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Lowriders to Show Unity in Classic Car Event in Santa Monica This Month


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By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

July 20, 2017 -- They glide, “low and slow,” inspiring fear or, depending on who’s sitting inside, awe from onlookers as they watch labors of love cruise by, like hydraulically hepped-up works of art on 1950s whitewall tires.

The world of lowriders -- vintage hot rods rooted in the post-WWII barrios of L.A. -- rolls into Santa Monica on July 29 for the 2nd Annual Westside Unity Car Show.

Organizers say the event is also a show of fellowship and respect among Hispanic neighborhoods scarred by mutual gang-related violence, even on the otherwise primarily well-heeled Westside.

Lowrider at PYFC Car Show
Lowrider at last year's Westside Unity Car Show (Photo courtesy of Pico Youth and Family Ceneter)

The lowrider car culture has “a common bond across neighborhoods, across identities,” said Oscar de la Torre, executive director of the Pico Youth and Family Center, for which the show will also serve as a fundraiser.

“This is about unity. We’re building unity through relationships,” de la Torre said. “This culture and unity is blossoming. We hope to build on that.”

About 100 autos of all makes and models are due to show for the event. Some of the customized cars date back to the 1930s. This year, lowrider bikes are also debuting. It will also be part of an upcoming documentary.

The event takes place at John Adams Middle School, 2425 16th Street, and runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Organizers say it will be a family-friendly day and also offer live music, DJs and other entertainment. Youngsters under 12 get in free; everyone else pays $10 a ticket.

Look for food trucks and other vendors, too.

Lowriders have a difficult but evolving reputation. Tricked-up classic cars like lowriders almost immediately trigger a fear of gang activity in many neighborhoods.

But that reaction belies a fuller story, de la Torre said.

A restored lowrider can sell for upwards of $100,000. Creating the final product is extremely expensive, and a consuming undertaking, he said.

“These people work, they have to have jobs,” he said. “They live and breathe this.”

Most of the public still associates the lowrider culture with East L.A., a neighborhood dominated by Mexican-Americans long before the Hispanic population began swelling in Southern California, de la Torre said.

But today, West L.A. is home to more than 10 lowrider clubs with at least 300 vintage cars between them, organizers said.

“Low riding has existed for decades but very few have documented this amazing art form in West L.A.,” said Charlie Chacon, who creates documentaries and is zeroing in on the Hispanic communities of the Westside.

“Chicano and Latino communities of Culver City, Santa Monica, Venice and Sotel (Sawtelle) have existed for decades but very little has been documented about the people and culture that make up these historic ethnic enclaves,” he said.

All are jeopardized by the waves of gentrification hitting Hispanic enclaves and other less-affluent areas as real estate costs soar, he said.

"We are hosting the Unity Classic Car Show to bring awareness to the community that Chicano/Latino culture still thrives in West Los Angeles,” he said.

“We plan to educate and inspire everyone, but especially our youth, to have pride in our culture and to contribute to the continuation of this beautiful art form that we know as low rider culture.”

This car show is a symbol and celebration of a cultural diversity “at risk of extinction," said de la Torre, who is also a board member for the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District.

Tickets and car registration are available at or by calling (310) 396-7101.


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