I Read It for the Articles: Descansa en paz, Low Rider Magazine!
[I’m re-posting this commentary I did back in the before times, December of 2019, when it was announced that the long-lasting and culturally relevant Low Rider Magazine was going to be discontinued. This is an ode to the magazine and my memories of how it played a role in the evolution of my Indigenous Chicano identity. Enjoy!]
I bought my first copy of Low Rider Magazine back in 1988 when Al Lopez revived it. The first life of the mag started in 1977, but after eight years, it went out of business by December of 1985. When it came back a few years later, I was one of those dutiful Chicanos who bought every single issue. I probably still have about 75% of my collection. When I left for a 3-year stint in the Army in 1994 straight out of high school, my siblings pilfered my things, and I lost some of my most precious early copies of the magazine — that and some really cool mix tapes dating back to the mid-eighties. I didn’t realize the extent of the damage until I returned for good in the summer of 1997. Some of the missing magazine copies were rare issues from the seventies, the ones that used to have the Homies cartoon before they became huge in the nineties.
Low Rider Magazine, or LRM for short, was a big deal for a young Chicano like me. Yes, I understand that the images of scantily clad women who graced the pages of the magazine alongside the “firme ranflas” are problematic for numerous reasons, and I won’t dispute that, but I want to offer a different perspective that is very personal. Growing up in a Dallas Mexican barrio — in a city not widely known for its Mexican presence and one dominated by white political and economic power — I suffered from the identity crisis that a lot of young Chicanx and mexicanos my age experienced growing up in the US. Was I Mexican, Mexican American, Chicano, mexicano, Tejano, or simply American?
My desire to find my place in the world –my belonging– was the spark motivating my cultural search which in turn inspired my lifelong knowledge quest and identity affirmation. The national political debates over immigration and instances of discrimination helped steer me in the path of Chicanismo in the early nineties, and through that identity I began to discover my indigenous roots. LRM was also instrumental in this cultural awakening.
The magazine had a section called the “La Raza Report” where guest writers told stories about positive community activities. This was where I was first introduced in a concrete way to what we now refer to as indigeneity, through the writings of the Chicano journalism power duo Patrisia Gonzales and Roberto “Dr. Cintli” Rodriguez (of Column of the Americas fame). For instance, in the May 1994 issue (see below), they had an article entitled, “Chicanos on the Red Road,” that explained the activities of people like Tupac Enrique Acosta (founder of Tonatierra in Phoenix) and Mazatzin (active in the San Francisco area for many years) and founder of Aztekayolokalli, which was a school that focused on “teaching Nahuatl language and painting to Raza youth.”
In the article, Tupac explains what it means to be on the “Red Road” — being active in the community, making pan-indigenous connections, and conducting ceremony. He also introduced the concept of Xinachtli, a method of teaching in schools that introduced young people to the wisdom of the ancestors and “la tradicion.” Mazatzin talked about similar efforts in bringing awareness of our “Mechica” culture through ceremony and cultural revitalization. The goal of both activists was to foster a “warrior” mentality to the youth through cultural awareness and bring them closer to their “tonalli, the Mechica word for destiny or soul.” The nineties were a time of heightened gang violence among our young people throughout Aztlan, and both of these leaders used culture to counter that destructive lifestyle.
There used to be a saying among Chicano cultural activists, “La culutura cura!” (in other words, “culture is the cure”). The refrain was in response to the brown-on-brown violence which paged our communities then, and indigenous affirmation was one remedy for that social ill. What better medium to disseminate that message of hope to youth than LRM? The Teen Angel magazine, which catered to the cholo-gangbang lifestyle, wasn’t necessarily promoting peace and much less indigenous positivity. Looking back at it now, it’s impressive that Gonzales & Rodriguez helped spread the message of indigenous identity, spirituality, and Danza Azteca in a magazine about cars. All these years later, here I am attesting to that.
Were they the only ones doing it? No. But I’m pretty sure many young people like myself first heard of the so-called “last mandato of Cuauhtemoc” through their reporting on LRM. I even remember a piece about a prophecy that one day Aztlan would rise again as more of our people returned to their ancestral homelands from the south. As a kid, myths, legends, and ancient mysteries fascinated me, so to see that our ancestors had them as well was the cherry on top.
By the time Al sold LRM in 1997, the report section had long been gone as the mag got more commercialized. I had valued the fact that it was Chicano owned and operated, and in my opinion, they had literally sold out. The December ’97 issue was the last one I ever bought; LRM was dead to me by then, and now — more than two decades later– the mag is no more. Yes, as a young man, I bought Low Rider Magazine for the cars and the women, but as the cliché says, I also read it for the articles. RIP LRM.
A previous version of this commentary first appeared in mexika.org, 2019.