During the 1980s and 1990s, when politicians of all stripes and political sects were trying to out "tough on crime" each other, thousands of new felony and misdemeanor laws were invented to control populations and give the appearance of policymakers working hard for public safety. The consequences were devastating for young people and communities of color. Mandatory sentencing, three-strikes laws, more laws punishable by the death penalty, militarized policing, and the proliferation of prisons, all aspects of life – for some – were changed indefinitely. This tough-on-crime legislation also included what are called "no cruise zones."
California-based writer José Vadi explains in a new essay, "Legalize Lowriding," on Boom California, "Lowriders are motorized time capsules that command respect…These signs and subsequent 'no cruise zones' were part of a wave of legislation passed throughout California cities through the '80s and '90s. Though largely unenforced today, these laws are increasingly being written off the books, with Sacramento being the first city to repeal their cruising ban and removing such signage citywide…Categorizing cruising as a gang activity or on par with the illegal assemblage of a psychedelic-fueled warehouse rave is ironic now considering how integral lowrider imagery is to the city of Los Angeles' brand identity. The traffic and pedestrian ribbon cutting of the newly camelbacked 6th Street bridge, connecting East and downtown Los Angeles over the LA River, was led by a local lowrider collective."
Repealing local ordinances is part of a state-wide push to change these laws. According to the Los Angeles Times, in July of 2022, the California legislature approved "Assembly Concurrent Resolution 176, introduced in April by Assemblymember Luz Rivas (D-North Hollywood) passed with zero opposition, with 71 lawmakers of the 80-member Assembly signing on." The resolution encourages local lawmakers to "overturn their cruising bans and embrace the lowrider culture."
Vadi goes on to briefly explain the political, social, and cultural context of cruising, "Lowriding's social undertones have been palpable since its wartime infancy into the Chicano movement of the '60s and '70s. Roberto Hernandez formed the San Francisco Lowrider Council to combat waves of police brutality, leading not just to legalized cruises but new parks, services, and the resignation of cops accused by Mission District residents of abuse. Victor Ochoa's recent mural in San Diego's Barrio Logan documents the history of the local Brown Image Car Club. Of the vignettes encompassing the pillars of a massive freeway underpass is a scene where some of the crew's members participated in the occupation of Chicano Park."
I sincerely enjoy Vadi's writing and learn so much about historical intricacies, not only in this essay, where the context of his thoughts and analysis is "driving my mom to her post-op appointment in Downey, south of downtown Los Angeles, from the east-of-east side in Pomona," but his book Interstate -which I inhaled in two days.
"California has been advertised as a destiny manifested for those ready to pull up their bootstraps and head west across to find wealth on the other side of the Sierra Nevada since the 19th century. Across the seven essays in the debut collection by José Vadi, we hear from the descendants of those not promised that prize. Inter State explores California through many lenses: an aging obsessed skateboarder; a self-appointed dive bar DJ; a laid-off San Francisco tech worker turned rehired contractor; a grandson of Mexican farmworkers pursuing the crops they tilled. Amidst wildfires, high-speed rail, housing crises, unprecedented wealth and its underlying decay, INTER STATE excavates and roots itself inside those necessary stories and places lost in the ever-changing definitions of a selectively golden state."
Vadi's prose is personal and close to home – in a universal manner, invoking images and geographies that are easy to visualize while engaging in political and historical discussion in his literary exegesis about California. Check out this PEN America interview with Vadi.