These Hispanic sisters continue their uncle’s legacy with the Dallas Lowriders.

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On a windy January Sunday evening, Oak Cliff’s Jefferson Boulevard, a hotbed of Hispanic culture, sparkles with a collection of pinstripe lowriders. Cars rush through the block as people stand on the sidewalk outside quinceañera and furniture stores taking pictures with their phones. For many residents of Oakcliffe, this spectacle is a Sunday tradition. But for those behind custom wheels, it’s much more than that: it’s a family legacy.

Lowriders include a pink and shiny 1984 Chevy Monte Carlo. Its interior is upholstered in pink, and pink fluffy cubes hang from the rearview mirror. The car’s name is written on the trunk in a thin pink and orange stripe: “La Mera Mera,” which means “big boss” in the feminine form in Spanish. However, the young woman behind the wheel turned out to be one of the youngest lowriders in the pack.

With a silver plaque that reads “Dallas Lowriders” visible through the rear window of her custom car, 19-year-old Mercedes Mata represents the club she was born into. She and her sister Mariah Mata, 22, are the new faces of the Dallas Lowriders, a club founded by their late uncle Ivy Mata in 1979. social events brought them local recognition.

“When you see a lowrider, 90% of the time it will be a guy,” says Mariah. “Of course it’s male-dominated, but it’s even better when it’s a girl.”

When the sisters’ uncle died in 1985, the Dallas Lowriders died with him. But in 2003, when Mercedes was born, the sisters’ father, Mark Mata, revived the group and became its representative. A year later, Mark was imprisoned and had little to no involvement in his daughters’ lives until Mercedes was 12 years old.

After being released from prison, Mark struggled to get Mercedes to come out of her shell as she struggled with depression and anxiety. Even though Mercedes had no interest in lowriders, Mark decided to take her, Mariah, and his wife on a cruise, which ultimately helped rekindle his relationship with Mercedes.

“I didn’t have a passion for cars until 2019, when my dad built a brown 1949 Chevy truck and a purple 1965 Impala Super Sport convertible,” says Mercedes. “Watching him build them from scratch caught my attention. And then I fell head over heels in love and decided to devote my whole life and money to these cars.

For the Mata family, assembling these old-school, intricate cars with lowered chassis and bouncy hydraulic suspension is not a hobby, but a way of life. The sisters grew up with lowriders in their grandmother’s Oak Cliff driveway, and now they want to break the mold and create their own culture-driven brand.

The lowrider culture that originated in the Chicano community in Los Angeles after World War II is a reflection of the Mexican-American experience. The custom appearance of the cars symbolizes the personality or aesthetic of the riders and is sometimes seen as more of a work of art than just a vehicle.

“In a way, you could say that my car represents me and my personality,” says Mercedes. “Everyone who knows me personally knows that I am outgoing and loud, and my car is outgoing and noisy.”

Lowriders are usually associated with cholos, or street gangs, but this stereotype is far from the truth. Lowriders participate in social activities such as protesting against social injustice and organizing charity car shows, as well as helping to rally through a common love for cars. In 2019, the Dallas Lowriders once again invited local car clubs to cruise Jefferson Boulevard and downtown Dallas like they did in the 70s. In addition to Sunday cruises, these clubs hosted community picnics, games, and car shows.

“We just hope to continue inspiring other girls to get involved and spread the culture, all for the love of the culture and for la Raza“, says Mercedes, referring to the Hispanic community.

The sisters also started their own Chicano clothing brand called Livin’ The Sueño with the work of an uncle.

Mariah says she wants “everyone to see our work, our culture and our lowriding style because we grew up with it and I think that’s what was meant for us.”

Stephanie Salas-Vega is a Dallas-based arts and culture writer.

Arts Access is a partnership between The Dallas Morning News and KERA, which expand coverage of local arts, music, and culture through the lens of access and equity.

This community-funded journalism initiative is funded by Better Together Foundation, Carol and Don Glendenning, City of Dallas OAC, Texas Communities Foundation, Dallas Foundation, Eugene McDermott Foundation, James and Gail Halperin Foundation, Jennifer and Peter Altabef and The Meadows. Foundation. News and KERA retain full editorial control of Arts Access journalism.

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