Chicanas form first car club of its kind in the Valley

Members of the Chicana Car Club, Christina Berumen, left, Angie Berumen, and Elisa Trevino, right, in Modesto, Calif., on Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021.

Members of the Chicana Car Club, Christina Berumen, left, Angie Berumen, and Elisa Trevino, right, in Modesto, Calif., on Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021.

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Ladies, hop in your classic cars and start your engines.

A new car club has formed in Modesto, only this time, it’s Chicanas behind the wheel and they’re here to say women like cars, too.

The Chicana Car Club formed in Modesto in June and has three members so far. It’s the first Chicana car club in the Central Valley, originally started in Merced, and has two other chapters in Tulare and the East Bay.

Formerly a member of the Impalas Car Club of Modesto, Chicana Car Club founder Elisa Trevino said she decided to form the group after she divorced and missed cruising. Women from all backgrounds and all car types, but not newer than 1993, can join for free as long as their vehicles are running and in good condition.

Behind Trevino’s red lipstick was once a young girl who fell in love with cars while helping her dad with mechanical work.

“I was the one always in the garage with my dad,” said the youngest of five children. “I had my little hands in there… that’s what made me like cars.”

But when Trevino, 42, is driving her 1965 ice-blue Chevy Impala, she’s often asked if her husband let her borrow his car for a drive.

“It’s always something about the husband (or) the boyfriend, and I don’t mean no disrespect but… women are equal with men now,” she said.

Back in the day, it was common for a woman to drive her man’s car, Trevino said. However, car club member Angie Berumen, 44, said it’s no longer a man’s world. Women own classic and low-rider cars, too.

“You feel like you’re doing something right,” Berumen said, when she’s behind the wheel of her 1969 meadow-green Chevy Impala, where a sarape, or a long, colorful, authentic shawl rests on her car dashboard, reflecting Mexican pride. She added that as a single mom, she’s found the group to be empowering, a place where she’s not intimidated and can let her hair down.

“You’re doing it for the women,” she said. “So that everybody knows that we can stand up and we can show ourselves.”

Her sister, Christina Berumen, who is also a Chicana Car Club member, said she’s been collecting classic cars for years, yet never took them out for a ride. But when she saw Trevino, another woman who was into classic cars like her, she was inspired to get her 1977 Oldsmobile Cutlass up and running .

“I’m gonna pull my car out and follow her routes,” she remembered thinking.

Though Trevino lives in Merced, she oversees the Modesto chapter and decided to form a group here because of its history of cruising. McHenry Avenue was the place to be on Friday nights, she said, but in 1990, Modesto banned cruising, arguing that there was excessive violence, vandalism and drugs.

“There was one time I didn’t have a baby sitter,” said the onetime teen mom, but “you can’t miss cruising on McHenry!” So she brought her baby along.

Police relationship improving?

Now that Trevino is older, she said she doesn’t get pulled over by police like she used to but feels officers still have a misconception of people who drive classic cars like hers or low riders.

“They think a lot of us are gang bangers and drug dealers, and believe it or not, you have to have a pretty decent job, or you know, a husband or somebody to help,” she said, explaining that not just anyone can fix up a classic or low rider because it requires patience and a continuous investment.

Alejandro Bravo, a member of the Impalas Car Club of Modesto, said he does think police and city leaders are starting to see members of the Chicano car club community for who they really are: people with culture and family who give back to their community.

“I think really the stereotype has gone away. … The police know … we do stuff in the community,” he said.

To Bravo, Chicano car club culture means family. It’s a tradition his father shared with him as a young boy and he now shares with his grandchildren.

He added that he and other car club members are working on legalizing cruising in Modesto again and have received an invitation from Mayor Sue Zwahlen, Police Chief Brandon Gillespie and a couple of City Council members to meet to discuss it.

“(Gillespie) was really open to listening to what we had to say … and the mayor was open,” Bravo said, adding that it gives him hope that one day cruising will be legal in Modesto once more.

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Andrea is the equity/underserved communities reporter for The Modesto Bee’s Economic Mobility Lab. She is a Fresno native and a graduate of San Jose State University.

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