Española Lowrider Museum Coalition Secretary Don Usner said the lowrider culture in Española is like nowhere else in the world, and the community deserves a space to recognize and honor that.
(SUNfoto by Austin Fisher of Rio Grande Sun)

By Austin Fisher, SUN Staff Writer, Aug 31, 2018, Updated Sep 7, 2018, Rio Grande Sun

The Española Lowrider Coalition and Rio Arriba County are preparing to place the long-planned Lowrider Museum project in the former Cariños de Los Niños Charter School property.

“Right now we have a building that we’re looking at on the west side, near the Plaza (de Española), that we’re hoping will be suitable for our needs,” Coalition Chairman Fred Rael told an audience gathered Aug. 23 at the Northern New Mexico College Center for the Arts. “Once we get that, then we can make something happen. So if we do make that happen, I think our goal at this time is to possibly have an opening, like, by Good Friday 2019, which I think would be really amazing.”

After the meeting, he said using the Cariños building is not a sure thing but it looks promising.
“It’s a building that was recently acquired by Rio Arriba County. It’s something that they’re interested in developing, and having the Lowrider Museum there might be a start to developing that whole property,” he said. “We don’t have anything concrete at this time. We’ve looked at quite a few, and this is the last one we’re looking at.”

After the meeting, Rio Arriba County Advisory Board Member Eric Montoya said his wife, Delubina Montoya, wrote a letter of intent to occupy the building earlier in the day to County Economic Development Director Christopher Madrid. Madrid declined to comment.

Two County commissioners set to be sworn into office in January, James Martinez and Leo Jaramillo, said the museum project has the full support of the County government. “As a lifelong resident of Chima, growing up I saw lowriders, and I knew that was part of culture. That’s part of who we are,” Martinez said. “Rio Arriba County is dedicated to this project. We are committed to seeing this project become a reality. We support this effort 100 percent. I want to see this become a reality soon.”

The County government bought the Cariños building in June over the objections of Española School District officials. Española School Board Attorney Geno Zamora opposed the sale during a June 19 New Mexico Board of Finance meeting on the grounds that it should have instead become the property of either the District or the state Public Education Department and serve some kind of educational purpose. “We oppose that transfer from the public education inventory,” Zamora told the Board at the time.

A “small grant” from the County also helped pay for the Coalition’s website and work put into their Facebook page, Rael said. In December, the nine-member Coalition received notice that the New Mexico Tourism Department’s Rural Pathway Project is committed to reimburse them up to $50,000, once they begin spending money on the project. The Coalition cannot grant money from the Department until they find a location and a lease, Department Development Coordinator Suzy Lawrence told the crowd at the College.

“There is funding available. That funding cannot be allocated, however, a contract cannot be executed, until we have an actual location,” she said. “That funding is still sitting with Tourism (Department), and as soon as we can get a location, we can update the scope of work and get that work schedule on track for erecting the museum; we will move forward.”

The Coalition also received $50,000 in matching funds from Siete del Norte, a subsidiary of Phoenix-based Chicanos Por La Causa, Inc., a nonprofit community development corporation. Madrid previously said the museum would be located at the Hunter Ford site in the summer of 2018; however, Rael said on Aug. 23 it would cost less to construct a new building than to renovate the existing one. “If you really go and look at that building, it needs a lot of work, more work than we would be able to do,” Rael said.

The Coalition is still working on becoming an actual nonprofit entity, he said. “We’ve been working pretty steadily, lots of meetings, lots of time put in to try and figure out how to make this happen in Española,” Coalition Secretary Don Usner said. “We’ve made some progress, and we’re still kind of looking for that place to land.”

A first exhibit is not planned yet, he said, but Coalition members want to focus on history and honoring some of the original people who built the first lowriders and organized the first clubs in the area. They also want interactive exhibits, including possibly a demonstration of how hydraulics work.

“The idea was to have it in Española, and the kind of thing we want to have there is a place that really honors the history of low riding in this region. We really wanted to focus on Northern New Mexico,” he said. “It’s been a long time, as you all know, a deep tradition in the Valley. There’s been several generations now have participated. And it’s been something that has been done really well here. It’s not done quite the same anywhere else. There’s a lot of places with lowrider culture; (Los Angeles) thinks it’s the lowrider capital of the world, but we know better here, partly because it has such roots in the place and in the people.”

At the College, Coalition members distributed forms for people to make suggestions about exhibits and other ideas related to the museum, and the Coalition is still seeking feedback from the public at their website at espanolalowridermuseum.com and Española Lowrider Museum on Facebook.