I’ve just returned from a month in California – I was lucky enough to be working there for 4 weeks and travelled with my wife Anna. We have jobs that allow us to work remotely and stayed in a lovely guesthouse in Pasadena, CA. We met some very nice people and got to play at living in a foreign city for a while, which was lots of fun.
Wherever we go I always try to check out the local car and bike scenes and we have friends in Los Angeles that are involved in the lowrider culture of Southern California. One project that recently caught my eye is that headed up by Alberto Pulido of the University of San Diego: Everything Comes From The Streets.
This is a social history project about the lowrider culture in San Diego and the political struggles that the Chicano and Mexican communities faced in establishing and maintaining their own cultural identity. The lowrider scene provided the means for a subjugated community to define itself in opposition to the dominant white establishment. A subculture developed as one method of resistance to the racial heirarchy in 1950s and 1960s American society.
Pulido’s work echoes many of my own interests and beliefs: that the history of a subculture lies “in the streets”, with rich memories and knowledge in communities that deserve to be documented and recorded. Swap lowriders for motorcycles, Chicano Park for British seaside resorts or the expanding road network of London and other British cities in the mid 1960s and you have some interesting comparisons between San Diego and the British Ton-Up and Rocker subcultures of the same period. Clothing was used to show allegiance or membership of a certain group within a mobility practice and participants struggled to establish their own identity in the face of opposition from dominant groups. In the UK the struggle was one framed in the context of the democratisation of transport among young working class people living in urban centres; in San Diego it was the Chicano / Mexican community campaigning for representation and recognition in a racist society. The moral panics seen in the British press of the 1960s Mods/Rockers clashes bear many similarities to those seen in the Southwest US in the 1970s. Both cultures took great pride in the modification of standard machines and the wearing of specific garments to establish themselves as outside dominant cultures, and in the process found themselves the focus of attention for law enforcement officers and newspaper journalists. Watch the video for some great period footage and more info on the project:
Alberto Pulido’s project is an extremely important contribution; I’ve spoken to Mexican friends in the lowrider scene in the Los Angeles area and they’re really interested in watching the film when it comes out. The struggles that led to the creation of Chicano Park still resonate far and wide in their community and this film is a great way to celebrate the culture. I wish them every success and hope it gets a screening in London soon.