SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) – If you live in San Francisco or in other parts of the Bay Area, you’re bound to see one of these decked-out cars.
The lowriders are known to host events in the Mission District, ride through Super Bowl parades, and they’ve even made appearances in movies and music videos.
While the iconic cars have become a symbol of the Latino community and are now embraced by the mainstream, it wasn’t always this way.
Lowriders have been cruising down San Francisco streets for several decades.
“Lowriding is a Latino, Chicano invention and it’s an art form. We paint cars artistically. It’s what’s in your imagination, your heart, your soul, your spirit… it’s culture. It’s passion. It’s love. It’s pride. It’s art.”
However, decades ago these eye-catching cars were once a target of police who associated car groups with gang members and often harassed those behind the wheel.
“Back then we were stereotyped. A lot of people would ask us what kind of job do you have or what do you do for a living? We all work just like you but we just concentrate our money into our cars, but yeah we are used to being pulled over, saying you people fit the description.”
It’s something Roberto Hernandez knows all too well.
“Everybody agreed there was a problem but nobody did anything to stop the brutal beating, blatant discrimination of Latinos here in our barrio while the white young men across the city in the Sunset District were racing for pink slips with their hot rods.”
That’s when Hernandez formed the San Francisco Lowrider Council 40 years ago to bring together a coalition of lowrider clubs and solo riders to fight back against injustices.
They filed a federal lawsuit and won, once again reclaiming their right to cruise down Mission Street.
“Since then we’ve been able to cruise without being harassed and in fact today we have police officers who love our lowriders. I got pulled over recently and they wanted to see my hydraulics.”
From once being curbed by police to now being celebrated within the community, lowrider culture was on display at the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts during this Hispanic Heritage Month for the council’s 40th anniversary this year.
“For me, it’s my whole everything. Where we come from, what we’re about, how colorful and rich our culture is… it’s not a hobby. To me and my wife, it’s a lifestyle because it’s what we live. It makes me feel proud you know that we started something that everyone’s embraced.”