Sal Barajas’ newest mural tells the history of Amigos Car Club and lowriders in San Diego’s Chicano community
The sound of revving engines and wheels on pavement filled the air as cars traveled down Interstate 5. Next to the busy highway stood Sal Barajas, by his newest mural in Chicano Park.
The mural, which will be officially revealed on Nov. 17, celebrates the Amigos Car Club and lowrider culture in San Diego. As drivers come up the on-ramp to I-5 south, they can view the latest piece of art in the park. The mural, which was painted over the course of three months, depicts five cars caravanning up I-5 north, starting from the Playas de Tijuana all the way up to Chicano Park in Logan Heights.
The cars in the mural, which are all real cars that belong to members of the Amigos Car Club, have a glossy varnish that shines from hundreds of feet away.
There’s minuscule details painted into the mural that some might not recognize immediately, like the Neighborhood House that was the nucleus of social gatherings for the Logan Heights community for much of the 20th century, or the Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, where many community members gather in prayer. Near the top of the mural is the Kiosko in Chicano Park, with Aztec dancers performing in it.
The piece pays homage to supporters, members, and founders of Amigos Car Club. At the top and wrapped around the side of the mural are portraits of those instrumental to the car club and their community.
Along the right side of I-5 in the mural is Highland Avenue. Rigo Reyes, a founder of Amigos Car Club and who worked closely with Barajas on the planning of the mural, said the street used to be “the mecca of cruising in San Diego.”
That is, before the National City Police Department cracked down on lowriders. Cruising was fully halted on Highland Avenue in 1992. In the mural, alongside the street, reads a sign with the words “No cruising.”
Today, cruising is permitted in Logan Heights during the summer months through an organized cruise called “La Vuelta.” Reyes appreciates the resurgence, but the roots of lowriding on Highland Avenue remains vital to its culture.
“For us old timers, it’s the streets,” Reyes said. “We can’t forget that.”
Reyes saw his first lowrider car when he was 12. He was astounded by his brother’s 1957 Chevy and its ability to move up and down. He was so blown away by it that his first-ever car was the same.
Lowriding is more than just a hobby to Reyes. It’s an art form and a way of life, and tells the story of the community.
“We’re going to die with switches in our hands,” Reyes said.
It didn’t used to be as acceptable and mainstream as it is today, he said. It was something the community learned from its ancestors. This is something Reyes worries will get lost in the new generation of lowriders, and one of the reasons he and Barajas decided to include Highland Avenue in the mural.
“We’re not getting any younger,” Reyes said. “And we want to tell the story before someone from the outside comes and tells the story for us.”
Preserving the authentic history of lowriding is one of the main reasons the mural was painted, says Barajas. He emphasized that every piece of art he paints serves a purpose, whether it’s for history, culture, or tradition.
“Different people paint different things based on their reality,” Barajas said. “I try to make a story out of it.”
One aspect notably missing from the mural, between the Playas de Tijuana and San Ysidro, is a border. Barajas and Reyes purposefully omitted it because they see Tijuana as a part of the unified region. They recognize this may have been a controversial move, but that doesn’t bother Barajas.
“Almost everything here can become controversial,” he said. “But they don’t understand.”
Lowriding and activism are intertwined in many ways to Reyes. He himself began lowriding around the same time as the Civil Rights and Chicano movement in the U.S. Lowriders are responsible for resistance and activism for keeping Chicano lowrider culture alive and vibrant, he says.
Around the mural, Ray Ulloa was planting cacti. He’s also a member of Amigos Car Club and is helping with the landscaping immediately around the mural. The cacti are an important part of the Chicano culture and heritage, Ulloa says. He hopes people can identify as closely with the plants as they can with the mural.
He reiterated the need for the mural to leave a path forward for the next generation.
“It’s one page of our story,"Ulloa said. “This is just chapter one.”