This year’s sixth annual Slow & Low: Community Lowrider Festival drew thousands to Pilsen on Sunday, August 6. Lowriders—customized classic vehicles that drive low to the ground—originated in Los Angeles, but here in Chicago they come with a lifestyle devoted to family and community.
The new location for the festival, on Cermak and Loomis Avenues, offered more space for members of the Lowrider community to display projects and sell merchandise, including recorders, vintage clothing, and decorative jewels for cars. Participants also hosted car and motorcycle displays along with Aztec dancers and mariachi bands.
Initially located under the I-90 at 18th Street and Union Avenue, and then at the grounds of the Ozinga concrete company, as Slow & Low grew in popularity, so did the need for more space—so much so that last year’s festival was canceled when a large and safe enough space couldn’t be found in time.
“It’s really important to keep [Slow & Low] in the Pilsen community,” said Lauren Pacheco, one of the festival organizers. “It’s really accessible with public transit for those who are curious about the subculture. The neighborhood is rich with vibrant colors and culture, that really brings people together in a common bond, sharing ideas, having a creative input on their ongoing projects.”
Hundreds of Lowriders displaying red, pink, blue, green, or orange glossy colors and luxurious interiors stretched half a mile south on Loomis. Some were simply refurbished and lowered for a “lean and mean” look, while others were lowered with operations that allowed the riderless vehicles to hop, jump, and even dance on command.
Hardcore “hoppers”—a term describing competitive Lowriders—sport with one another while representing their suburban chapters in front of eager spectators during a hop competition. Some “hop” as high as twenty feet, lasting for roughly five seconds.
The general rule is: whichever car can be made to hop the highest and longest wins the competition.
“There’s going to be a lot of shit-talking, you know,” said Frank Betancourt, explaining how his fellow “hoppers” motivate each other before every hop competition. “It’s not to be taken to heart, you know, it’s just a part of the sport. At the end of the day we’re all one big family.”
Family, a recurring theme at Slow & Low, offers strength and bonding for members of the Lowrider community. For David Diaz, a family man and owner of a white 1995 Lincoln Town Car, his project and lifestyle acts as a distraction for himself and his children from the realities of living in gang-affiliated communities.
“My kids are all into Lowriding, you know. It’s better for them to have something like this then being on the streets or being a part of the gang life,” said Diaz, as he prepared to drive his car to the hopping grounds. “It’s what it’s all about, you know, building a community and being a part of a family.”
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