This week marked the end of Hispanic Heritage Month. For decades, cruising down Federal Boulevard has been a tradition for lowrider enthusiasts. The Chicano Humanities and Arts Culture off Santa Fe Drive in Denver recently dedicated an entire exhibit to the car culture.
(CBS4) – Sam Henry is a fifth-generation Coloradan. He owns Sam’s Kustom Hydraulics in Denver. He is working to preserve lowrider culture in Colorado, artifact by artifact. From cars and magazines, trophies and awards, he believes it’s as important to car culture as it is to the Chicano community.
“This shop here I opened up in 1996,” he told CBS4’s Andrea Flores.
His love for lowrider culture started when he was just 14 years old.
“One summer I took a walk up to 38th Avenue, all the way from Swansea,” Sam said. “There were already lowriders cruising that far back.”
He says that moment on 38th Avenue cultivated the passion for him to one day cruise in a lowrider of his own.
Sam says cruising in Denver dates back decades. He says people used to cruise down 16th Street. Eventually it migrated to 38th Avenue, then landed at Federal Boulevard, where many people cruise today.
“My very first car was a ‘72 Monte Carlo I bought years ago. I actually bought this car from Al Pacino’s uncle,” Sam explains. “Back then they didn’t have money for hydraulics, so me and everyone else used to put rocks in the back trunk and lower the back ends.”
He eventually mastered the mechanics of hydraulics.
“Started doing hydraulics for my friends on the side at home, after work, and one thing led to another,” said Sam. “By 1990 I opened up my own business, and I’ve been doing it ever since.”
What Sam didn’t expect was to have his work showcased in some of the most respected lowrider magazines more than 30 times. He’s owned 16 lowriders since his very first one in the 80s.
“It’s not just about getting in your car and going for cruise on the weekend. It’s a lifestyle,” Sam said.
A lifestyle he believes is largely misunderstood.
“I remember cruising in the early 80s with scrape plates and lifting the car left right, side to side, and people wouldn’t even look at me sometimes because they were, in my opinion, like, ‘ I don’t want to have any problems,'” said Sam. “You just want to tell them you don’t know me, you have no idea. You wouldn’t have a problem with me. I could be your best friend.”
Sam says, more than anything, lowriding is a form of self-expression for Chicanos.
“It’s art on wheels,” Sam said. It’s expressing yourself. It’s a Sunday cruise. Go out and enjoy your car, go out and enjoy your friends, barbecues, car shows and family.”
Recently, lowriding has been in the spotlight due to noise complaints from neighborhoods near Federal Boulevard. Sam believes cruisers must be responsible and respectful to drivers and homeowners.
“Unfortunately there are bad apples in every group, no matter what it is,” Sam said. “It has to go hand in hand for it to work right, because people live in these neighborhoods and you have to put yourself in their shoes.”
Sam knowns respect works both ways.
“We all live in the same city, so we all have to work together,” Sam believes.
He knows the power of unity, so one day lowriders can do less explaining and more cruising in the cars they proudly built.
“It’s definitely a humongous part of my lifestyle, and I will do it to the day I die,” Sam told CBS4.
Sam hopes to one day open a museum dedicated to the art and community of lowriders.
And it appears lowriding isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. This summer, the City of Denver declared Aug. 25 as “La Raza and Barnum Park: A Cruise Down Fedz Day” — a day dedicated to promoting Chicano cultural traditions, unifying communities, and combating prejudice and discrimination.