Lowriders return to San Jose, officially, and without fear of legal repercussions after being banned in the city for 36 years. Led by a board member Raul PeralezSan Jose City Council recently voted to repeal a 36-year ban that established “cruise-free” zones throughout the Bay Area in 1986, which ostensibly aimed to curb gang violence and related crimes, but was little more than an excuse to arrest Mexican drivers of Chevy Impala, Bel Airs and Chevelles.
The history of lowriders in San Jose and the Mexican American community that created them in the aftermath of World War II is fraught with tension, but after more than three decades, the city has finally re-admitted distinctive custom cars. I encourage you to read this new article by Dark Atlas about the return of these machines painted candy apple red and lovingly modified to ride low and slow on white sidewalls and wire wheels. Even if you’re not a born fan of lowriders (like me) at least it’s clear that the love owners feel for these classics is the very definition of automotive enthusiasm.
The Atlas the article talks about how lowriders have become cultural icons in California and the rest of the United States, if not the world. But the best part is that the affinity many people in San Jose felt for cars isn’t frozen in the past. Pioneer art car lovers bided their time, keeping the culture alive through clubs and meetups that weren’t illegal but lacked the “low and slow” cruising that made the cars famous in the first place.
Indeed, the argument that Raul Peralez relied on to seek the repeal of the specific section of the California vehicle code – to which the “No Crusing” road signs refer – lasted about 20 years: Peralez argued that cruising in your car isn’t enough to make someone a criminal, and yet that was the warrant that locked up lowriders until they were relegated to parking lots:
Although the ban was passed in the mid-1980s, Peralez remembers cruising with his car club in the late 1990s. But things changed when the police began closing certain streets. “You couldn’t really enjoy fast cruising like you could in the past,” says Peralez.
Peralez says the ban was used as an excuse to arrest anyone who appeared to belong to a certain culture. “The focus should have been and should always be on the criminal activity that can actually happen,” he says. “Not the act of driving your classic car slowly through the streets.” […]
Peralez had realized that it had been more than 20 years since the police had issued a cruising ticket, proof that the law wasn’t really meant to prohibit harmless activity; it simply gave the police an excuse to stop and search the lowriders. He says that since the order was never strictly enforced, “it’s just more proof that cruising was never the problem.”
Former city council officials mistook the lowrider scene for criminal activity, but, in reality, customizing Chevys and Pontiacs with an emphasis on artistry and aesthetics was primarily a response to the culture of the hot rod and tuning, which was expensive and out of reach for many. Latinos who loved cars.
It’s fascinating visual story worth reading in its entirety on Dark Atlas. Not just because it’s about those awesome cars, but because it has a happy ending, with the last “No Cruising Zone” road sign ceremonially removed earlier this year.