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Christmas Cruisin': A Parade Of Lowrider Cars Gives Out Gifts

(Photo by Heather van Blokland - KJZZ)
Prayer service by Anthony Verdugil, Redeemed Christian Car Club.

Designed to go low and slow, lowriders have a cultural history of rebellion with their lowered suspension, customized paint and loud sound. Here in Arizona, some lowrider car clubs spend December ... Christmas cruisin’.

“I want to make sure we bless this family with a good prayer, all right,” said emcee Anthony Vergudil of the Redeemed Christian Car Club, a club for lowriders.

A crowd of 50 is gathered outside the home of Mary Jean Ortega near downtown Phoenix. "They nominated me because I’ve been diagnosed with cervical cancer, 32 years old. This is my second battle with cancer. I have three kids," Ortega said.

Ortega has a 16 year-old son and two daughters, 10 and 9.

"My son’s name is Damian, everyone says Daymian, but it’s Damian, and Brianna and Hailey," Ortega said.

Over 100 people came to Ortega's house, driving 75 lowrider cars from 28 different car clubs across the Valley. Her family is one of five chosen this year to receive gifts and prayers for Christmas.

"Literally everybody here just to bless my family is here just to bless my family and give us gifts, give us money, inviting me into their home, they never met me," Ortega said. "And they never met my kids, but they spent their hard-earned money and time out of their day to bless my kids and my family."

Ortega's brother in-law, Enrique "Fatboy" Maldonado was there. He is a member of RollerzOnly Car Club in Chandler.

"My club came in and we got you guys’ family for blessings of the family. So, that is what everybody is here for today," Maldonado said.

Maldonado said Arizona lowrider car clubs are family-based, with get-togethers for Christmas parties and dinners, and kids included. But when it comes to decisions about what he gets to do with his car, his wife calls the shots, he said.

“Everything I get has to go through her ... babe can I get this?" Maldonado said, and then imitating his wife, "How much is it? We’re going to have to work towards it."

Lowriders spend hundreds, even thousands on their cars.

“Sometimes it gets expensive to take them out every day, but that’s what we build them for, to drive them, to ride them, to show them, to present them at shows, and it’s a very exquisite art form that we do,” Maldonado said.

Cruising on Central Avenue in Phoenix has been banned for decades, in part due to gang life.

Emmanuel Valdez, president of Revelation Christian Car Club Arizona, knows that all too well.

“I drive with my Bible on the dash 'cuz sometimes they can’t read my (Christian) plaque," Valdez said. "There’s really nothing to be afraid of, you know, we’re a Christian car club. All the car clubs in Arizona, we’re all family-oriented. We have our families in the cars. We’re just here to have a good time and do what we like to do."

Valdez' car club will be a year old in January.

"You know, I took a different route. I got in some major trouble with the law. I see a lot of people in my neighborhood that I grew up with that are actually doing life in prison or aren’t here with us anymore. You know they are not alive you know,” Valdez said.

Valdez was in a gang and served time for armed robbery. He’s seen friends shot and killed. He is 28 and has been clean 8 years now. His dad is a church pastor and helped him recover. So did lowriding.

“Back then there was cruising on 43rd and Thomas and we’d have to come up Thomas. I’m sitting in the car with my parents and my sisters and my brother, and we could see hundreds of lowriders, and I could remember thinking, one day I want to own car like that,” Valdez said.

Valdez' favorite car is a 1952 Chevy Deluxe. Black. In it, he said, he’ll play Al Green.

Lowriders may be known for their rides, but these cruisers said they have other priorities of community, family and prayer.

"They shut my whole block down, shut my whole block down. All my neighbors came out and wondered what was going on. My daughters were so happy. They love cars that are painted. They always try to model by them. Their dad is actually a painter. So to see all these people is just amazing," Ortega said, as the lowrider parade drove by her house. 

Heather van Blokland was a host at KJZZ from 2016 to 2021.