Even if all you know about lowrider culture is limited to that Burger King drive-through commercial featuring a pair of young white employees pogo-ing to pass off a bag of burgers to a hydraulics-pumping Chevy, and that song by War from 1975, Johnny Lozoya wants you.
"A lot of Anglos worry that they won't be welcome at a lowrider show, but in fact, it's just the opposite," says Lozoya, promoter of the annual Arizona Lowrider Super Show this weekend at the Phoenix Civic Plaza. "If anything, we embrace them for recognizing our culture."
Since staging the city's first lowrider show in 1979 at the Gila River Indian Reservation (the city's convention center and fairgrounds refused to host what they considered a "gang culture" gathering), Lozoya, 52, has witnessed that culture expand from an almost exclusively Chicano thing, where kids from the south Phoenix barrios turned "junk into precious art," to a mainstream custom car scene open even to middle-aged white guys with expensive lowered SUVs.
"I think the mainstream middle-class Anglo population has come to recognize the coolness of the Chicano lifestyle, whether it's the music, the vehicles, the art, [or] the style," says Lozoya. "There's a certain romanticism to that lifestyle that possibly doesn't exist within their own culture."
This year's Super Show features stage performances by more than 40 hip-hop, Latino and reggaeton DJs and artists, including Lighter Shade of Brown, Rocky Padilla, and Powerdrive.
Lowrider culture can be seen most Sunday afternoons at Sueno Park on 43rd Avenue and Thomas, at car club picnics like the annual May get-together at Estrella Park, or on Saturday nights on the main drag in Maryvale, recently named one of the top cruising venues by Lowrider magazine.
Last May, an Arizona House bill designed to make cruising illegal in Maryvale was shot down by a 37-19 vote, thanks largely to the protests of local lowrider clubs, which Lozoya helped organize.
"Cruising is part of Americana," says Lozoya, a former Southern California car nut who moved to Phoenix in the early '80s, when cruising Central Avenue was still the prime weekend activity for Valley teens. "It's a part of socializing."
Like many social pursuits in the Chicano culture, lowriding is a family affair, stressing a reverence for the heritage and religious values of past generations in the intricate spray-painted murals adorning many of the vehicles.
"A lot of the guys from when we started out now have kids and grandkids into this, and they build projects together," says Lozoya. "It's an example of spending quality time as a family that you almost can't find anymore without really searching for it."
One thing the youth don't share with their elders is the legacy of harassment, ticketing and negative stereotyping the pioneers had to endure to get to that mainstream Burger King acceptance.
"They're reaping the benefits of all the blood, sweat and tears we shed in the '60s, '70s and '80s," Lozoya says. "But that's how it should be."