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Ladies changing lowrider culture low and slow in Santa Rosa

Mayra Lopez
Written by Mayra Lopez

When Annie Reyes was a young woman cruising down Mendocino Avenue to Julliard Park, she and her friends put sandbags in the trunk of her car so that her midnight blue 1967 Chevy Impala would sit lower.

“Those were good times,” she said, smiling.

Teresa Castillo remembers cruising around Santa Rosa and blasting oldies in childhood friend Raquel Sanchez’s 1967 Chevy Caprice. “Everyone knew that was her car, not her man’s,” Castillo said. “It was clean and tasteful.”

There was a time when women were not allowed to be members of lowrider car clubs — just models in front of the cars. But that’s since shifted, and women have a presence in the lowrider community. “Now we see females at all the car shows, rolling in with ‘Caddies’ and Impalas!” Castillo said.

Reyes, Castillo and Sanchez, all Santa Rosa natives, discovered their love of lowriding through different paths.

Annie Reyes next to her ride at Julliard Park, Santa Rosa. Ricardo Ibarra / La Prensa Sonoma

Annie Reyes loved cars since she was a teenager in the late 1970s. “I was about 13-14 years old when I started getting interested in lowriding,” she said. “I was intrigued by the cars, the hydraulics and the way owners took pride in their cars.”

As one of the few Mexican-Americans at her school, she didn’t feel connected with her surroundings in California or Mexico. Being a part of the lowrider community helped her connect to her Chicana identity, but her parents asked her why she was always hanging out with cholos.

Raquel Sanchez’s family is the reason she became involved in the lowrider scene.

Raquel Sanchez next to her 1968 Chevy Impala at Julliard Park, Santa Rosa. Ricardo Ibarra / La Prensa Sonoma

Growing up, her father worked on muscle cars, particularly Chevy Cameros and Pontiac Firebirds. She helped him get tools from the garage, often bringing back the wrong ones. “If he asked me now, I would know exactly what to get,” she said. After watching “Boulevard Nights” with her sister, she fell in love with lowriders. She began attending car shows, and the rest was history. She currently owns a 1968 Chevy Impala, which she bought about 8 years ago.

Teresa Castillo is behind the wheel. Ricardo Ibarra / La Prensa Sonoma

Teresa Castillo was a tomboy, she said. She was usually around cars, helping her father work on his vehicles and even working at an auto parts shop. “I’d buy Lowrider magazines and look at the content of the car’s auto parts,” she said.

Her sister began dating someone who owned a lowrider, and her parents made her tag along on their dates. He would take them to car shows in Sacramento and San Francisco. “That’s where I was like, ‘this is me.’ I fell in love with the cars, the details,”  Castillo said. “But I never saw females. It was always a man world.”

They’ve all battled stereotypes, too. Owners of lowriders have often faced generalizations of being involved in gangs, a view that was often perpetrated by the media throughout the 1990s.

“People think it’s typically gang bangers driving the cars, looking for trouble. But a lot of us are business professionals,” said Castillo, who currently works for an HR firm in Santa Rosa. Last year, she was a recipient of the North Bay Latino Business Leadership Award.

Reyes works as an Eligibility Specialist Supervisor for Sonoma County Human Services Department. For many years, she kept her two lives separate, fearing judgment if coworkers knew she was a part of the lowrider community. “I was afraid I’d get looked down on and held back from promotions, unsure of how society was accepting it.”

When Sanchez discusses her cars at work, people are often surprised to learn she is an active member of the lowrider community.  “We just want to show off what we work hard for,” she explained. “Would we actually be able to afford cars like this if we didn’t have a job?”

The women also face stigma in a traditionally male-dominated space. When taking the cars out, people assume Castillo’s car belongs to her husband. Men will approach my husband about the cars and he responds, ‘That’s my baby’s car’.”

Men also often assume that women don’t know about their own cars. “We do know how to work on our cars,” Sanchez said. “I once started my car with a screwdriver!”

From left to right: Raquel Sanchez, Teresa Castillo and Annie reyes in front of their lowriders at Julliard Park, Santa Rosa. Ricardo Ibarra / La Prensa Sonoma

There is also a sense of empowerment in being a woman who owns a lowrider, they said. When Annie drives her car around town, women do double takes, and shout “You go girl!” when they see her behind the wheel. “I love being a woman in lowriding. I feel proud going out with my car and cruising around bumping oldies,” she said. “It’s such a nostalgic feeling.”

A few years ago, she decided she wanted to own her own “bomb” (bomb is a term for Chevy car models between 1936-1954). When she saw the one she wanted, “my heart skipped a beat,” she said. “I knew it was mine, and I was excited to dress it.”

Sanchez wants girls to see her cruising in her ride and know it’s possible to own a classic. “I want them to see that there are women capable of owning lowriders and can be a part of the community,” she said. “They don’t have to just be modeling with the cars, they can own the cars.”

All three of the women credit the Sonoma County Lowrider Council with helping change the stigmas of lowriders. The council came together around three years ago as a way to create more community among the different car clubs. “It wasn’t like that before. Normally we wouldn’t talk to each other, it was like a nod of acknowledgment from a distance. But now we give abrazos, we are a family,” said Castillo.

The council shares a common goal of throwing family-friendly events that give back to the community. They have raised funds for local organizations and organize backpack drives for schoolchildren in Roseland.

And the best part about being a woman who owns a lowrider? Cruising.

“It’s the ultimate high of happiness. Driving around in your car cruising with nowhere to go,” said Castillo. “On Fridays when I pick my kids up from school, their first question is, ‘Where are we going to go cruise tonight?’”

“When you are having a bad day, you just get in your car and go for a cruise. Everything is better,” Sanchez adds.

When Reyes drives around Santa Rosa in her “bomb,” she likes to turn up “Baby You Got It” by Brenton Wood and sit up tall and proud cruising in her shiny lowrider.

[Versión en español]

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Reach La Prensa Sonoma’s Editor Ricardo Ibarra at 707-526-8501 or email ricardo.ibarra@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @ricardibarra.

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