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On Easter Sunday of last year, the sound of gunfire, then police sirens, interrupted the music booming from the cars on South Sixth Avenue. Three people died and six were injured in two separate shootings that occurred within an hour of each other on the street crowded with cars and people (Stauffer). This event reinforced the way the public often views cruisers: as violent juveniles or gang-bangers engaging in a dangerous, vain activity. The violence of Easter Sunday, however, does not typify cruising or cruisers. Cruising - and the intense work that goes into making a car, especially a lowrider, truly "cruise-worthy" - offers an alternative to violence and gangs. Often, a car club helps with the work of customizing a ride, giving the owner advice on how to get the look of the car just right. Duke's Car Club has been one of the most popular and visible car clubs in Tucson since it was founded forty years ago (Teran 10/8/01). Sandra Teran, a member of Duke's Car Club, represents an aspect of cruising and car clubs that few people are aware of: family involvement and community pride.
When it comes to cruising, lowriders star in the show, and have for the last thirty years. "Lowrider" signifies any automobile, from trucks to cars to motorcycles, customized to ride low to the ground. The asphalt-scraping suspension isn't the only alteration; the cars often sport elaborate paint jobs, expensive wire rimmed wheels, plush upholstery, and tough hydraulics systems. The cars' owners, also called lowriders, display their cars by cruising slowly down the street or exhibiting them at car shows. Despite the time and money put into a lowrider, lowriding is not just about the cars. It is also about family and community, as Sandra Teran explained to me when I interviewed her. Sandra is prominent in the lowriding community, and driving up to her home I could see why. Three classic luxury cars sat in the driveways, their meticulous paint gleaming. The love for all things classic extends to the inside of her home; two jukeboxes stand by the front door and a photo of one of her sons wearing a zoot suit hangs on the wall. I arrived a few minutes early for our interview, and Sandra had gone to pick up one of her grandchildren, so I sat and waited.
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"Momma Lowrider: Sandra Teran of Duke's Car Club." 123HelpMe.com. 19 Sep 2019
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"The cruising scene back in the seventies" first sparked her interest in lowriding. She and her husband Al were still teens when they built their first lowrider, customizing an old car that had been just sitting in the backyard. Soon after that, in the early eighties, they joined their first car club. As their children grew older, however, Sandra and Al became unhappy with the lack of family and community involvement in the car clubs.
Sandra says, "We found out that when it's a family, it's more together and there are more things that you can do. Because if we're positive then our children grow up to be positive and their children grow up to be positive, and that's the way we basically run the Duke's Car Club."
Currently six members of the Teran family are in the Duke's Car Club, and four generations of the family have been
involved with the club. Sandra's father was a member of the club's charter chapter in Los Angeles, and Sandra, her son, and granddaughter now participate in the club. Other families also contribute to the club; in fact, family participation seems to be the norm at Duke's Car Club.
"It's a family thing," notes Sandra, "It's something we didn't plan to have, other members to be families. But it's a husband and wife, we have one. We have a dad and a son. So everybody just comes like that."
The Terans didn't have a difficult time interesting their children in the car club. They began giving their children cars when their oldest son was fourteen. Later, they decided to give each of their children a car at sixteen. However, they also established rules for how the cars were to be used.
"Basically they were born with it, really," Sandra states of the family's involvement in the car club, "Because we've always had it so they've always seen it. And they love lowriding, but even though we gave them all their cars at the age of sixteen, they have to be committed to the community. They have to say 'Yes, we will help the community. Yes we will give to the community. Yes we will be a part of the community.' And that was a big plus to our kids, in order to give them their cars. It wasn't just a car for them to get up and go cruising, and go riding and joy riding. Duke's Car Club is a big responsible car club that has a lot of responsibility, and needs a lot of back up from the members."
They seem an unlikely couple, but lowriders and civic involvement fit together quite well. Lowriders garner attention cruising down the street, and community activists have found that that attention can be transferred to their causes. For her part, Sandra works not just on her cars, but also on changing the public's perception of lowriders. She concedes that lowriders' reputation for violence has a basis in reality. Duke's Car Club began in Los Angeles in 1962, and the Tucson chapter has existed for forty years. Before its official founding, the club was part of the 38th Street Gang. Which, as Sandra states, "unfortunately, was a gang back. . . in the forties." But the gang aspired to "a more elegant style," and Duke's Car Club rose out of the 38th Street Gang. The modern Duke's is certainly more community-minded than the gang it came from. Sandra and other members of the club work to raise awareness for various issues, using their cars to catch the public's attention.
Sandra states, "We've been to over a dozen schools around. . . Tucson, Arizona, talking to kids about the dangers of drugs and gangs and the unity of the family, about different things they could get into besides gangs, especially here in the south side. . . . We've worked with the police. We've volunteered time for the police, and we do a lot of positive things for the community."
The community involvement is resulting in a different environment for both lowriders and the police. A tense relationship existed between the two in the late '70s, when Sandra first began lowriding. The police viewed lowriders as potential criminals, and many city councils throughout the southwest attempted to limit cruising or ban it altogether (Penland). In Tucson, however, police recognize cruising as a safe, legal activity. Shortly after the shootings on South Sixth Avenue, the police initiated a program called "Operation Safe Summer 2000." The number of police and patrol cars on South Sixth increased, and the amount of crime decreased. In September of 2000, Lt. Mark Napier of the Tucson Police Department stated that, "We're not aware of a single act of violence occurring related to the cruising issue on South Sixth Avenue this summer." The police hoped to continue this trend by meeting with car clubs in the office of Tucson councilman Steve Leal. Their goal: encouraging cruising (Stauffer).
Penland, Paige R. "Let the Show Begin." Lowrider Magazine October 2001: 161-163.
Stauffer, Thomas. "S. Sixth Crackdown Called a Success." Arizona Daily Star. 2 September 2001, B3.
Teran, Sandra. Personal Interview. 8 October 2001.