Photos: First Arizona ‘Cruise to the Capitol’ lowrider event | Phoenix New Times

All my friends know the lowrider: Photos from first ‘Cruise to the Capitol’

The Valley's tricked-out rides made a political statement in support of Chicano and Latino culture.
House Speaker Ben Toma (left) hopped out of the lowrider that lead "Cruise to the Capitol" on Saturday.
House Speaker Ben Toma (left) hopped out of the lowrider that lead "Cruise to the Capitol" on Saturday. TJ L'Heureux
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Combining artistic flare and mechanical know-how, lowriders are an unmistakable symbol of Phoenix’s Latino and Chicano culture. That's what state Rep. Cesar Aguilar wanted to celebrate on Saturday with the first annual "Cruise to the Capitol."

For decades, lowriders could be seen "cruising," or driving past the same areas without a particular destination, down Central Avenue and other city streets. Even the Phoenix Suns now have their own lowrider. To Aguilar, a Democrat representing Phoenix, cruising and El Valle go hand in hand.

“When you’re talking to people in the Mexican American or Chicano culture, they can tell you about those days and how fun it used to be,” Aguilar said.

Cruising has a rich history in Phoenix. Pride in customized cars began after World War II when Mexican Americans, who served in the war in disproportionately high numbers, returned home or settled in Phoenix as skilled mechanics.

"It's literally American history. It's Mexican American history, which is what I wanted to embrace, too," Aguilar said, adding that too often the culture of Arizona's brown people is viewed, even subconsciously, as that of "the other."

However, cruising is banned by Phoenix city law wherever signage indicates. Similar laws in other cities have been criticized as racist. When San Jose repealed a similar measure in 2022, a city councilmember labeled the old law "blatantly discriminatory."

Aguilar wants to reverse cruising bans in Arizona. At Saturday's event, tricked-out lowriders, hot rods and other vehicles rode to the Capitol en masse for a celebration of Latino and Chicano culture. Artists and artisans set up booths in Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza, while a DJ spun tunes for the crowd.

The event comes after Aguilar came up short on passing legislation to reverse anti-cruising laws statewide. His first was a proposed law that passed the Arizona House but died in the Senate. House Bill 2332 prevented cities and towns from banning cruising and lowriders. It even had the support of House Speaker Ben Toma, the leader of the Republican-controlled chamber. The Peoria representative told Aguilar he used to cruise around town as a kid.

The bill passed the House on March 4 in a 38-22 vote that transcended party lines: Some Democrats opposed it, while many Republicans jumped on board.

“It was interesting because for me and the district that I represent it’s more cultural than anything, but for Republicans it was more of a freedom bill,” Aguilar said. “That was cool to see a bill where you get to see the two different sides come together.”

Ultimately, though, the bill failed to escape the Senate Committee on Transportation, Technology and Missing Children, who rejected it in a 6-1 vote on March 7. State Sen. Eva Diaz, a Tolleson Democrat, opposed the bill, and Republicans on the committee followed suit. Aguilar said that Sen. David Farnsworth of Mesa, the committee’s Republican chair, expressed initial interest in supporting the bill. If Diaz and other Democrats had supported it, Aguilar told New Times, he thinks Farnsworth "would have definitely voted for it."

After the vote failed, “Cruise to the Capitol” was born.

Toma rode in the first car, arriving just as an abortion rights rally was wrapping up. A few women noticed him and briefly followed the car to heckle him for trying to block a repeal of Arizona’s Civil War-era near-total ban on abortion that does not include exceptions for rape or incest.

The event showed that community and culture can make it easier to come together on politics, just as the fateful death of HB 2332 showed how politics can weigh heavily on the cultural freedom of communities.

Here are some photos from the first annual "Cruise to the Capitol."
click to enlarge A green car in a street with a tree and buildings in the background.
A green Chevrolet Impala cruised in front of the Capitol Mall.
TJ L'Heureux
click to enlarge A colorful pink motorcycle.
There was no shortage of colorful bikes.
TJ L'Heureux
click to enlarge A lowrider car drives down a small boulevard with trees in the background.
A Chevy Impala SS cruised the Capitol. Arizona visual artist Jim Covarrubias rode in the passenger seat.
TJ L'Heureux
click to enlarge An old car viewed from the side, looking down an empty street with trees in the background.
Many vehicles displayed unique artistic designs.
TJ L'Heureux
click to enlarge A man looking down wears a beret and sunglasses.
Arizona visual artist and Vietnam War veteran Jim Covarrubias is an expert on Chicano and pre-Columbian art and culture. Fellow Chicano artist José Andrés Girón is pictured in the background.
TJ L'Heureux
click to enlarge The back of a customized Chevrolet car with a spare tire attached.
This Chevy proudly displayed one of the event's themes: Brown Pride.
TJ L'Heureux
click to enlarge Cars lined up in front of clear skies and trees.
"Whips" of all shapes and sizes were on view outside the Arizona Capitol.
TJ L'Heureux
click to enlarge A blue convertible as viewed from behind the car.
This baby blue Chevrolet Impala featured Intruders Car Club art.
TJ L'Heureux
click to enlarge A Chevy car on a road with trees behind it.
An old-school Chevrolet.
TJ L'Heureux
click to enlarge A man stands behind two tables selling bandana art.
Louis Martinez of No Llores Roses sold bandanas formed into flowers. He told New Times it was his first time selling them at an event.
TJ L'Heureux
click to enlarge A raised car on a city street on a sunny day.
Mesoamerican art motifs grace the side of this raised ride.
TJ L'Heureux
click to enlarge A man in sunglasses holds a t-shirt in front of a DJ booth.
Rep. Cesar Aguilar, a Phoenix Democrat and event organizer, handed out T-shirts to attendees.
TJ L'Heureux
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