Cultural Appropriation vs. Appreciation: Thompson-Hernández on the Lowrider Culture in Japan

The article “How My Southeast L.A. Culture Got to Japan” was written to accompany Walter Thompson-Hernández’s short film on L.A. Chicano/Chicana lowrider culture’s presence in Japan.

The short film he made by Emily Rhyne, Walter Thompson-Hernández, and Alexandra Eaton for the New York Times highlighted how the lowrider community “came to represent rebellion, resilience, and youth” and how that feeling is not unique to L.A.

The L.A. Chicano/Chicana lowrider culture also involves its own music, art, fashion, and philosophies, but most famously, its uniquely-designed cars that can bounce well into the air.

Thompson-Hernández first heard rumors of the culture entering Japan. After doing some research, he found that the culture blossomed in the 1990s, which is 50 years after L.A., and he questioned if this was what cultural appropriation looks like.

But the short film shows that the Japanese people who are embracing the looks are also embracing the culture: the philosophies and ideologies of the lowrider community.

Thompson-Hernández also found out that they routinely communicate with Los Angelos lowrider communities in what he calls a “cultural exchange.” Where many shop owners import items from L.A. to sell in Japan, rather than solely creating Japanese versions of the lowrider cars, music, and so on.

Within the film, Junichi Shimodaira, “one of the godfathers of the lowrider scene,” is interviewed by Thompson-Hernández. Junichi has been in the cultural scene for over 30 years and is the founder of Japan’s “Pharaohs Car Club.”

Now it is not just cars, but it’s the music, the clothing, and most importantly, to like the people and the culture over there.”

Junichi Shimodaira, Owner of Paradise Road

The article and short film together explain that the lowrider culture is one of family, of caring for others, of having a happy and healthy community, of protecting one another – as a community of rebels to an older generation.

Thompson-Hernández wanted to show what cultural appropriation versus cultural appreciation and embracing looks like, the difference of using a specific culture to look cool versus learning about a culture to then adopt its philosophies.

I have wondered that if one is not using the culture for their own gain (to look cool), then to adopt new cultures is how one cultivates one’s self, in this case, one’s community. To broaden one’s horizon to new worlds is how we become more worldly.

What is and is not appropriate when wanting to embrace a culture that is not one’s own is something that has been controversial over the past few years. Not as a “what’s mine is mine” but more as a “you’re not doing it right” kind of view.

The fact that this subculture in Japan is in back-and-forth contact with the subculture in L.A. shows that they do truly understand the lowrider culture – the importance of a community. And it is this ideology that makes appreciating, and thusly embracing, the lowrider culture that much easier.