In today’s society, we’re always demanding bigger, faster and better, and lowriding is no exception to the rule. It’s continuously reinventing itself, from the customized bodies and suspensions to the high-tech powertrains and hydraulic systems. In addition, as new car clubs continue to be formed, some of the established clubs are increasing their membership in the hundreds as they successfully launch numerous chapters worldwide.
Whether small or large, all of these clubs continue the tradition of brotherhood, unity and pride. Even yesterday’s cultural movement is no exception, as it has transformed into today’s mainstream popularity as an automotive entity. But what got us here? Who inspired today’s automotive artists and leaders? Was it a jefe, a brother, a club leader or maybe even a car customizer?
The Lowrider Hall of Fame’s main objective is to reintroduce and, more importantly, educate today’s enthusiast of its lowrider history and culture. That is, long before the magazine, before the commercialization as an automotive sport, and before the media’s continuous misconception, many were lowriding for club pride, for bragging rights in the streets, for the passion to create automotive art, and of course, for the fine ruca sitting next to you on any given weekend. Others utilized lowriding as a positive tool in political and racial issues of decades past.
Fortunately, there are numerous individuals who fit these descriptions then and now. However, it is crucial to acknowledge those of outstanding merit for their lifetime contributions to the Lowrider Movement. With that, the LHoF will continue to strive to bring these humble individuals into the limelight and recognize their leadership, their innovations, and their influence, not just to the movement and sport, but to its time-honored history.
The LHoF Nomination Committee, consisting of Lowrider Events judges and past honorees, will submit all nominations to the LHoF Executive Committee. These nominees, with a required minimum of 20 years involved in the lowrider culture and/or sport, are reviewed and final inductees are confirmed by the Executive Committee. The category honors are as follows:
Memorial HonorRecognition of a deceased individual, who has demonstrated an outstanding contribution to the lifestyle and/or automotive sport of lowriding; in regards to leadership, craftsmanship, or lifetime contribution. Does not require 20-year minimum history.
Leadership HonorA founder/leader, who has directly affected the course, actions, contributions and positive influence of a recognized and organized group and/or car club.
Craftsmanship HonorDesigner, builder, artist in creating original and outstanding vehicles. Also, exhibiting these vehicles for a consistent period of time.
Lifetime Contributor HonorA community leader and/or activist with a lifelong dedication of time, resources and heart in contributing, influencing and/or investing directly back into the lowrider community. This category may include individuals who promote lowrider events that simultaneously educate and entertain such community.
Note: The LHOF Executive Committee may reserve honorable mention nominations for reconsideration for one (1) year, of which for 2009, will include Terry Anderson, Noah Hipolito, Alberto Lopez, Mike Lopez, Walt Prey, Michael Tovar and Richard Ochoa, Sr.
In its senior year, the LHoF continues to celebrate and honor its alumni of extraordinary jefes, brothers, leaders and innovators. The Executive Committee proudly recognizes the 2008 Lowrider Hall of Fame inductees: Gary May, Memorial Honor; Kita Lealao, Leadership Honor; Ruben “Buggs” Ochoa, Craftsmanship Honor; and Fernando Ruelas, Lifetime Contributor Honor. On September 20, Lowrider Magazine will present the Fourth Annual Lowrider Hall of Fame ceremony at the Long Beach Hilton in Long Beach, California. Plan to be a part of a historical and emotional night, as the lowrider community honors its own. Paz
Leadership Honor A founder/leader, who has directly affected the course, actions, contributions and positive influence of a recognized and organized group and/or car club.
Kita LealaoA True Lowriding “Brother” Who Became The Leader Of A Nationwide Car Club.When you hear mention of Uce Car Club, you immediately think of some of the people who have helped establish this club as one of the largest and most prestigious in lowriding history. Several Uce (formerly Uso) C.C. members have been Lowrider of the Year champions with many more being contenders. The list of Uce champions includes “Orgullo Mexicano,” a ’79 Chevy Monte Carlo owned by the Vega brothers, “Chino” and “Lolo.” Roy Atterberry has also contributed with his 2004 Bomb Truck of the Year, “Violet Rose II,” a ’55 GMC. Then there’s Faustino Flores’ current 2007 Traditional of the Year, “3 Karats,” a ’58 Chevy Impala convertible from Texas, nor can we forget the first Kentucky car to be featured on our cover, “Voodoo Lounge,” a ’68 Cadillac Coupe DeVille owned by Sean and Lisa Rosser.
Let us give you a little insight into Uce’s history, which was originally founded as Uso Car Club in 1992. The definition of the word “Uso,” which means “blood brother” in the Samoan language, is a testament to the club’s underlying principle. In fact, the club’s solid communal values and interpersonal relationships reflect more of a family unit than a social car club.
The founding chapter started in the Harbor Area of Los Angeles, California. Although Uso was a word borrowed from the Samoan language, a mixture of races and ethnicities made up the initial membership base. From the very beginning, the requirements for inclusion relied more on the person than the lowrider. Of course, the rides had to be clean as well, but the founders understood the importance of human relations. Uce has prided itself on representing a wide variety of people’s cultures and backgrounds, which will be the case as long as the club exists. The key to longevity has been and always will be placing emphasis on a strong kinship between the members, regardless of skin color. Given that formula, Uce C.C. is one of the largest lowriding car clubs in the world.
If you’ve ever met Kita Siliva Lealao Jr., you will find out quickly that he’s a very humble individual who’s content with his simple lifestyle and supportive family. Kita has lived a lot of lowrider history, beginning with his first club, Low Creations, to creating Uso, one of the nation’s biggest car clubs of any kind. Kita was born July 31, 1958 in Santa Clara, California, and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. His parents, Kita and Talimalo Lealao, are first generation Samoan, straight from the “rock” as they call the island of American Samoa. We caught up with Kita at his home in Sacramento, California, and were able to ask him a few questions so that we could fill in our readers on his past.
“My first experience with lowriding was going down to Compton, California, in the late ’60s to visit my cousin for summer vacation,” Kita begins. “I remember my uncle being really strict and he didn’t want us getting in trouble, but my cousins and I still snuck out of the house to the corner liquor store to see them cruise down Compton Boulevard. I’ve been hooked on it ever since. I remember those cars cruising and sporting those candy paint jobs, cars with hydraulics. Then we went home and it was going on big in San Jose, Frisco, and then the people traded in their Levi’s for khakis and Pendletons, and they started to roll their low-lows in the early to mid ’70s.”
“My first club was Low Creations of San Francisco,” Kita continues. “That’s where I picked up a lot of people skills, hanging around a lot of major O.G. figures in the Northern California lowrider scene. During my Low Creations days, I had my ’67 Cadillac that I used to roll in. Growing up in a mixed neighborhood was a big plus for me. That’s how we structured our Uce family years later. I had just graduated in 1976 from San Mateo High School and then in 1977 I signed up at Los Angeles Harbor Junior College. I liked the atmosphere so much that in 1980 I moved to Carson and made it my home until 1997 before moving back to the Bay Area.”
Why didn’t Kita just join an established club? “Well, we were going to ride with Harbor Area Duke’s and then we were thinking Damu Rydahs,” he explains. “Then Daniel Hunkin and I were having dinner at my house and we came up with the idea to start Uso. We thought that would be the perfect name for our family. We then went back to the Duke’s and Damu, and out of respect we let them know that we were going to do our own thing. In August 1992, Uso/Uce Car Club was formed in Carson at Scott Park. When we first started, there were 10 of us. We were just a bunch of clean street riders hitting all of the high school and picnic events. Some of the people didn’t understand. They thought that it was an all-Samoan club, but as the years went by, we gained respect through our no color line concept.”
“Then, in 1994, Jae Brattain came aboard as a member. He soon became the club CEO. That’s when our family went with a new system. After Daniel stepped out for personal reasons, Jae and I restructured the organization for the betterment of the club. We’ve made a lot of historic milestones since we first started expanding chapters throughout the U.S. Jae had to take a break to catch up on some of his family commitments and we now have Robert Ciscero as our new CEO for the family. We went from street riders to kings of hopping and dancing, Lowriders of the Year and Club of the Year twice, so it’s been one of the greatest rides ever. I’ve been able to meet good people across the country from coast to coast, and it’s all been because of this organization. One of them good rides in my life was provided by the Mayor of Orange Cove, California, who gave me the key to the city. I didn’t ever expect that.”
Kita had this to say about the stress that the club has placed on his personal life, “I’m married to a very understanding wife, Makerita. She never knew what lowriding was until she met me 35 years ago. She has stuck by my side strong. My two daughters Faa’lagolago and Tiuteolemalo, and two sons Samuelu and Sunako, have been supportive of me also. I missed a lot of their school and sporting events to run the Uso/Uce family all of these years. I’ve been lucky. I have a second chance since I now have nine adorable grandchildren and I try to spend as much time as I can with them. After retiring as a ramp service man for Trans World Airlines/American Airlines for 30 years, I spend most of my time with the grandkids’ school and social functions, as well as running the Uce family fulltime.”
Since its foundation, Kita has been the anchor for the club, controlling at one time 42 chapters. Without question, his charismatic leadership has led to the continued strength of Uce. Kita commands respect through his magnetic personality. The love and respect that he has for lowriding emanates through his words and actions. Many members look up to this esteemed leader as a role model in lowriding. Undoubtedly, Kita is the personification, as well as the principle representative of the organization.
Uce Car Club could not be where it is today without the guidance and charisma of Kita, who is always striving to make the club better. From opening up a new chapter to planning the next big meeting, this guy is sure to keep influencing the club’s success for years to come. Even though he does not want to take credit for what he has done, he has influenced and helped shape the Lowrider Movement worldwide and that’s why we’re happy that he’s being inducted into the Lowrider Hall of Fame.
When we interviewed Kita for an article that appeared in the April ’98 issue of LRM, he stressed that one of the biggest goals set for the club was to someday be the standard for all other clubs to follow in the future. Now 10 years later, that goal has largely been achieved, though Kita remains characteristically humble. “I couldn’t have done it without all of the great people, big and small, who took the time to stop and holla game at me.”