukes had the prime spot in the Huggie Boy car
lot. As Fernando recalls, “Nobody parked in our lot; they knew it was
ours. We filled it with ’39s.”39 African Americans cruised Crenshaw,
and by 1965, it was a happening spot. As Ted Wells recalls, “A friend
of mine took me down to one of the all-time lowrider hangouts called
Stop’s Hamburgers, on the corner of Imperial and Central. Stop’s was a
place where on Sunday nights, in every direction, there were lowriders
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packing both sides of the streets.”40 And when Whittier Boulevard was
shut down by law enforcement in the 1979, the traffic in South Central
became more multicultural.
In 1974 Fernando Ruelas became president of the club (a position
he held until his passing in 2010), and he was also responsible for the
changes to come on the lowriding scene in the late 1970s. The Dukes,
along with the Imperials and the Groupe car clubs, played a key role in
the formation of the West Coast Association of Lowriders in 1978. The
purpose of the association was to get car clubs to unite and do something positive within the Chicano community. Together these clubs
put on the “Christmas Toys for Kids” car show, and all the proceeds
went to purchasing toys and Christmas stockings for underprivileged
children. The Dukes, however, were influenced by the growing political activism in East Los Angeles during the Chicano movement of the
late 1960s and 1970s, and the way they connected the clubs to political movements like this one separates them from the other car clubs.
They organized car shows to benefit the broader Chicano community,
from César Chávez and the United Farmworkers, to Mecha and other
Chicano organizations, to even local prisons. They owned the “Dukes
Bus,” which they filled with club members and took to prisons to put
on lowrider shows for the inmates. All of these activities reveal the
importance of la familia and the community to lowriders, who do more
than just cruise the streets. The Dukes believe in “giving back to the
community,” a motto that sustains Chicanismo in the barrios of Los
Angeles, especially for the younger generations. As Fernando explains:
I’ve done a lot of auditorium appearances back in those days, and talked to
the kids. Where you had the first, second, third graders, I’ve got still their
crayon drawings with “I love you Dukes thank you for the toys and stocking,” and little cars all crooked with their kids you know. I got tons of that
stuff put away, tons of it. And I would donate my time to do this with the
kids, as well as you know I used to do car shows, I used to call it car night,
but it was on Saturdays in the day where I would take kids from Jefferson
High School, cause that’s the school where I used to go, and I used to bring
them there and teach them the mechanics, body work and the whole thing
on lifts, hydraulics on a car. And I just got burned out, you know every
Saturday. I just got burned out, we used to take a new group of people, and
what I would do every month I would get a new group, and I’ll do that.
Hopefully some of those kids right now have cars like this.41
The brothers are acutely aware that lowriding is tied to the multicultural history of Los Angeles and is an avenue to build community with
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other lowriders. But more important, lowriding for them is something
that people should take pride in. They want the customizing work that
they do to have inspirational and motivational effects on the Chicano
community and the broader L.A. community, especially the youth. The
Ruelas brothers have applied lessons from the Chicano movement to
their work as a car club. Fernando mentioned that the sole purpose
in starting the club was not to get a thousand members but instead to
capture the youth and give them an alternative to gangs. The brothers
also share their own stories of growing up in order to motivate youth
to enter into activities in their communities. When asked what lowriding teaches youth, Ernie Ruelas responds: “I think that it is real positive, because it is bringing awareness, and it is bringing Mexican people
or Chicano people to work together and to let them know that it is not
about doing combat with one another, but loving one another in building something that is in our blood.”42
According to the Dukes, their lowrider club is an extension of their
family, and they believe that perspective is one of the main reasons for
their longevity. In this manner, the car club is more than just cars; the
Dukes believe they can use their love of cars to communicate stories to
the younger generation, stories that will inspire them and teach them
the lessons of pride, respect, carnalismo/brotherhood, and family. The
politics of low and slow on the boulevards of Los Angeles not only links
the past with the present but also speaks to lowriders’ shared sense of
community, Black and Chicano. This is illustrated best by the story
of the Dukes, who have been innovators, artists, and “godfathers” on
the scene for over forty years. Their lowrider stories of the 1960s and
1970s also demonstrate what authors writing on popular music in Los
Angeles have revealed: interconnections of Black and Brown communities are at the heart of L.A. cultural history.
Conclusion: Bl ack and Chicano Lowriders after the 1970s
The importance of family and fraternal relationships (carnalismo)
among lowriders in the 1960s and 1970s is reflected in the formation of
car clubs. Generally referred to by members as “second families,” most
clubs were originally established by small close-knit groups of customcar enthusiasts comprising either blood relatives or individuals from
the same neighborhoods. In addition to establishing a sense of solidarity among lowriders, these associations have also supported friendly
competition among members who try to outdo one another in creating
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the “perfect” car. Furthermore, club membership provides an alternative to gang life (la vida loca) by replacing potentially dangerous or violent activities with positive and “respectable” social behaviors. In this
sense, lowriding is keeping alive the carnalismo, just like the pachucos/
zoot-suiters before them, as a source of community-enabling space.
There is a diversity of car club politics within the lowriding scene,
but all the clubs share similar traits of family bonds, respect, and pride
for their cars. In fact, their emphasis on these themes has resulted in
the longevity of the car clubs. Despite the shared themes, Chicanos
have added a distinct style to lowriding that is all their own. Ernie
Ruelas explains:
I think that what we have added to lowriding has been our style. You see
a Chicano car fixed up and all that, you know it is a Chicano car. You see
a Black person’s car and all that, and you know that it is a Black person’s
car. Their styles are different. I think what we have started here is using
older cars with sun visors, with the hydraulics on older cars, and that kind
of stuff. We started that. I think also we have brought some awareness all
through this country that leads from the West Coast all the way to the East
The story of the Dukes is in no way the ultimate story of Black and
Brown interconnectedness within the lowriding scene, but it captures
a particular moment in the 1960s and 1970s in which these communities shared a history of struggle and discrimination on the streets of
Los Angeles and created a brotherhood through their mutual love of
lowrider cars. The politics of low and slow provided a common ground
of mutual recognition for some Chicano and Black lowriders. More
important, as other scholarly work has shown, the Chicanos’ struggle
for a community-enabling space in Los Angeles has often meant creating new cultural identities that have borrowed and added to African
American popular cultural modes of expression, like music, fashion,
and dance. Although the importance of Chicanos’ role as innovators
and generators of lowrider culture in Los Angeles has been documented
and visualized in many scholarly works and mainstream museum exhibitions, their elevation as such sometimes becomes a source of tension, because Black lowriders may feel that their stories and contributions are too minimized within lowrider history. Scholarly work is still
needed to document and visualize the stories of Black lowriders in Los
Angeles beyond the journalistic stories in Lowrider magazine and the
content of hip-hop videos.
Finally, the demographic changes in the areas of South Los Angeles
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196 | Denise M. Sandoval
in the late 1980s and early 1990s, wherein African American communities became “Latino-cized” through immigration from Mexico and
Central America, produced racial tensions between Black and Brown
in the area’s communities. Whereas earlier generations of immigrants
like the Ruelas brothers were accepted by their African American peers
in periods of intense “Americanization” of the 1950s and 1960s, these
new generations of immigrants have often been labeled “illegal aliens”
and “un-American” by some in the African American community who
have viewed these people as taking their jobs.44 Though exploring the
issues born of demographic changes in South Los Angeles is out of the
realm of this essay, these changes do point to the complicated patterns
of community and identity in Los Angeles. For instance, in the various Latino communities here, recent immigrants and those who have
been here for generations all have different connections to “American”
culture, Latino immigrant culture, and Black culture. How this affects
the politics of low and slow and the lowrider community remains to be
documented and explored as the worlds of Boulevard Nights and Boyz
n the Hood become less celebratory and more aligned with the current
complicated cultural/racial politics of the City of Angels—Los Angeles.
1. Lowrider is used to describe a car that is customized primarily to be low
to the ground, usually containing a hydraulic set-up, with a fantastic candy
paint job, chrome features, and customized upholstery. Included among the
categories of lowrider cars are “bombs” (American-made cars from the late
1930s to the early 1950s) and “Euros” (import cars such as Hondas and Acuras). Many lowriding purists believe that classic Chevrolets are the only cars
that, once properly customized, can carry the lowrider label, yet today virtually any kind of vehicle can be transformed into a lowrider. There are now lowrider minitrucks, SUVs, motorcycles, bicycles, and even scaled-down model
cars. Most important, the lowrider label is also used to describe people who
participate in this car-culture phenomenon. Lowriding is a way of life for many
of its participants, and its practice varies across the United States and abroad.
2. Raul Villa explains that the term was coined in “the late 1960s by the
associated members of Con Safos magazine, an artist collective in East Los
Angeles,” and he paraphrases Tomas Ybarro-Frausto’s definition of the term:
“Barriology was a playful but serious promotion of the cultural knowledge and
practices particular to the barrio.” Raul Homero Villa, Barrio Logos: Space
and Place in Urban Chicano Literature and Culture (Austin: University of
Texas Press, 2000), 6–7.
3. Ibid., 6.
4. Ibid.
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5. Luis Alvarez, The Power of the Zoot: Youth Culture and Resistance during World War II (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008), 43.
6. Dressing in extravagantly garbed in high-waisted trousers, oversized
coats, wide-brimmed hats, and long gold watch chains, the pachucos fashioned
a new identity for themselves, one that made them stand out from people who
were just trying to “fit in.” In addition, they wore their hair a bit longer than
was the style of the time, which was military crew cuts. Their defiance of the
status quo was interpreted as an important act of cultural resistance and later
became a source of inspiration for Chicanos during the Chicano movement, as
well as for the other lowriders in the 1950s and 1960s.
7. The Zoot Suit Riots were fights between servicemen and zoot-suiters,
in which the zoot-suiters were arrested and the servicemen were applauded by
the media and even law enforcement. For a more detailed analysis of both the
Zoot Suit Riots and the case of the Sleepy Lagoon murder, see, respectively,
Mauricio Mazon, The Zoot Suit Riots: The Psychology of Symbolic Annihilation (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1984); and George Sanchez, Becoming
Mexican American: Ethnicity, Culture, and Identity in Chicano Los Angeles,
1900–1945 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993).
8. Stuart Cosgrove, “The Zoot Suit and Style Warfare,” History Workshop
Journal 18 (Autumn 1984): 77.
9. Paige Penland, Lowrider: History, Pride, Culture (St. Paul, MN: Motorbooks International, 2003), 13.
10. Ernie Ruelas in Low and Slow (South Padre Island, TX: Ritual Films,
1997), 16mm documentary, 27 minutes.
11. Douglas Flamming, Bound for Freedom: Black Los Angeles in Jim
Crow Era (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005), 350.
12. Ibid., 306.
13. Nora Donnelly, “Freedom, Style, Sex, Power and Motion—the Cult of
Cars,” in Customized: Art Inspired by Hot Rods, Lowriders and American
Car Culture, edited by Nora Donnelly, 49–67 (Boston: Institute of Contemporary Art, 2000), 49.
14. Ted Wells, interview by author, digital recording, Altadena, CA, July
10, 2007.
15. Rodolfo Acuña, Occupied America: A History of Chicanos, 4th ed.
(New York: Addison Wesley Longman, 2000), 279.
16. Michael Stone, “Bajito y Suavecito: Lowriding and the ‘Class’ of Class,”
Journal of Latin American Popular Culture 9 (1990): 87–88.
17. Ibid.
18. Lowrider 2, no. 2 (1977): 33.
19. Winslow Felix first opened his Chevrolet dealership in 1922 and is considered the first Mexican American car dealership owner in Southern California, according to numerous sources, including the Felix Chevrolet dealership
owner Darryl Holter. Winslow Felix was a friend of filmmaker Pat Sullivan,
whose animation studio created the Felix the Cat character, and Winslow was
given special permission to use this image for his dealership. In an early time
of consumer discrimination for many minorities in Los Angeles, this dealership
provided opportunities for many first-time car owners. Winslow also created
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198 | Denise M. Sandoval
a “trial purchase plan,” founded the Greater Los Angeles Motorcar Dealers,
organized the annual Southern California auto shows, and staged midget-car
races. The Felix the Cat image represents Los Angeles’s love affair for Chevy
cars. Even today, a sign of cultural authenticity is having a Felix the Cat sticker
displayed in the window of a restored vintage GM vehicle. The beautiful neon
sign of Felix the Car was erected in 1957 at the Felix Chevrolet dealership in
Los Angeles on the corner of Jefferson and Figueroa.
20. Ruben Ortiz Torres, “Cathedral on Wheels,” in Customized, 37.
21. Quoted in Penland, Lowrider, 26.
22. Flamming, Bound for Freedom, 378.
23. Ernie Ruelas, interview by author, digital recording, Los Angeles, CA,
July 14, 2007.
24. Terry Andersen, interview by author, digital recording, Los Angeles,
CA, July 14, 2007.
25. For more detailed examination of this time period for Chicanos in Los
Angeles, see Acuña, Occupied America; and Ricardo Romo, East Los Angeles:
History of a Barrio (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1983).
26. Julio Ruelas, interview by author, tape recording, Los Angeles, CA,
June 12, 1999.
27. Interview, Lowrider Oral History Project: Youth Voices, Los Angeles,
March 15, 2008, Collection of Petersen Automotive Museum, Los Angeles
(hereafter LOHP).
28. In the 1920s, most areas settled by Mexican Americans in Los Angeles
began to organize their neighborhoods (barrios), such as happened in Maravilla, El Hoyo, Alpine, and Dogtown. Chicano youth would create social
clubs connected to their barrios. In time these clubs were seen as gangs by the
dominant culture, especially during World War II, when juvenile delinquency
became a social problem for Los Angeles. By the 1950s, many of these social
clubs had taken on the titles of gangs. For a more detailed look at the development of Chicano gangs in Los Angeles, see Joan Moore, Homeboys: Gangs,
Drugs and Prison in the Barrios of Los Angeles (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1978); and James Diego Vigil, Barrio Gangs: Street Life and Identity
in Southern California (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1988).
29. Interview, LOHP.
30. Ernie Ruelas, interview by author, tape recording, Los Angeles, June
12, 1999.
31. Interview, LOHP.
32. Ibid.
33. Interview, LOHP.
34. Terry Andersen, interview by author, digital recording, Los Angeles,
July 14, 2007.
35. Ernie Ruelas, interview by author, digital recording, Los Angeles, July
14, 2007.
36. Ibid.
37. Interview, LOHP.
38. Ted Wells, interview by author, digital recording, Altadena, CA, July
10, 2007.
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39. Fernando Ruelas, interview by author, tape recording, La Habra, CA,
June 10, 1999.
40. Penland, Lowrider, 25.
41. Interview, LOHP.
42. Ernie Ruelas, interview by author, tape recording, Los Angeles, June
12, 1999.
43. Ibid.
44. A perfect example of this is friend and admirer of the Dukes, Terry
Anderson, who spoke highly of their friendship and of other Chicano lowriders
to me but also was involved in activism against Mexican immigration in Los
Angeles and nationally until his death in July 2010. He hosted a weekly AM
radio show on KRLA and spoke as a man who saw his once African American community of South Los Angeles being “taken over by illegals” who took
away jobs from his sons. I discovered this information after he had died and
was therefore unable to do a follow-up interview with him for this essay.
Bright, Brenda Jo. 1995. “Re-mappings: Los Angeles Low Riders.” In Looking
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