SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Chromed and candy-colored lowriders are the main attraction at Fiesta De Las Americas in San Francisco's Mission District. Smiling crowds gather to ogle and take pictures of lowered bombas and 1964 Chevy Impalas tricked out with shiny spoked rims and hand-painted pinstripes.
These rolling works of art are displayed every year to celebrate Mexican Independence Day (as well as those of Guatemala, Nigaragua, and El Salvador). The street fair is a show of cultural pride that kicks off Latino Heritage Month. Afterward, the lowriders traditionally take a hydraulic-powered cruise down Mission Street.
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People are drawn to lowriders. They elicit a childlike wonder, an evocation of a colorful past.
Roberto Hernandez, President and Founder of the SF Lowrider Council, still loves the reaction he gets in his convertible, named Creamy -- even after all these years.
"It's just an amazing experience to go cruising. It's so much fun. People just light up and they pull their phones out and take pictures," he said.
But it wasn't always so magical in the 70s and 80s. Lowriders have come into the mainstream in the last few decades, but in the past police discouraged cruising with ticketing and possibility of arrest. Sometimes Mission Street would be completely shut down.
"I actually got arrested 113 times during that period and many other lowriders were arrested. We were consistently going to court, fighting in court."
Hernandez formed the SF Lowrider Council in 1981. Since then, they've come a long way in the community. Breaking stereotypes of lowriders being in gangs, now they're a part of civic life -- driving mayors in parades, and organizing for education, police reform, affordable housing, and human rights, as well as throwing a hell of a (permitted) party.
Showing the cars is about showing pride and having a voice for their culture and concerns.
"The tradition is phenomenal and amazing, to be able to provide an art piece for a cultural event that celebrates for example Mexico's independence. And for us it's like artistic independence we express through a vehicle that dances."