In Brazil, streets of dancing cars and swagger

SÃO PAULO, Brazil — José Américo Crippa’s 1974 Chevrolet Monte Carlo boasts just about every feature that a lowrider should have, including dazzling chrome wheels, a sliding ragtop roof, a candy-apple red paint job and hydraulic pumps that enable the vehicle to bounce several feet in the air at the press of a button.

“I’m pimping it,” said Mr. Crippa, 41.

With a knowing smile, Mr. Crippa, a businessman who owns a carwash and a hamburger restaurant, jokingly acknowledged that his pimping extended only to the restoration and customization of vintage automobiles. He peppers his Portuguese with his own interpretation of the street slang of the Mexican-American subculture rooted in East Los Angeles.

And he tries to look the part, too, down to barrio-chic details like his footwear, a pair of Nike Cortez track shoes, and the 8-ball tattoo on his forearm.

The spread of this seemingly distant subculture, with Brazilian followers calling themselves “cholos” and cruising around in their low-and-slow automobiles, is raising eyebrows here in South America’s largest city. Some who cannot afford to buy vintage cars and customize them into lowriders simply roam São Paulo’s labyrinthine streets at the helm of bicycles accessorized with high-rise handlebars and banana seats.

Even when they just strut around in oversize khaki shorts and white muscle shirts, they speak to something larger: the global fluidity of conceptions of ethnicity, identity and style, propelling a street culture once so closely tied to the borderlands of the United States and Mexico well beyond its birthplace.

Read the entire story in The New York Times.

By Simon Romero

Jill Langlois contributed reporting from São Paulo, and Liam Stack from New York.

Originally published in The New York Times on March 30/31, 2013.

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