“I can’t see Papi, I can’t see,” I said tugging at my dad’s pant leg.
A crowd was formed around something, and I wanted a view. I was so close, but being only five years old I was of short stature to see over the gathering of people, so I needed help from my papi. In one swoop he lifted me up to sit on his shoulders so I could get a glimpse of something magnificent, a tricked-out, fully customized, VW van lowrider. I squinted at the sun’s reflection on the smooth shiny roof. Lowered completely to the ground and sitting gently in the grass, this car commanded attention. Balanced on his shoulders my papi made his way closer to the vehicle, up to the “do not cross” rope—also part of my fascination, instead of using velvet rope like most display barriers this person used clear plastic tubing filled with a moving liquid that changed colors, alternating hot pink and green. The car itself was white with details of neon palm tree green, and a bright flamingo pink. The interior was a clean and creamy white. The bass was thumping out of the trunk, making room for the TV/VCR and mini-kitchenette in the central cabin. Silently staring, I took it all in while my papi took photos. I wanted to stay for a longer but we started moving on to the next car, looking back, I watched the gap in the crowd my dad and I left fill with more onlookers. After that, I was hooked.
Lowriders have always been in my life. Going to car shows on a hot Stockton, CA afternoon with my dad was the norm as a young girl. I loved the cars. I loved all the shiny parts and insane creativity. I noticed however, that whenever a bikini clad lowrider model slide in my view my dad shielded my eyes. I always thought this as odd because I could just see bikini clad models on his numerous issues of Low Rider magazine at his apartment. I grew up tom-boyish, for lack of a better term, so to feel outside of the construction of feminity in lowrider culture at times made me feel that there was no real place for a girl like myself.
Fast forward to college. We’ve established that I’m a lowrider at heart. It’s about a lifestyle vs just being a car afficianado. The elements I take have been that of a rasquache sensibility of do-it-yourself and of course the aesthetic of innapropriate oppulence. I decided that for my undergraduate thesis I would write about lowrider culture. As a budding Chicana feminist my lens began to focus on the lack and/or ommision of women’s work and participation in lowrider culture. My thesis became directed and archiving this history; with little produced on women’s involvement, it came to pounding the pavement, seeking out female owned lowriders at the occasional car show. This process produced an extensive analysis produced from thorough participatory observation consisting of over 30 hours in audio recorded interviews. Once complete I had a fasinating component to lowrider history archived. In recognizing the visual “gold” lowriders can provide on screen, I started to develop a treatment to create a documentary about women lowriders across California. I began to personally work on a relationship with the Unique Ladies, while still meeting other interesting women lowriders. As I further developed the documentary I realized that the themes and issues that hit women lowriders the most could be illustrated by the story of the Unique Ladies, and the struggles they overcome. Through more development of my approach while obtaining my Master’s at UC Santa Cruz in Social Documentation, I raised funds to shoot principle footage in the summer of 2009. What unfolded was a collaborative social documentary that intimately takes the audience into lowrider culture exposing a hegemonic male stranglehold resisted by working-class women of color.