By John Ramos

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) — Saturday was officially proclaimed “Lowrider Day” in the city of San Francisco and, on the first day of Hispanic Heritage Month, Latino leaders reflected on lowriders’ influence in the city and beyond.

Lowriders crowded onto Mission Street, with a car show along the sides and a slow-motion cruise down the middle. To those who were here more than 40 years ago, it felt like old times.

“It was every Friday night,” long-time lowrider Don Alonzo said. “Friday and Saturday nights, this is what it was!”

The lowered, candy-color vehicles became a symbol of the Latino community and a target of police, who considered the car clubs to be criminal gangs and harassed them just for being on the streets.

“It was blatant racism,” said San Francisco Lowrider Council president Roberto Hernandez. “While here we were driving ‘low and slow,’ across the city the white kids were racing for pink slips on the Great Highway.”

The lowriders filed a civil rights lawsuit in federal court and won. It has been a slow journey to acceptance but, today, the police were blocking streets to put on the car show and cruise and Mayor London Breed toured an exhibit of lowrider art in the Mission Cultural Center.

“This is a community that has made a tremendous impact on the city and county of San Francisco,” the mayor noted. “When you think of what happened before, from blocking the streets to not let the lowriders continue to cruise, to actually blocking the street so the other cars can’t get in the way of the lowriders cruising — that’s a big turnaround.”

Hernandez, who joined in the original lawsuit, remembers the day he was asked to exhibit his car at the Oakland Museum of California.

“They built a special ramp to get my lowrider in there. I mean, it doesn’t get any better than that!” he said.

Things are by no means perfect but Carlos Ramirez, who cruised lowriders in the early days, is pleased that the symbols of his heritage have now gained wider acceptance.

“It’s a good thing,” he said. “I’ve seen the change through the years and it’s a really, really, really good thing.”

Just as the cars are hard to ignore so are the people they’ve come to represent.

“We are the ones that feed America,” Hernandez said. “We are the work force and we’re going to continue growing so, yes indeed, it’s something to pay attention to!”