Mexican-American low riders: An anthropological approach to popular culture
Bright, Brenda Jo
Marcus, George E.
Doctor of Philosophy
Within contemporary anthropology, the tradition of the single site ethnography is being challenged as inadequate to the task of representing the complexity of modern social life. A multi-site ethnography examines the network of complex connections within a system of places and the implications for the formation of group identity through popular cultural practices. Low riding is a popular culture organized around the activities of fashioning and showing baroquely customized automobiles by men and women from 13 to 45 years of age and is considered to be a distinctly "Chicano" (Mexican American) form. Low riding originated largely in the 1960s in Los Angeles, a center of industry, mass media communication, and Mexican American culture in the United States. There low riding practices serve to remap the bounds of mobility to correspond to experienced limits and to express and facilitate preferred forms of sociality. In Houston, Texas, low riding became popular in the late seventies simultaneous with the oil industry boom and regional distribution of Low Rider Magazine. It served as a way for Mexican Americans dispersed throughout the city, many only recent residents, to create a community. In Espanola, New Mexico (also known as "Little L.A."), a largely Hispano town located between the art and tourist centers of Santa Fe and Taos, Chicano low riding is part of the regional intensification of ethnic identity that has been born from the potentially alienating experiences of labor outmigration to California and other areas of the Southwest coupled with increased ethic and recreational tourism in northern New Mexico. Low rider car culture has created an alternate cultural space for performance, participation and interpretation, one that allows for the reworking of the limitations placed upon "minority" cultures in the United States, but one that also indicates how racial discrimination and class identification become divisive to the assertion of cultural identity.
Cultural anthropology; American studies; Sociology; Ethnic studies