Dr. Pulido, your documentary "Everything Comes from the Streets" explains the history and culture of the lowrider community in San Diego. With the premiere just around the corner, can you tell us how you started this project?
My work has always been in and about community and applied research, and this project is simply the latest product from this pedagogical and scholarly vision.
This project began with my longstanding relationship with the Chicano Park Steering Committee and our Office of Community Service Learning. Through our collective efforts, I met Rigo Reyes. Rigo has been a San Diego lowrider for thirty-five years, and he asked if I would be willing to work with him on a documentary. I discovered that Cal Humanities had resources through the California Stories grant program, so I applied and wrote a successful grant! We hired an excellent cinematographer from the bay area, Kelly Whalen, who worked with me when I was in charge of PABID on campus. We also hired Chelita Borbon ‘12, an Environmental Studies and Ethnic Studies Major, as our first research assistant.
Give us a brief history of lowriding. What story does your documentary tell?
The history of lowriding is one of self-expression and cultural ingenuity that began in the early 1950’s in San Diego at the boom of the car culture in Southern California. What emerged in those days was a culture of car customizers that led to the creation of modified cars built for speed known as Hot Rods coming out of the dominant culture. In response, the emerging Mexican American and Chicano community customized their cars to be low and slow, built to the ground and to be cool. As a result, lowrider car clubs emerged with cars that were aesthetically pleasing and truly works of art that traversed city streets and barrios making personal and collective statements about cultural identity.
It is a story about history, politics, self-preservation and resilience that includes both women and men and traverses the U.S.-Mexico border. Hence, we wish to debunk the idea that lowriding is all tied to gangs and violence and show that it is instead about families and communities. As the title of our film proclaims: there is deep knowledge and wisdom to be drawn from the lowrider experience and expression because "Everything Comes From the Streets!"
Which aspects of the documentary process involved students? How did they respond to the project?
Students have always been central to my work. In the past they have helped me to collect historical information, and in one of my classes students actually put together a short documentary on lowriding. This semester my students and I are talking a great deal about culture and space and how people utilize culture to tell their stories. My students and I recently went to a lowrider shop and they experienced the art and history of lowriding first hand. The students will assist with our world premiere and they are excited to be a part of the project.
This project seems to be the most recent in a long list of community projects that your students have been part of. How important is it for USD students to explore and experience their surroundings?
I believe we need to educate the whole student—the head, body and spirit. This requires that students experience their education and have real life encounters with issues that surround them in their communities and neighborhoods. In these days of virtual and long-distance learning, it is important that we be mindful of the context out of which research questions and scholarship emerge. I strongly believe that these opportunities are right here in San Diego. Our diverse and international setting is ideal for doing the work of ethnic studies and all related intellectual endeavors. For example, this documentary on lowriding is a window into the transnational and cross-border influences between two countries and their people.
Inherent in all of this is an applied aspect that I wish to teach my students. This is to say that research should not be for the sake of research. It must produce some benefit to the communities and students we serve. All of my projects move forward with this goal in mind and I do appreciate the University of San Diego and our college for supporting this type of work.
What do you find most rewarding about watching students engage with the community?
Students realize the importance of service and social justice by doing community based research. If you need to go to the community for answers to your questions, it becomes your responsibility to produce work that will service the community and advance it in terms of social justice issues.
- Anne Malinoski ‘11