Francisco Javier Gomez, aka “Mexico,” was born in a small town on the outskirts of Mexico City. When he was just months old, his family moved to another town named Puebla to start their own auto body shop business. With the business in full swing, Javier spent a lot of time at the shop with his family, so much so that his parents decided to teach him to do the work they were doing. At a very young age, he started to work on the customer’s cars in the shop under his parents’ careful direction. Javier remembers that he was already working on the cars in the shop as young as five years old! After being in business in Puebla for nine years, Javier and his family relocated to Lynwood, California when Javier was 10 years old to seek a better life.
Javier’s parents found work in the auto body industry right away after arriving from Mexico. While his parents worked, Javier attended school, but had already discovered an interest outside of the classroom. As soon as school let out, young Javier would rush straight to the shop his parents were working at to assist them and gain valuable experience at the same time. Javier learned all the body basics like body work, welding, and shaping metal with a dolly and hammer from his father. His mother taught him everything about the painting process. Javier’s mother taught him how to prep and spray the different types of basecoats and clear. Yes, you read that last sentence correctly; Javier’s mother taught him how to paint!
When Javier was 11 years old, he met a kid in school who owned a Lowrider bicycle. Since he knew auto body and paint techniques from his parents, he offered to customize and paint the kid’s bicycle. Later, Javier bought his own frame and did all the metal fabrication and painted the bicycle four times, using a different color each time. At the time he had never seen a lowrider, so the lowrider bicycle was not only new, but it was also exciting to Javier.
In 1989, he was at South Gate Park with his father and right at sundown , Javier and his father looked towards the other end of the park because there was a huge commotion. Javier and his father walked over to the parking lot to see what all the fuss was about. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing, it was like something from another planet. Nothing like this existed or had ever been thought of back in Mexico. He had been around cars all his life, but had never seen anything like what he witnessed that fateful day. He saw cars so low that their rocker panels rested on the pavement, chrome that glared so brightly, it blinded the eyes, and paint so vivid it seemed to dance in the sunlight. When he asked what the cars were called, someone told him those were “lowriders”, and that they had come to the park for the annual Azalea Show. The owners of the cars were enjoying all of the attention they were getting , and were full of pride. Javier knew at that moment that he wanted to own a Lowrider someday.
The following year Javier was up at 6am and ready to head to the park again for the Annual Azalea Show. Javier and his dad went to the park, and when they got there, the feelings he experienced a year ago re-appeared. He was in Lowrider heaven; he went through the whole show and pointed out his favorite rides to his dad. At one point during the show he accidentally touched one of the show cars. The owner of the car came up to Javier and told him not to touch his car and to get away from it. The negative encounter with the car owner would stick in Javier’s memory for many years and motivate him to build his own show car.
Due to his family’s financial situation and Javier’s realization that he could do more for his family if he worked full time, he dropped out of high school in the ninth grade. In 1989, Javier’s father rented a garage to do work on his own. A shop named Henry’s Customs was also renting space in the same complex. Henry was doing custom paint out of his shop and it was very appealing to Javier. At the end of the day, Javier would sneak in and look at what Henry had worked on after Henry went home. Javier would then go home and get 1/8 inch tape and copy the designs and patterns all over the family’s home. No surface was safe from Javier and his tape, the kitchen table and the refrigerator were regular surfaces he used to practice. Eventually, Javier approached Henry and offered to help him mask and sand the cars he was working on. Henry preferred to work alone but did allow Javier to observe his techniques and workflow.
After seeing the enthusiasm Javier had for custom paint, his father gave him a 1985 Nissan truck that was in need of repairs. The front end was damaged, and it took about five months for Javier to gather all the parts he needed to put it back together. He molded the frame, door handles, frenched the antennas, and created a multicolor and patterned paint scheme. After work, he would do something new to the truck. When it came time to show the truck for the first time, Javier still needed to buy wheels and tires. As hard as he tried, he could not come up with the money, so the truck did not make the show.
Eventually, Javier was able to buy wheels and tires for the Nissan. It hit the local car shows in 1989, a time when the mini truck craze was dominating the Lowrider culture. One time when he was out cruising in his truck, members from Dreams Unlimited Truck Club approached him, praising his work. They asked him if he wanted to join their club, which he did. It was only a matter of time before Javier and the club were cruising the hot spots in Hollywood. Not only did he gain new friends by joining the club he also gained new customers since he was now painting most of the club members’ trucks.
Even though Javier still carries a heavy workload, he has found the time to build a few cars over the years since he began his career with the Nissan truck. One of his cars, a Cadillac Brougham named “Los Angeles Nightmare,” has been featured in Lowrider Magazine. He is a member of Los Angeles Car Club, and, after taking a short break from the car show scene, he recently completed a 1958 Chevy Impala for the show circuit with two other 58’s that will be completed when time allows.
In 1992, the family decided to go back into business for themselves again. The new business would be called Mexico Collision Center (MCC). The family found a location and went right to work. Javier was getting a lot of work painting lowriders, and many customers were being referred to him through word of mouth. A lot of his clients came from different backgrounds, and were non Spanish speaking. He had trouble communicating with these clients because he didn’t speak English that well at the time. The communication problems often frustrated those customers, so they would mock him and often times refer to him as the “little Mexican”. As someone who always sees the positive in any situation, Javier let his work speak for itself and the more cars he painted, the more his reputation grew, and his clients began calling him “Mexico,” in a much more respectful tone. Over time, the nickname stuck and Javier’s English improved. Javier overcame the language barrier and gained a large following as well as a nickname that not only is painted on the front of the shop building, it also appears on the bodies of many of today’s top lowriders.
After moving the shop a few times over the years, the shop now resides in South Gate, California. The shop focuses on a variety of work; they work on lowriders, do complete car restorations, frame off builds, custom fiberglass interiors and trunks, body modifications, hydraulics, motorcycles and of course they also build lowrider bikes. With the new generation of DUB style cars, they do plenty of work on SUVs and Chrysler 300Cs. The shop is known for their candy paint jobs, and excellent body prep that is done by Javier’s mother. Javier’s work on customers’ cars has received awards and recognition on the show circuit and also has garnished quite a bit of media coverage. His client base includes celebrities, corporate customers, and traditional Lowrider enthusiasts. The shop maintains a rigorous schedule and is able to complete about 200 jobs a year.
The shop is still a family affair, and every employee of MCC is a member of the family. Javier’s father Don Beto, his mother Dona Juana, his sister Eliza, Javier’s wife Socorro, Javier’s brother Junior, his brother in law Peter, his children Chris and Frankie, his niece Lupita, El Maestro, and little Ramon are all currently employed at MCC. The work ethic and values that Don Beto and Dona Juana have instilled in Javier have been passed along to the whole family. Javier and his family emphasize that there is power in unity, and that working together not only keeps the family close, it helps to make the business successful.
One thing that Javier stressed is that his success is not his alone, his entire family is successful, and they deserve just as much credit for the recognition he gets as MCC is a family business, and not just his alone. It is very apparent that Javier’s passion for lowriders plays a huge role in his family’s lives, they support Javier one hundred percent, and the family thrives on his love for cars and the dedication he shows through his work. Whether its setting up for a show, or last minute projects, they always back him up. Javier is already getting the next generation ready to take over, his goal is make sure MCC is thriving and that it leaves a steady foundation for his children. When I asked Javier how long he planned on painting and lowriding, he responded “Ask me when I’m fifty. As it looks right now, I still have a lot of gas in my tank.”