Local car clubs are rallying to support formerly incarcerated students seeking higher education.
Lowriders, motorcycles and classic cars cruised to parking lot 7 at Santa Ana College to support Project Rise at the second annual Cruising for Higher Education fundraiser on Saturday, April 22, 2023.
Project Rise is a student-run club at the college that launched in 2021 with the mission of assisting formerly incarcerated and criminal justice system-impacted students navigate their college education, and the challenges associated with it.
Three car clubs attended the event, including the Orange County Car Club, Santana Car Club, and non-profit charity club Brown Descents Car Club Association.
Amidst the rumbling engines, advocacy organizations such as Project Rebound, The Life Center, Neutral Ground, Project Kinship, Back 2 Work, The County Project, and many others gathered under the blazing sun alongside Project Rise in the name of knocking down barriers.
“The cars bring the conversation forward. Cruising unites people,” said Victor Longoria, 56, a member of the Orange County Car Club.
Longoria noted that the Santa Ana cruising culture is deeply intertwined with that of criminal justice as a whole, as many are system-impacted.
“I got tattoos and a bald head, and I have ‘the look,’ but I don’t have a record and I have never been arrested,” Longoria said, “But if you ask [police officers], they would assume that I am a criminal, without knowing, because of stereotypes.”
Despite cruising being a significant practice in Santa Ana, the ground-hugging cruisers have not always been met with enthusiasm, especially at city hall.
In 1989, Santa Ana city council members enacted an anti-cruising ordinance into law that effectively changed cruising culture for years to come and remains in place today.
The city’s 1989 Anti-Cruising Ordinance allows Santa Ana police officers to cite cruisers that drive past certain “traffic control points” three or more times within a four-hour period.
Councilmember Jonathan Ryan Hernandez was present at Cruising for Higher Education, speaking outwardly in support of ending the anti-cruising ordinance in the city.
“My family has been here since the 1950s, and my grandfather collected classic cars, which were passed down to family members,” said Councilmember Hernandez, “They are part of the thread and make up of Santa Ana.”
Cruising is the thread that holds together both cultural and familial histories for many, but it is not without boldness that people continue to participate in its practices.
“These cars are like a form of protest in a lot of ways,” said Councilmember Hernandez.
Residents, even those that do not participate in cruising, acknowledge the importance of its ongoing presence in Santa Ana.
“I was born and raised in Santa Ana,” said John Lozo, 32, an event attendee. “This event represents our changing community and our struggles. This is Santa Ana. Cruising is Santa Ana”
Events like Cruising for Higher Education organized by Project Rise bring conversations about system-impacted communities forward.
“When we combine these conversations with Higher Education, and normalize it, you are going to find justice-impacted people and people who feel uncomfortable with the way police have conducted themselves in our community. These conversations belong on campuses,” Councilmember Hernandez said.
“If we stay quiet, nobody will listen,” Longoria said. “In order to get the message across, we need to do things like this.”