DARE TO ASK: Low-riders: It's all about being cool
By PHILLIP MILANO, The Times-Union
Why do some Mexicans like to lower their cars?
Candice, 52, white, Sacramento, Calif.
I think it's for the same reason some Americans like to raise their cars
[back end] and four-wheel drive trucks: To the driver, it's cool.
C.M., white female, St. Paul, Minn.
Mexicans aren't the only people who alter motor vehicles. Have you never seen
hot rods? "Low-riding" requires lots of time, money, electrical and mechanical
knowledge and artistic vision. Take a moment to look at the mini-murals the
vehicles are embellished with: true works of art that usually are dedicated to
religion or a loved one. A lot of pride is taken in the final products, hence
the slow driving to better display the vehicles. And by the way, I know
low-riders who are Latino, African-American, First Nation, Filipino -- even
Travesa, Hispanic female, San Francisco Bay area
I live at the border, and I've seen that this happens on the U.S. side, and
with a few people inside the Mexican border. But in Mexico as a country, you'll
never find cars like that.
Mixcoatl, male, Nuevo Laredo, Mexico
You're young. You want a decent rep with the friends. You and your parents
don't have a lot of bucks, but you can get your hands on a '65 Impala and the
right hydraulic or airbag suspension kit.
You're buying it, and you're lowering it. Especially in southern California.
"It's the same reason rednecks soup up their pickup trucks," says East
L.A.-bred bad-boy comic Carlos Mencia, the mind behind Comedy Central's raw Mind
of Mencia variety show. "It's not gonna set you back what a house costs, it's
gonna get you laid and it'll get you street cred. You want people to look at it
and say holy -- --."
Low-riders started in the early '70s, Mencia said. Older Latinos were fixing
up Chevys from the '20s and '30s, but younger, second-generation Hispanics born
in America -- Chicanos -- wanted to set themselves apart.
The long, thin body of the Impala, especially those from 1964-67, beckoned.
"When dropped, it looked really sleek, it didn't have fins that went up, and
it had lines and curves," Mencia said. "It was very unique in its time."
Which vehicles get altered, and how they're altered, depends on the locale,
he said. A raised 4X4 truck works in a more rural area with country roads, for
example, but just wouldn't look right in urban L.A.
"You take that in there and most people are going to go 'What the -- -- are
you doing here, are you a moron? We have roads here!'"
Though older Impalas are still the Holy Grail of low-riders, Mencia himself
went with, of all things, a lowered pickup when he was in his early 20s.
"I had all the hydraulics, and even made it a convertible. Once a guy in a
Ferrari pulled up next to me and says: 'That's a great car; it's one of a kind.
I'd offer you money for it but I know that'd be insulting.'"
Phillip Milano, author of I Can't Believe You Asked That! (Perigee),
moderates cross-cultural dialogue at Y? The National Forum on People's
Differences. Visit www.yforum.com to submit questions and answers, or mail to
Phillip Milano, c/o The Florida Times-Union, P.O. Box 1949, Jacksonville, FL
32231. Include contact information.