September 25, 2023

Meet the real ‘Fast and Furious’ Chicanas redefining the ‘male dominated’ world of car culture

A growing number of women-led car clubs are redefining lowriding culture in Southern California and beyond.  (Credit: Nathalie Cruz and Aisha Yousaf for Yahoo / Photo: Getty Images)

(L-R) Angelique Aguilar, Vivian Gallo, Sandy Avila and Debbie Flores are part of a growing number of women-led auto clubs redefining lowriding culture in Southern California and beyond. (Credit: Nathalie Cruz and Aisha Yousaf for Yahoo / Photo: Getty Images)

Southern California’s boulevards are marked by a distinct grunt of car engines, not guided by stereotypically macho characters often portrayed in street-racing films such as Fast and furiousbut by women – with equal style and swagger – who once felt marginalized in the car culture scene.

“We used to be known as ‘passenger princesses,’ but now we run the show,” Sandy Avila, 40, leader of Lady Lowriders, a six-member women-only car club in Pasadena, California, founded in 2021, says. “We want people to know how much the scene has grown and how much positivity we put into it. It’s less about speed, it’s about family, community and giving back.”

On weekends, Avila quits her full-time job managing her family’s construction company to go cruising in her ’84 Cutlass Supreme. The mother-of-four bought the car in 2018 and has since reworked the suspensions and added hydraulics to “give it a little extra”. something something.

“I’ve always had a thing for cars,” she tells Yahoo Entertainment. “My dad used to fix lowriders, so it’s been in my DNA since I was a baby.”

Sandy Avila, leader of the women's only car club

Sandy Avila, leader of the all-women car club Lady Lowriders in Pasadena, California, poses next to her ’84 Cutlass Supreme. (Photo: Courtesy Sandy Avila)

Historically, car clubs (groups of people who share a love of custom cars and a passion for lowriding) have been run primarily by men, with the exception of a few, such as Lady Bugs Car Club, an all-women’s club of VW Bug drivers founded in the 1970s. and Black Widows Car Club, founded in 2000. But in recent years, a series of newly founded car clubs, led mostly by Mexican-American moms, have found opportunities to celebrate their heritage while also addressing the misconceptions people have about lowriding, which many say it’s largely due to the way it’s portrayed in film and TV.

“Hollywood labeled us and painted us as gangsters, always with their cars,” says Angel Romero, 44, leader of the Bay Area auto club Dueñas, founded in 2019. “I was on a radio station one time did we have a caller who said, “Do I have to be in a gang to have a lowrider?” We laughed about it, but it’s something people generally think, and we’ve done a lot of work to change that.”

Women’s portraits in car films are also changing, she adds, although not as quickly as she would like. In recent decades, women tended to fall under the “femme fatale” archetype, she explains, often with “high-speed chase scenes” representing a “life on the run or from danger” — as Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and the combination of Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon in Thelma & Louis (1991).

However, in recent years, women have been portrayed as skilled drivers (better than the men in many cases) and the protagonists, in franchises like Mad Max: Fury Road And Fast & Furious, the latter stars Michelle Rodriguez as Letty Ortiz, a street racer and mechanic who is central to the series.

Michelle Rodriguez at the

Posing here for a press conference in Los Angeles in 2009, Michelle Rodriguez is the epitome of female power as Letty Ortiz in the Fast and furious movie franchise. (Photo: Vera Anderson/WireImage)

“I think they got it right with her character traits,” Romero says of Rodriguez. Still: “I would love to see more movies about women in lowriding on the big screen. We’ve done everything we can and it’s time for Hollywood to take it further.

“Our youngest member is 22 years old and just graduated with a degree in criminal justice, so how does that change the persona of who lowriders are?” she says.

That mission is a group effort. Other lowriding legends like Debbie “Diamond” Flores, a 53-year-old hospice nurse and leader of the Inland Empire-based Latin Queens, a women-only car club founded in 2021, say women are taking the tradition “back to the roots.” “bring” of community service.

In the past year alone, Dueñas has raised tens of thousands of dollars for breast cancer, donated hundreds of toys to help young people, and organized several outreaches to help people who are homeless.

“People think we’re gang members or something, which is absolutely not true,” she says. “We may have tattoos, but we’re all professionals. My vice president is a second grade teacher, one of my girls is a correctional officer and her arms are all made up. You can’t judge someone by their looks because we are moving here, really We are family We build each other up.

“We’ve adopted a shelter for battered women and children, and we have two shelters for teen victims of homeless sex trafficking,” says Flores, who drives a ’58 Chevrolet Biscayne, of her group’s work.

In August, Flores and Romero will receive an “Icons in Lowriding” award for the achievements of their respective clubs.

‘The future of lowriding’

Lowriders, classic or vintage model cars modified to sit as close to the ground as possible through a variety of modification techniques, became popular shortly after World War II when returning servicemen began modifying their cars as a form of self-expression.

As Denise Sandoval, professor of Chicana/o studies at California State University, Northridge, tells Yahoo Entertainment, the two have been intrinsically linked since the Mexican-American civil rights movement in the 1960s, when Chicano artists created politically motivated murals in their neighborhoods with the injustices that took place at the time – from housing and employment discrimination/segregation to police brutality, language oppression and immigration policies.

“That inspired more drivers to put murals on their own cars,” she explains. “Cars became a source of cultural pride” and an opportunity for others to “build a sense of community with car clubs.”

From murals of Mexican saints to political messages in Spanish in bright colors conveying their cultural heritage, lowriders have become a symbol of identity and resilience in the Mexican-American community.

To that end, Sandoval explains, the idea of ​​”giving back” has always been an essential part of the scene. “I’ve seen flyers dating back to the ’60s from clubs doing Toys for Tots rides and community drives,” she says. “What these clubs are doing today is nothing new, but I think we are now seeing women play a more central role in the culture.”

That piece is new, she says.

“A new generation is taking on leadership roles and trying to change their communities, but more importantly, they are really questioning these ideas of what women can do, especially women of color,” she adds. “They are the future of lowriding.”

The Ladies of Dueñas Car Club: Angel Romero, Maricela Romero-Aguilar, Darla Angeles, Elizabeth Perez, Angela Carrillo, Christina Romero, Christina Acuna, Mia Arroyo;  and the children of Duenas Bike Club: Zenaida Aguilar, Naveah Rascon Mariah Larios and Isabel Dueñas.  (Courtesy of Angel Romero)

The ladies of Dueñas Car Club, an all-female lowriding club in the Bay Area, pose with the kids of Dueñas Bike Club, an all-girl affiliate club. (Photo: Courtesy Angel Romero)

Women leaders like Flores, who grew up on the scene alongside her late uncle Danny Flores, a noted lowrider and Chicano activist, aid in those efforts, noting the feeling she gets when little girls see her cruising the boulevard in her ’58 Chevy Biscayne.

“It makes me so proud,” she says. “If you drive your car down the street and all you get is this thumbs up, thumbs up, thumbs upit’s an incredible feeling.”

Romero, who drives a ’65 Chevy Impala, is eager to pass on the tradition to her nieces, something she is extremely proud of.

“It’s a second full-time job sometimes in the summer and in the winter with all the toy cars,” says Romero, who works a finance job during the week. “They say if you love what you do, you don’t work a day in your life. And I love lowriding. It’s my life.”

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