The northern New Mexico town of Española is located not far north of Santa Fe, between Los Alamos and Taos. Approximately 10,000 people live in the town that was originally established in 1598 by Spanish conquistador Don Juan de Oñate. Being surrounded by an amalgam of attractions and having its own arts community, Española is a tourist stop. However, the town is best known as the lowrider capital of the world; it supposedly has more lowriders per capita than any other place on Earth. While there isn’t necessarily any solid evidence that would confirm the town's claim to fame, there isn’t any evidence to refute it.
"Chances are, if you do take a drive through Española, you’ll see a lowrider or a couple of lowriders," says Española City Councilor Dennis Tim Salazar. “I think a lot of people in Española and surrounding cities take a lot of pride in lowriders because they look at them as a work of art.” Councilor Salazar says he's amazed by the hard work people in the Española Valley put into their lowriders. He also says lowriders are a way some people express their spirituality, as many lowriders from the region incorporate murals with Catholic imagery.
Thomas Martinez is an Española banker and a member of the Española car club Vicious Dreams, which has been around since the early ’90s. “I’m a banker and I love lowriders.” Martinez says there’s a negative stereotype surrounding lowriders, but wants people to know that, like him, the people who are into the cars are not criminals. He says in the ’90s the State Legislature rounded up New Mexico car clubs (which are a way to commingle knowledge and share jobs), gave them V.I.P. parking at the Roundhouse and recognized them. He says that kind of validation meant a lot to the clubs.
Right now, Martinez says, there are fewer car clubs and less cruising in Española. “About 10 years ago, all you'd see was a bunch of lowriders, but now cruising is dying out a little bit.” He says this is because some people put so much time and money into their cars, they don’t want to take them out in traffic for fear of damage. However, Martinez says he’s working on a ’50 Chevy Fleetline, which will one day be cruising the strip in Española and helping to continue the town’s famous reputation.