These Latina sisters are continuing their uncle’s legacy with the Dallas Lowriders
It’s a breezy Sunday evening in January, and Oak Cliff’s Jefferson Boulevard, a hive for Latino culture, is gleaming with a collection of metallic, pinstriped lowriders. The cars cruise down the block, as people standing on the sidewalk, outside quinceañera shops and furniture stores, snap pictures on their phones. For many Oak Cliff residents, this sight is a Sunday tradition. But for those behind the customized wheels, it’s much more than that: It’s a family legacy.
Among the lowriders is a pink and glittery 1984 Chevy Monte Carlo. Its interior is upholstered in pink, and pink fuzzy dice dangle from the rearview mirror. Pinstriped on the trunk, in pink and orange, is the car’s name, “La Mera Mera,” the feminine form of “big boss” in Spanish. The young woman driving it, though, happens to be one of the youngest lowriders in the pack.
With a silver plaque reading “Dallas Lowriders” visible through the rear window of her custom car, 19-year-old Mercedes Mata represents the club she was born into. She and her sister Mariah Mata, 22, are the new faces of Dallas Lowriders, a club founded by their late uncle Ivy Mata in 1979. They are also two of the few female lowriders in the city, and their entrepreneurship and participation in the club’s community-based events have gained them local recognition.
“When you see a lowrider, 90% of the time it’s going to be a guy,” Mariah says. “It’s definitely a male-dominated kind of thing, for sure, but it’s even better when it’s a girl.”
When the sisters’ uncle died in 1985, Dallas Lowriders died with him. But in 2003, the year Mercedes was born, the sisters’ father, Mark Mata, resurrected the group and became its spokesperson. A year later, Mark was incarcerated and largely absent from his daughters’ lives until Mercedes was 12 years old.
After being released from prison, Mark struggled to get Mercedes to come out of her shell as she struggled with depression and anxiety. Even though Mercedes had no interest in lowriders, Mark decided to take her, Mariah and his wife on a cruise, which ultimately helped rekindle his relationship with Mercedes.
“I didn’t really have a passion for the cars until 2019, when my dad was building a brown 1949 Chevy truck and a purple 1965 Super Sport convertible Impala,” Mercedes says. “Watching him build both of those from the absolute ground up, it really caught my attention. And that’s where I fell absolutely in love and decided to dedicate my whole life and money to these cars.”
For the Mata family, building these old-school, intricate cars with a lowered chassis and a bouncy hydraulic suspension isn’t a hobby — it’s a lifestyle. The sisters grew up with lowriders in their grandmother’s driveway in Oak Cliff, and now they want to break stereotypes and build their own brand revolving around the culture.
Lowrider culture, which began in the Chicano community of Los Angeles after World War II, is a reflection of the Mexican American experience. The cars’ custom exteriors symbolize the riders’ personalities or aesthetics and are sometimes viewed more like art pieces than just vehicles.
“In a way, you can say my car represents me and my personality,” Mercedes says. “Everyone who knows me personally knows I’m outgoing and loud and my car is outgoing and loud.”
Lowriders are commonly associated with cholos, or street gangs, but that stereotype is far from true. Lowriders participate in community activism, such as protesting social injustices and organizing benefit car shows, and they help build togetherness through a shared love for cars. In 2019, Dallas Lowriders invited local car clubs to once again cruise Jefferson Boulevard and downtown Dallas, as they used to in the ‘70s. In addition to the Sunday cruises, these clubs have hosted community picnics, toy drives and car shows.
“We just hope to continue inspiring other girls to get involved in this and spread the culture, all for the love for the culture and for la raza,” Mercedes says, referring to the Latino community.
The sisters have also started their own Chicano-inspired clothing brand calledLivin’ The Sueño, with artwork by an uncle.
Mariah says she wants “everybody to see our artwork, the culture and our lowrider style because we grew up around it, and it’s something that, I think, was meant for us.”
Stephanie Salas-Vega is an arts and culture writer based in Dallas.
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