Rudy, a City of San Fernando resident, posing with his lowrider car at CSUN's "Low and Slow" event celebrating lowrider culture. (SFVS Staff)

In the warm afternoon sun this past Saturday, CSUN’s Chicano/a Studies Department held its first annual Low and Slow event, celebrating lowrider culture and cars.

The free event was created by Chicano/a Studies professor Denise Sandoval. She had recently curated an exhibition on lowrider culture called “The Politics of Low and Slow,” which is still on display in the University Library Exhibit Gallery until July 31. 

Sandoval, known as an expert on the topic, has done much to elevate lowriding to have its rightful place as an artform. She’s curated three lowrider exhibits for the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles and also curated a lowrider motorcycle show for the Contemporary Art Museum in North Carolina.

In a previous interview, Sandoval said, “The car show not only highlights Chicano history, but also the role the lowrider culture has played in shaping culture throughout California, not just in the Chicano communities. As far as I know, CSUN has never hosted a lowrider car show before. It’s about time we celebrated a part of the Chicano culture that is so important to many of our students, faculty, staff, their families and members of the community.”

This first event at the Northridge campus hopes to be the beginning of an annual occurrence that can continue to grow with more cars on display.

Lowrider culture emerged among Chicano youth in the 1940s, who customized their cars with intricate, colorful designs and cruised down the street as slow as possible, with their motto being “Low and Slow.”

In the late 1980s, the state began permitting cities and towns to put cruising bans in place citing traffic congestion and crime, although lowriding has always been a social event. The ban was said to unfairly target Latinos and took issue with the claims that the past time increased crime. 

A number of California cities including Sacramento and San Jose have recently scrapped the ban and there is an effort in the Assembly to repeal the ban statewide. Members of lowrider car clubs often gather on weekends at local parks and at car shows to display their cars and socialize. 

The Slow and Roll event last weekend was more than a display of cars. Part of the event was held on the west side of the campus — on Bayramian Lawn — off Prairie Street. Under the shade of trees were around a dozen vendors, including Tía Chucha’s Centro Cultural & Bookstore, Chillona Cosmetics, Sin Fin Designs, The Art of Sketch and La Bodeguita del Abuelo.

Music from vinyl records with plenty of “oldies” including the songs “Suavacito” and “Lowrider” playing more than once, kept the atmosphere upbeat and lively as attendees shopped around and looked at the various items on display, from decorative Mexican skulls — some painted in the colors of sports teams including the Los Angeles Lakers and Pittsburgh Steelers — to art pieces that celebrated lowrider culture, including one that read, “Chicano Power.”

There was also a performance by Ballet Folklórico Aztlán de CSUN in front of the lawn, near Sierra Center.

Near the lawn in Parking Lot B4, was the main attraction — around 40 customized lowrider cars were on display. All sorts of makes and models, including a Chevrolet Fleetline to a Cadillac Fleetwood, glistened in the sun in an assortment of colors, including bright blue, red, green, yellow and dark purple. From the windows of a couple of cars was the Mexican flag, proudly being flown above. The amount of care and money put into the cars is phenomenal and those who participate become part of a community of enthusiasts.

“I grew up with [lowrider culture],” said Malo, an enthusiast from LA, whose first lowrider car was a 1964 Impala. “When I grew up with it, it was very, very different compared to now. Back in the day, … everyone expected gangbangers and nothing but troublemakers, but now it’s a hobby. It’s a hard-working man’s hobby.

“Everybody should try it. It’s fun.”

One of the more unique cars on display was an ice cream truck, converted from a post office truck. The driver, Raul from Arleta, acquired the truck in January and gave it some lowrider flair, complete with an extra wheel on the back and a lowrider doll riding in the back.

Raul, who owns a 1948 German Helmet, also grew up with lowrider culture. He is also familiar with how others have judged him for being in that culture.

“People stereotype and think it’s like drugs and gangs … but we’re all about family now, just enjoying life and beautiful cars,” Raul said.

In addition to the low rider aesthetic, Raul added Boo-Boo Bear from the “Yogi Bear” cartoons that he grew up with, even naming the truck Boo-Boo’s Ice Cream Truck. Although he couldn’t sell any ice cream while at the event, Raul still enjoyed seeing multiple lowriders in one place.

“It’s so nice to see that old cars are still out there.”