'I haven't seen any murals like this': Art pays homage to Chicano lowrider history

"I want to show our generation up there," said Henry Rodriguez, president of the Brown Image Car Club.

Artist Christina Bambino working on a mural in Chicano Park, in San Diego's Barrio Logan neighborhood.Courtesy Henry Rodriguez

A lowrider car club in San Diego is memorializing its history by creating a mural in Chicano Park, a national and Mexican American cultural landmark.

The Brown Image Car Club, founded in 1970 and one of the first lowrider car clubs in San Diego, is building a five-story mural on a bridge pillar, inspired by lowrider paint job techniques. With a candy apple and root beer glossy finish, it includes 30 pounds of gold metal flakes — enough to paint 18 lowrider cars.

Henry Rodriguez, 66, the club's president, said the mural pays homage to the club's history and cultural impact dating back decades.

"I want to show our generation up there," Rodriguez said, "what we did when we took over the park, when we did our low riding, our club, the things that we did in the '70s."

Chicano Park is beneath the San Diego-Coronado Bridge in Barrio Logan, formerly Logan Heights, a predominantly Mexican American neighborhood. The mural replicates images from Rodriguez's photo album, an archive featuring club members, lowrider vehicles, posters of events the club hosted, and the "takeover" of Chicano Park, when residents of Logan Heights gathered together in 1970 to suspend the construction of a highway patrol station on the land designated for the park.

"I don't think this has ever been done," Rodriguez said. "I haven’t seen any murals like this.”

The mural is being made using traditional airbrushing techniques used to paint a lowrider vehicle, according to Cindy Rocha, 38, one of eight artists working on the mural.

Cindy Rocha applying gold flakes to the top of the column.Courtesy Victor Cordero

Rodriguez said that the mural’s lead artist, Victor Ochoa — one of the pioneers of San Diego’s Chicano art movement — came up with the idea to add the flakes after looking at one of the cars in the photo archive.

Denise Sandoval, professor of Chicana and Chicano studies at California State University, Northridge, and one of the foremost scholars on lowrider culture, called the mural "historic, and the only place it could happen would be Chicano Park."

"The mural is such an important part of Chicano history that's tied to the Chicano movement, where artists became teachers, educators, storytellers," Sandoval said, "really teaching us the value of using art to express our feelings, our passions, our hopes — especially in a place like Chicano Park, that is born out of social justice."

The Brown Image plaque, a symbol of the car club that is usually displayed on the back of a lowrider, is featured at the peak of the mural and is now a symbol in the community.

"The mural is showing that low riding isn't all those stereotypical negative things. The car clubs were pivotal in bringing the community together," Rocha said.

While the project is being partially funded by Rodriguez and his wife, Janine, Brown Image is seeking donations from the community by holding fundraiser events to help achieve its goal of $50,000.

The mural is expected to be completed in late February or early March.

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