EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — Cruising Ascarate Park on Sundays, oldies playing on the radio. Admiring custom lowriders and murals at Lincoln Park during car shows. Both are memories that many in El Paso hold dear, even if they don’t consider themselves a part of the lowrider culture.
A new exhibit opening Thursday at the El Paso Museum of History in downtown El Paso — “Low & Slow: Lowrider Culture on the Border” — venerates lowrider culture and its particular role in the history of the Sun City.
“It’s such a beautiful part of our culture,” said El Paso Museum of History Curator Erica Marin about the lowrider lifestyle. “It’s something that we don’t realize we’re so connected to. It’s something that we’ve done, that our family does. And so, that was really important. I want people to come in here and say, ‘hey, that’s us — that’s our family. That’s our deal. I want that feeling (when people see the exhibit).'”
The exhibit features paintings of the pillar murals at Lincoln Park, most of which were taken down as part of the I-10 Connect project. The park has served as a gathering space for lowrider car clubs, city sports and family picnics and is considered a major grassroots cultural hub, according to the El Paso History Museum.
In addition to the paintings, the exhibit has spreads from Lowrider Magazine profiling the park and El Paso car clubs, as well as a zoot suit, miniature lowriders, photos and more.
Getting all of the elements — from a custom 1983 Buick Regal to a restored 1953 Chevy Bel Air, plus a lowrider motorcycle and custom bicycles — took about a year because of the pandemic. The museum worked with the El Paso Lowrider Association, local car clubs and eptcruising.com to curate the exhibit.
“It was really important for us to have a community collaboration because, honestly, you can’t really have a lowrider exhibit without having community collaboration,” Marin said. “So, we needed to talk to the clubs, talk to different individuals who were willing to loan us their bikes, their motorcycles or pedal cars, their cars.”
Mando Espinoza, who runs eptcruising.com with his wife, said he was happy and surprised when the museum approached them about working together on the exhibit. The museum was respectful of a lifestyle that is sometimes misunderstood, he said.
“There’s always been this stereotype, negative things (that people think) about the lowrider lifestyle,” Espinoza said. “I mean, times have changed. We’ve got some positive vibes toward that lifestyle.”
While many in car clubs or those that do have lowriders are sometimes associated with gangs or drugs, Espinoza said that’s simply not the case and car culture is a thing that can be shared among family and friends. The hard work — and money — that goes into each car or bike is a source of pride.
“We put a lot of effort to get the car to where you want it to be. It’s like an image of yourself — that’s the way I see a car. That’s what you like, your style of customization you want to put into it — a lot of money too,” he said. “They’re very hardworking people. They just spend their time on cars.”
Marin hit on that collaboration too, saying that the museum allowed car club members to style portions of the exhibit as they saw fit. She wanted them to feel comfortable and to take pride in the exhibit that is celebrating their own pieces of art.
“We told them to do it up the they would see it, the way they would take it to the Vegas show, the way they would set it out on a Sunday at the park,” she said.
Lowrider culture — which focuses on remodeling classic cars with lowered wheels (oftentimes white wall tires) and sometimes hydraulics and airbrushed artwork — emerged in El Paso and other parts of the country in the 1940s and 1950s as a way for Mexican-American youths looking to express pride in their heritage.
Lowrider culture has expanded to include motorcycles and bicycles and is synonymous with Chicano culture. The culture is even popular in Japan, where aficionados deck out their cars as extravagantly as those found in El Paso, New Mexico and Southern California.
Back in El Paso, the exhibit, which celebrates how lowriders provide a way for Chicanos to express pride, will change every month so they can showcase as many cars as possible. The exhibit runs through July.
Although the exhibit opens Thursday, Espinoza said they are having more events from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday at the museum. They will have cars outside, as well as car clubs, pachucos and an appearance from KOFX’s Mike Guerrero, known for his Sunday oldies radio show.
The exhibit is one of four exhibits opening at the museum on Thursday. The other exhibits are:
- Resilience: Remembering August 3rd
- Etchings by Steve Edwards
- Neighborhoods & Shared Memories: Sunset Heights
For museum hours, visit http://history.elpasotexas.gov/.