PHOTOS: How Southwest Detroit's Blessing of the Lowriders continues to evolve, and why it matters

The annual Blessing of the Lowriders was originally founded in the late '90s as a way to de-stigmatize lowrider culture in Southwest Detroit, and kicks off the weekend before the city's Cinco de Mayo Parade.

But, while the history of the celebration informs the festivities, the director of Inside Southwest Detroit,  Erik Paul Howard, says the event continues to be a very present one. It remains a powerful space for fostering "unlikely relationships" across different sectors of the community.

Photographer Rosa María Zamarrón was at Garage Cultural this weekend to capture the proud atmosphere at the gathering. 

Erik Paul Howard attends the festival with his son.

In 1997, Victor Villalobos was inspired after meeting a group of teens from the Royalty Car & Bicycle Club. He shared their concern that the community viewed them as a gang and not as a group of enthusiasts passionate about bikes and cars. Villalobos, a youth minister at the time, and still very involved in the festivities brought the club to a Catholic mass to receive a blessing, allowing other community members to meet them. A neighborhood tradition was born. 

"It's really evolved and grown into an integration of culture, faith, and community," says Howard, who is a member of Detroit's chapter of the Uso Car Club. "Any one of those can feel inaccessible to the other ⁠— the blessing is an opportunity for the community to connect with the faithful to connect with a car culture."

"It recognizes what we have in common, but uplifts and celebrates our differences." 

Today, the event is full of music, food, dancing, and features cars and bikes that will be blessed before the season begins.

"It feels especially important right now," says Howard "For people who normally wouldn't get to know each other get a chance to know each other. If we just focus on history alone we miss that magic."

"We love our history and tradition ⁠— that's noble, but we are trying to get better at the present, that's when access will happen. We are still learning how to be together."

Lowrider clubs come together to support the blessing, in a demonstration of mutual respect and admiration. Inside Southwest Detroit organizes the event in partnership with Motor City Street Dance Academy, Grace In Action, Garage Cultural, and Motor City Street Dance Academy as well as the Detroit chapters of the Dedication, GoodTimes, Majestics, and Uso Car Clubs.

In a neighborhood that has been struggling to have a voice in its own story, against what Howard describes as a "very stubborn" narrative, this year's Blessing of the Lowriders reflects the ever-evolving tale of Southwest Detroit.

"One thing that's always been the same is that it always changes." 
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Read more articles by Rosa María Zamarrón.