South Amer­i­can Cho-Low

SOUTH AMER­I­CAN CHO-LOW

Pasatiempo - - NEWS - Casey Sanchez

The cholo and his lowrider have come to Brazil at last, ar­riv­ing in style as a lux­ury im­port from the Chi­cano street cul­ture of the Amer­i­can South­west. “Alemão was the first cholo in Brazil,” says a voiceover at the start of the short doc­u­men­tary South Amer­i­can Cho-Low, which sur­veys the emer­gent lowrider scene in São Paulo. Alemão — or “The Ger­man,” a ref­er­ence to his light skin and light eyes — is the nick­name for An­to­nio Car­los Batista, a mus­cu­lar, mus­ta­chioed, mid­dle-aged, life­long res­i­dent of São Paulo, whose love for lowrid­ers has not only trans­formed his life, but has also kick­started the for­ma­tion of sev­eral lowrider clubs through­out the megac­ity.

A cloth­ing de­signer for in­ter­na­tional brands, Batista be­came both a god­fa­ther and tastemaker to the nascent Brazil­ian car scene. He tat­tooed his arms in Amer­i­can Chi­cano style and be­gan in­tro­duc­ing new looks to his cars and his cloth­ing. “In­ter­net and books are things that keep you up­dated or help an­swer ques­tions,” he says in the film. “Main­tain­ing the cul­tural el­e­ment is my big­gest quest.”

The 16-minute doc­u­men­tary will be shown in a con­tin­u­ously looped screen­ing at the Sun­day, May 1, open­ing of the Mu­seum of New Mex­ico ex­hi­bi­tion Lowrid­ers, Hop­pers, and Hot Rods. Be­yond the film’s en­dear­ing pic­ture of a Brazil­ian lowrider club that would not look out of place in Es­pañola, film­maker Phuong-Cac Nguyen said her doc­u­men­tary is “a tes­ta­ment to who we are as a global cul­ture.”

Brazil isn’t the only for­eign coun­try to adopt Chi­cano lowrider cul­ture. Google “lowrider” along­side Tokyo, Jakarta, or Jeddah to get a feel for how glob­al­ized the 50-year-old Amer­i­can Latino car cul­ture has be­come. But among the world’s lowrider cul­tures, Brazil may be the one most ob­sessed with au­then­tic­ity. Wear­ing Nike Cortez sneak­ers and Dick­ies chi­nos, sporting fine-line black-on-gray tat­toos, and driv­ing souped-up Monte Car­los with candy ap­ple and pur­ple chameleon paint jobs, the Brazil­ian lowrid­ers are ob­sessed with recre­at­ing ev­ery last de­tail. They draw in­spi­ra­tion from mag­a­zines, Amer­i­can movies, YouTube sites, and vis­its to Los An­ge­les and Phoenix.

When Nguyen, the film’s di­rec­tor and a Los An­ge­les na­tive, first en­coun­tered Brazil­ian lowrid­ers dur­ing her stay in the coun­try, she did a dou­ble-take. “When I lived in Brazil, I came across th­ese guys in down­town São Paulo stand­ing out­side a mall pop­u­lar with sub­cul­tures like hip-hop, heavy metal. They looked just like Chi­canos from L.A. — the Dick­ies pants, the jer­seys, the Nike Cortez shoes. I thought they were Mex­i­can-Amer­i­can Brazil­ians, maybe. I was com­pletely baf­fled. But I didn’t speak Por­tuguese at the time and didn’t get to ask them.”

Over re­peated vis­its to down­town São Paulo, Nguyen be­gan to see that the lowrid­ers weren’t a fluke but an emer­gent move­ment. As her film re­veals, the lure of Chi­cano lowrider cul­ture went far be­yond flashy cars. At its heart, lowrid­ing is a cul­tural prac­tice that li­on­izes work­ing-class val­ues — fam­ily, fra­ter­nity, and a DIY ethos of fix­ing and trans­form­ing your own ve­hi­cle. “They are all about fam­ily. It’s a big part of lowrider cul­ture,” said Al­fredo Ritta, the film’s pro­ducer and video edi­tor. “We felt it was very important to in­clude the stories of fam­i­lies.”

The film­mak­ers pro­file Mar­i­ana, who is not only the wife of a lowrider but an ex­pert lowrider-bike cus­tomizer her­self. “She’s a strong wo­man and she is a piv­otal part of the lowrider club in the film,” Ritta said. In one scene, her tod­dler son walks through the fam­ily liv­ing room, wear­ing a black base­ball cap with “Mex­ico” writ­ten across the brim in Old English let­ter­ing. Though it’s not ex­plic­itly spelled out in the film, both Ritta and Nguyen stressed the con­sid­er­able ex­penses that come with be­ing a lowrider in a for­eign coun­try. “It was a fi­nan­cial sac­ri­fice for them. In Brazil, it is in­cred­i­bly ex­pen­sive to get ma­te­ri­als to build a lowrider bike,” said Ritta, cit­ing the coun­try’s high im­port tar­iffs and low wages. Sev­eral sub­jects in the film also point out that they want to make sure that the Brazil­ian lowrid­ing scene steers clear of gang af­fil­i­a­tions that have some­times marred the Amer­i­can lowrider cul­ture. “They didn’t want to bring the blue and red dy­nam­ics of gang cul­ture to Brazil,” said Ritta.

Of course, there’s al­ways a ran­corous de­bate over lowrider “re­al­ness.” “There are still ri­val­ries be­tween clubs over who is do­ing it more au­then­ti­cally,” Ritta added. “There’s a pol­i­tics in any sub­cul­ture. But what we’ve seen since the re­lease of the film is Brazil­ian lowrid­ers re­al­iz­ing that their clubs have to come to­gether.”

For di­rec­tor Nguyen, both her film and its pop­u­lar­ity were un­fore­seen out­comes when she started this project. “My back­ground is as a print jour­nal­ist. I was sup­posed to write a story. But it was so visual that a film made sense,” she added. “When I orig­i­nally shot the film, it was just sup­posed to be a five-minute video. I had no idea so many peo­ple would be so in­ter­ested in it. It was a happy sur­prise. Out of nowhere The New York Times be­came in­ter­ested in it and wrote about it.”

It also helped that the film fea­tured com­men­tary from Este­van Oriol, a well-known di­rec­tor of rap and punk videos and a highly ac­com­plished pho­tog­ra­pher of global street cul­tures. In the film, he states that he has doc­u­mented lowrider clubs across Europe, Asia, and the Mid­dle East, a phe­nom­e­non that as a na­tive Chi­cano Los An­ge­leno, he deeply ap­pre­ci­ates,

For Ritta, the film demon­strates how much an Amer­i­can work­ing-class, street cul­ture can mean to strivers across the globe. “For most for­eign­ers, they dream of com­ing to Cal­i­for­nia and go­ing to Hol­ly­wood or Dis­ney­land. The guys in this film want to come to Los An­ge­les and South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, too. But what they want is to just hang out in Latino neigh­bor­hoods with lowrid­ers, wait on the street cor­ners, watch, and soak up what is go­ing on.”

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