Meet the True “Fast and Furious” Chicanas Redefining the “Male Dominated” World of Automotive Culture

A growing number of women-led auto clubs are redefining lowriding culture in Southern California and beyond.  (Credit: Nathalie Cruz and Aisha Yousaf for Yahoo / Photo: Getty Images)

(L-R) Angelique Aguilar, Vivian Gallo, Sandy Avila and Debbie Flores are among a growing number of women-led auto clubs that are redefining lowriding culture in Southern California and beyond. (Credit: Nathalie Cruz and Aisha Yousaf for Yahoo / Photo: Getty Images)

In Southern California, a distinct rumble of car engines is heard on the boulevards, led not by stereotypical macho characters often portrayed in street racing movies like Fast and Furiousbut by women – with equal style and swagger – who once felt marginalized on the stage of car culture.

“We were once known as ‘passenger princesses,’ but now we run the show,” Sandy Avila, 40, leader of Lady Lowriders, a six-member all-female automobile club in Pasadena, California, founded in 2021 , said. “We want people to know how much the scene has grown and how much positivity we’re putting into it. It’s less about speed, and it’s all about family, community and giving back.”

On weekends, Avila quits a full-time job running her family’s construction business to cruise in her ’84 Cutlass Supreme. The mother-of-four bought the car in 2018 and has since reworked the suspensions and added hydraulics to “give it a little extra”. something something.

“I’ve always had a thing for cars,” she told Yahoo Entertainment. “My dad used to fix lowriders, so it’s been in my DNA since I was a baby.”

All-female car club leader Sandy Avila

Sandy Avila, leader of the Lady Lowriders women’s automobile club in Pasadena, California, poses next to her ’84 Cutlass Supreme. (Photo: Courtesy of Sandy Avila)

Historically, car clubs (groups of people who share a love for custom cars and a passion for lowriding) have been mostly run by men, with the exception of a few, such as Lady Bugs Car Club, an all-male club. of VW Bug drivers founded in the 1970s and Black Widows Car Club, founded in 2000. But in recent years, a series of newly founded car clubs, led mostly by Mexican American mothers, have found opportunities to celebrate their heritage while changing misconceptions. have about lowriding, which many believe is largely down to how it’s portrayed in movies and on TV.

“Hollywood put a label on us, portraying us as gangsters, always with their cars,” says Angel Romero, 44, leader of the Bay Area-based all-female Dueñas auto club, founded in 2019. I was on a radio station once and we had a caller say, “Do I have to be in a gang to have a lowrider? We laughed about it, but it’s something people think generally. And we’ve done a lot of work to change that.”

The portrayal of women in automotive films is also changing, she adds, but not as fast as she would like. In decades past, women generally fell under a ‘femme fatale’ archetype, she explains, often with ‘fast car chase scenes’ depicting ‘life on the run or in danger’ – like Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and the couple of Geena Davis and Susan Sarandon in Thelma and Louis (1991).

In recent years, however, women have been portrayed as skilled drivers (better than men, in many cases) and main protagonists, in franchises like Mad Max: Fury Road And fast furious, the latter stars Michelle Rodriguez as Letty Ortiz, a street racer and mechanic at the center of the series.

Michelle Rodriguez at

Michelle Rodriguez, seen here posing for a press conference in Los Angeles in 2009, is the epitome of girl power like Letty Ortiz in the Fast and Furious film franchise. (Photo: Vera Anderson/WireImage)

“I think they succeeded with his character attributes,” Romero said of Rodriguez. Still, “I would love to see more movies about women in lowriding on the big screen. We’ve pushed it beyond that, and it’s time for Hollywood to go the rest of the way.

“Our youngest member is 22 and just got a degree in criminal justice, so how does that change the personality of lowriders?” she says.

This mission is a group effort. Other lowriding legends like Debbie “Diamond” Flores, a 53-year-old hospice nurse and leader of the Inland Empire-based Latin Queens, an all-female motoring club founded in 2021, say women are bringing the tradition “back to its roots”. of community service.

In the past year alone, Dueñas has raised tens of thousands of dollars for breast cancer, donated hundreds of toys to encourage young people, and held various food drives to help homeless people.

“People think we’re gang members or something, which is absolutely not true,” she says. “We may have tattoos, but we’re all professionals. My vice president is a second-grade teacher, one of my daughters is a corrections officer, and her arms are just redone. You can’t judge someone on how it looks because we’re moving here, we really are. We’re family. We build each other up.

“We adopted a shelter for battered women and children and we have two shelters for homeless teenage sex traffickers,” Flores, who drives a 1958 Chevrolet Biscayne, says of her group’s work.

In August, Flores and Romero will receive an “Icons in Lowriding” award for service to their respective clubs.

“The Future of Lowriding”

Lowriders, classic or vintage car models that have been modified to sit as low to the ground as possible through a variety of customization techniques, have become an integral part of Chicano culture (people of Mexican descent born in United States) shortly after World War II, when returning servicemen began to modify their cars as a form of self-expression.

As Denise Sandoval, a professor of Chicana/o studies at California State University, Northridge, tells Yahoo Entertainment, the two have been intrinsically linked since the Mexican American civil rights movement in the 1960s, when Chicano artists created politically motivated murals in their neighborhoods depicting the injustices happening at the time – from discrimination/segregation in housing and employment to police brutality, language suppression and immigration policies.

“It inspired more drivers to put murals on their own cars,” she explains. “Cars have become a source of cultural pride” and an opportunity for others to “build a sense of community with car clubs”.

From murals of Mexican saints to political messages written in Spanish in bright colors conveying their cultural heritage, lowriders have become a symbol of identity and resilience in the Mexican American community.

To that end, Sandoval explains, the idea of ​​”giving back” has always been a core part of the scene. “I’ve seen flyers going all the way back to the 1960s at clubs running Toys for Tots campaigns and community campaigns,” she says. “What these clubs are doing today is nothing new, but I think what we are seeing now is women taking a more central role in the culture.”

This part East new, she said.

“A new generation is taking on leadership roles and trying to change their communities, but more importantly, they’re really challenging those ideas of what women can do, especially women of color,” she adds. “They are the future of lowriding.”

The Ladies of Dueñas Car Club: Angel Romero, Maricela Romero-Aguilar, Darla Angeles, Elizabeth Perez, Angela Carrillo, Christina Romero, Christina Acuna, Mia Arroyo;  and the children of the Duenas Bike Club: Zenaida Aguilar, Naveah Rascon Mariah Larios and Isabel Dueñas.  (Courtesy of Angel Romero)

The ladies of Dueñas Car Club, an all-female lowriding club based in the Bay Area, pose with the kids of Dueñas Bike Club, an all-female affiliate club. (Photo: Courtesy of Angel Romero)

Female leaders like Flores, who grew up in the scene alongside her late uncle Danny Flores, a well-known lowrider and Chicano activist, contribute to these efforts, noting the feeling she gets when little girls watch her ride down the boulevard. in his ’58 Chevy Biscayne.

“It makes me so proud,” she says. “When you drive down the street with your vehicle and all you get is these thumbs up, thumbs up, thumbs upit’s an incredible feeling.”

Romero, who drives a 1965 Chevy Impala, is eager to pass on the tradition to her nieces, something she is especially proud of.

“It’s a second full-time job sometimes in the summer, and winter with all the toy drives,” says Romero, who works in finance on weekdays. “They say if you love what you do, you never work a day in your life. And I love lowriding. It’s my life.”

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