Pathfinder Estella Inda: Fulfilling an Information Need About Lowrider Culture in San José

Pathfinder is a series of blogs about intrepid library staff who are leading interesting programs that you may not yet know about.

Estella Inda has been working for San José Public Library since 2003.  Growing up in Willow Glen, she remembers her mother and family talking about growing up on the East Side of San José.

Mother of two daughters and graduating with a Master of Library and Information Science, Estella's area of interest is "archiving and local San José history."  According to, an archive is "a place where public records or other historical documents are kept."

While working in the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library's California Room, Estella's supervisor, Erin Herzog, assigned a project that would change Estella's life: curating a Lowrider Exhibit called Story and King: San José's Lowrider Culture.

San José's Incomplete History

Many people use the California Room when they are researching their genealogy, property, or local history.

According to Estella, "In 2017, a customer was looking for information about Lowrider Magazine as it was first published in San José.  Unfortunately, the California Room did not have much information on Lowrider Magazine or on lowrider culture," revealing an information gap in the collection.

Why was it an information gap?  Did you know that San José was dubbed the Lowrider Cruising Capital at Story and King Roads in 1977?  An important part of San José's history was missing from the California Room collection.  California Room Archivist Librarian at the time, Erin Herzog, set out to fill the gap by assigning Estella to research lowrider culture and to improve the collection.  Her current supervisor, Shane Curtin, continues to support her ongoing work, which evolved from lowrider culture to the East Side culture.  More on this later!

Little did Estella know, lowrider culture would deepen her appreciation for her East Side roots.

One and a half years of research later, Estella centered her focus around the "well-known intersection of Story and King Roads," where she talked to many community members.  Developing trust with the lowrider community was key to her research.  As the community slowly gained trust in Estella and her work, she began to find people who were willing to share their information about lowrider culture.  After working with Estella on a project for Inclusive Storytime about ten years ago, I know that Estella exudes an aura of competence, empathy, and deep commitment!

Another key player with inside knowledge was the United Lowrider Council of San José.  Estella tells me that they provided immeasurable help to her.  Both Estella and the Council had the mutual goal of informing San José community members about lowrider culture through exhibits and outreach.

Now Estella was prepared for her next steps, which involved documenting what she found.

A Community's Frustrations over a Tragic Death

Estella found that the overarching community of San José has a negative impression of lowrider culture.  She set out to change that impression by documenting the importance of lowrider culture in San José's history.

Estella tells me,

"In the late 1960's through 1970's during the Civil Rights movement, minorities searched for a way of expression. That is why Lowrider Magazine became so popular because it actually spoke to Chicano youths about what was really going on in the world.”

Estella's uncles were some of the many people who chose to express themselves in this way.  By and large, the car culture was ignored by the general populace outside of the East Side area.

According to Estella's research,

"Minorities were pushed to the East Side of San José through the means of restricted covenants causing segregated housing." The City is still trying to rectify these injustices today. Estella continues, "Owner deeds and rental contracts forbade minorities from renting or owning property in certain parts of San José. Property was attainable only on the East Side.”

"A tipping point occurred in 1976, when a youth called Danny Trevino was killed by police.  Community members sought to stop such killings by beginning a Community Alert Patrol, or CAP.  This patrol was meant to ensure that community members on the East Side were kept safe and the police were held accountable for their actions."

Indeed, many members of the East Side community chose to give voice to the many injustices of the time through their art.  Expressing their feelings through their cars was a way to give voice to hidden feelings and frustrations.

Many businesses started from the lowrider culture: Lowrider Magazine, Andy's Hydraulics, Biney Ruiz's Five Star Productions.

The lowrider events of the 1970's seem to be mirroring themselves again today.  According to Estella, "the difference today is technology and cell phones".  She says, "history is being documented."

Estella Finds Her East Side Dreams

According to Estella, the "Story and King: San José's Lowrider Culture Exhibit was the largest exhibit ever" at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library!

Despite a short turnaround time, Estella utilized all of her community connections to develop 3 Panel Events about lowrider culture:

  1. Out of the Past: San Jose's Lowrider History
  2. Lowrider Culture and Society
  3. Low & Slow: The Future of Lowriding in San José

The popularity of this neglected period of San José's history was evident in the standing room only crowd that attended the Panels.

  • Xavier or X-Man, "a radio personality from San Diego attended the exhibit and did a promotional video for the Library."
  • "People from as far away as New Mexico came to see the exhibit."
  • City Council members Raul Peralez and Magdalena Carrasco both spoke "at panel events discussing how important the history is to the community".

Since the East Side was the focus of her research, Estella feels a deep connection to her roots.  Her connection to the East Side community has grown from the lowrider culture to the overall culture of San José's East Side.  Encouraged by Shane, she shares her knowledge through the following projects:

Partnering with San José State University, the East Side Dreams Exhibits: East San José’s Untold Story will run at the Library in 2022.