For the Medina sisters, lowriders have always been a part of life.
Some of 15-year-old Marisol’s earliest memories are of cruising around Chimayó with her sister and cousins in the family’s 1982 Chevy Suburban lowrider. Anamaria, 24, helped her dad with his mechanic’s tools and with sanding cars to prep for painting, and mixing and choosing paints. She recalls going to Española to the Sonic Drive-In as a kid and watching lowriders crawl down Riverside Drive.
“I would see them, and I saw pipes with flames coming out, and I got so excited and thought, ‘I want that when I get bigger,’ Anamaria said during an interview last week at the Medina home in Chimayó, where no less than 10 lowriders – both running and run down – are spread around the family property.
Marisol and Anamaria have each inherited a 1967 Pontiac Grand Prix. Their dad, Arthur “Lowlow” Medina, has another one, the same year and model.
Marisol isn’t old enough for a driver’s license yet, but the reinvention of her Grand Prix has been in the works for a year. Her family finally pulled it out of a field adjacent to their home, where a tree had started growing into the hood.
The sisters enjoy doing the body work on the old cars. Marisol is starting to learn the ropes of sanding, painting and decorative murals. She enjoys going with her parents to car shows to study other owners’ art techniques. Anamaria has gotten into pinstriping.
Though still in the early stages of the creative process, Marisol is already envisioning how she wants to paint her ride. She plans two angels on the hood and maybe two more on the trunk. She has also been going back and forth over whether the exterior should be red, black or white.
“It’s like a carver. They can see the piece before they carve it,” her mother and fellow lowrider aficionado Joan Medina said.
The sisters are a part of a growing group of female car owners on the Española Valley lowrider scene. Joan says they have “that same passion, just like men.”
Marisol and Anamaria both want to grow their vehicle collections as they get older. Marisol already has a white S-10 pickup truck she plans to work on and Anamaria’s boyfriend just fixed her up a pink Oldsmobile Cutlass. And Marisol wants to someday restore that old 1982 Suburban, part of the fleet resting on the family lot.
“When we were younger, we used to argue about who would get which car,” Anamaria said.
“We still kind of do,” Marisol chimed in.
Marisol hasn’t met a lot of other girls her age who are into working on cars. But she hopes to see that change.
“A lot of people think it’s more men,” she said, “and we need to show girl power over here.”
Raising the profile
Joan Medina, along with husband Lowlow, organizes Española’s annual Lowrider Day. This year’s parade down Main Street and show on the Española Plaza will be Saturday from 2-8 p.m., with other events the days before and after.
“The lowriding community, the driving and cruising, has died down a little bit,” Joan said. “But that’s what we’re trying to bring back again. We’re just trying to encourage people to come out and have fun and show their cars.” The Medinas are also on the board of the planned Española Lowrider Museum.
Joan, 49, says that she and Lowlow have worked as a couple on about 100 cars, consistently buying, selling and trading. She got into lowriding back in the early ’80s, when they started dating. Joan bought her first – a Grand Prix, what else? – when she was 17.
Joan is now the proud owner of a sky-blue 1960 Chevy Impala with big horizontal fins and a patinaed exterior that Lowlow’s late aunt gave her. She wants to eventually paint it totally in shimmery blue flake.
Joan said she wants to learn how to do the painting herself. She’s helped her husband paint rides over the years and jokes that she sneaks lots of glitter into the process.
“I’ve always liked them,” Joan said of the cars. “I’ve always dug the lowrider scene, the lowrider community, since I was a little girl.”
Women lowriders aren’t new
Women have always been involved in the local scene, say a group of female lowriders ranging in age from their thirties to their fifties who recently met with a Journal crew in Española.
“There’s quite a few of us that work on our own cars and build them from the ground up,” said Leticia Romero, a 33-year-old Española resident. She has had the lowriders since she was 18 and these days boasts a 1978 Cadillac and a 1986 Cutlass.
“And if we cannot do it ourselves, we work hard to take them to the shop to get them done the way we want them,” Romero said.
Many of the women recalled moms, aunts and sisters – along with brothers and uncles – playing a role in getting them into the lowrider scene. Just as for the Medina sisters, the culture was passed down as a family tradition.
“When I was little, we didn’t have (kids’) carseats,” said Eileen Ortiz, a 49-year-old from Chimayó who has had her 1977 Ford LTD II for nearly 30 years. “I would be standing (in the cars) by my mom or my uncle. To me, it was literally like a living room on wheels.”
But even with that history, the local women still describe getting double- or triple-takes when they bring their cars to shows or go out cruising. The covers of Lowrider Magazine, the hobby’s bible, famously depicts women as decoration for the cars, rather than creators or owners.
“They always assume (the car is) your husband’s or your boyfriend’s,” Romero said. “Or you’re borrowing it. And I’m like ‘No, that’s mine. I’m sorry. I’ve got another one (too).’ ”
“I just laugh,” she went on to say. “I think it’s cute.”
Janette Quintana, 52, said she has caused similar surprises when driving around in her 1995 Cadillac Fleetwood.
“The police will get right next to me and look and they’re like, ‘that’s not what they expected,’ ” she said with a laugh.
Though some of the ladies said they’re seeing the old mindset beginning to change, they acknowledge there are still some guys out there who don’t think lowriders should be a woman’s hobby. Quintana said she thinks it has to do with male ego.
“There’s going to be people who always have something to say, opinions. … But you just gotta ignore all that,” said Española native Alisha Martinez-Maestas. “You just gotta ignore it and do the best you can.”
The women say the female lowrider contingent has started to get more recognition lately. Part of that, Romero said, has come through efforts of the New Mexico’s OG Veteranas, a women’s car club founded by Martinez-Maestas.
The group formed about eight years ago with a mission of spreading positivity and peace, trying to steer younger people away from gangs and violence, and focusing on a shared religion, Martinez-Maestas said.
Nowadays, there are close to 100 women across the state who are OGVs, and the group has expanded to include chapters for men and members’ kids.
“We’ve been coming together and doing community events and doing stuff like that for the kids and Española, so people notice that,” said Romero, who is also an OGV organizer.
Aside from cruising together on the weekends and helping out with other city events like Lowrider Day, the OGVs have put together an annual community gathering in Española on the Saturday after Good Friday for the last three years. The festivities includes lowriders, musical acts, and children’s activities.
What Martinez-Maestas loves about the lowriding scene, she says, is that when people take “pride in their ride,” it bonds the community together over a common interest.
“We want to show the youngsters too, pick up something that you value in life,” she said. “Not gangs, not drugs.”
A new generation
The group wants to pass along their cars and the culture to the next generation. Romero and Quintana say they’ve already promised their lowriders to nieces, nephews, and grandchildren when they get older.
New mom Anamaria Medina, who has a three-week-old daughter named Amoriah, hopes to one day teach her little one about car murals and pinstriping.
In the meantime, the baby is described as a “little cruiser.” She’s still too little now, but Joan and Anamaria want to get the baby a carseat upholstered in velvet, a carseat fit for a lowrider.
“Hopefully, she’ll be into it like me,” Anamaria said. “I think so. I think if she sees and realizes how it is then she’ll get interested like I did.”