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New book on lowrider culture focuses on colorful cars and their equally colorful owners

The lowrider subculture has had a prominent place in Los Angeles and the Southwest, especially northern New Mexico.

The lowrider subculture has had a prominent place in Los Angeles and the Southwest, especially northern New Mexico.

The car is a symbol of style plus speed. Just ponder the opposite of half the equation for a moment – style and slowness.

Far from Detroit, there’s a whole American subculture of stylish slow autos called lowriders. New Mexicans have seen them on weekend evening cruising.

“Lowrider” is the name of the vintage cars modified so that they barely clear ground level. The name also refers to the car owners, who are mostly Hispanic.

The lowrider subculture has had a prominent place in Los Angeles and in the Southwest, especially northern New Mexico.

A new large-format love letter of a book – “¡Órale! – Lowrider: Custom Made in New Mexico” – celebrates and documents this subculture. In words and pictures, the book reveals its decadeslong history, showing the loving labor that goes into restoration, and explaining through first-person interviews a pride of ownership that’s inextricably linked to family, friends and community.

Meticulously painted, some with religious imagery, each vehicle can be seen as an original work of art, inside and outside.

That artistry is nowhere more evident than in the 121 color and black-and-white photographs in the book. They are images, some previously published, taken by many well-known photographers who have long been documenting the lowrider subculture; photographers such as Miguel Gandert, Jack Parsons, Alex Harris, Meridel Rubenstein and Siegfried Halus.

Orale Lowrider Custon Made in New Mexico by Don Usner.

Orale Lowrider Custon Made in New Mexico by Don Usner.

And writer Don J. Usner wrote a lengthy article (“Cruising in the Heart of the Lowrider World”) accompanied by a host of his captivating black-and-white photographic portraits.

Lowriders gained national attention and favorable press in the 1990s.

The Española Valley, Usner writes in his article, was labeled in a 1993 MTV broadcast as “Lowrider Capital of the World” because it apparently had the most lowriders (the vehicles) per capita than any American locale.

That same year, Usner adds, Robert Ashley wrote an opera inspired by lowrider subculture. In the article, he quotes Ashley as calling the community of Chimayó “the spiritual center of the lowrider world.”

A lengthy interview that Katherine Ware conducted with Rubenstein is also in the book. Ware and Daniel Kosharek selected the photographs for “Ôrale!”

Levi Romero’s short poem really captures his – and presumably mirrors others’ – enchantment with the low and slow ride.

Here is the first stanza of Romero’s poem “Wheels”: “how can I tell you/baby, oh honey/you’ll never know the ride/the ride of a lowered Chevy/slithering through/the blue dotted night/along Riverside Drive Española.”

Usner and Katherine Ware will participate in a panel discussion and book signing of “¡Órale! – Lowrider” at 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 5, at the National Hispanic Cultural Center, 1701 Fourth SW. Usner, Ware and Daniel Kosharek will give a presentation and sign copies of the book at 2 p.m. Nov. 13 at Collected Works Bookstore, 202 Galisteo, Santa Fe.

A companion art exhibit is up at the New Mexico History Museum, 113 Lincoln Ave., Santa Fe, through March 5, 2017. The exhibit is titled “Lowriders, Hoppers and Hot Rods: Car Culture of Northern New Mexico.”

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