Lalo Alcaraz, acclaimed cartoonist of La Cucaracha, the first nationally syndicated Latino daily comic strip, sat down with VOXXI during his trip to the Editorial Cartoonist Convention in Washington D.C. Lalo Alcaraz was also a leading figure in the Chicano movement. With support of his peers, Lalo Alcaraz relaunched Pocho.com—a website that “satirizes Latino issues and pokes fun at biculturalism.” The Columbia Journalism Review recently hailed Lalo Alcaraz’ efforts with Pocho as being one of the first models for Latino news websites in English.
Q&A with Lalo Alcaraz
Q: Why did you get started as a political cartoonist?
A: It runs in my family. Not political cartooning, but artistic ability. I pretty much knew since I was little that I was going to be an artist. I guess, but growing up as an angry Chicano even as a kid, I ended up working with Chicano artists who taught me about making art political. Somehow that translated to when I was in college to editorial cartooning for the college paper at about the same time that I had answered an ad for Hispanic Link. Both opportunities gave me an ability to be prolific—to crank out cartoons on a regular basis. That’s a really important facet of being an editorial cartoonist. It’s really important to never ever get sick of drawing—to be a “glutten” for punishment.
Q: You do a lot of satire with political issues. Tell me about some of the themes you use throughout your cartoons and why you use those specific subjects?
A: My parents are immigrants from Mexico. I saw when I was growing up how badly they were treated by people, by employers, by the public. I grew up angry about that. Growing up on the border, it became important for me to always try to stand up for immigrants. The backlash against immigrants has only grown and it coincided with my opportunities to draw editorial cartoons. In the early 90s, the backlash really hit hard and so that’s when I really blossomed as a political artist, being more of an advocate: Artist-activist.
Q: There was a feud with conservative cartoonists at a panel during the Editorial Cartoonist Convention held Sept. 13 to 15. Can you explain?
A: You know they make everything versus or adversarial when we get together at the editorial cartoonist convention. So, they pitted the two conservative cartoonists and myself and Ted Rall, syndicated editorial cartoonist and columnist. We were supposed to be talking about the presidential campaign. One cartoonist, the Republican guy, we get along great. He actually sounded very sane about not liking Romney. There’s an issue when I do a lot of Arizona themes, especially in 2011 about SB1070 and Jan Brewer. So, I mentioned that a thing happened on Facebook when I posted an image of Jan Brewer and it says “Racism is ugly.”
So, that was the topic that annoyed this right wing cartoonist. He said, “You know just because you’re not for open borders and you want to control your borders that does not make you a racist.” Afterwards, I said I’m for immigrant rights because my parents are immigrants and immigrants are human beings despite whatever the laws are, which are transitory. They always say, “What part of illegal don’t you understand?” It’s used as a wedge issue and we all know it, but they pretend they’re being righteous about their country. That was the only time we butted heads. I was outnumbered the other leftist cartoonist didn’t show up.
Q: How do you see both campaigns reaching out to Latino voters in terms of strategy?
A: Overall, I think the Obama campaign seems to still have a problem with messaging. They’re learning. They were pretty good the first time around. It’s coming together. I support Obama, but he has a problem with the deportation issue. That’s not the issue that would stop me from voting for Obama. I’m a thousand percent supporter of the Dreamers – but maybe it’s just their political angle or strategy to criticize Obama. I just think every time that they do that it doesn’t help because we need everybody to vote. Strategy wise they did a good thing, which is deferred action.
The reason that everyone was excited that Bill Clinton spoke at the Democratic National Convention and nailed every point of defusing every Republican argument against Obama is because somebody was waiting for someone to step up and do it. It was sad that Bill Clinton had to come and do it because nobody from the Obama Campaign was capable of doing it apparently. “No, you’re lying ABCDE.” It’s easy to knock down lies.
Q: Who do you like to poke more fun at or draw?
A: Most everybody said Mitt Romney despite what damage he would cause. For me, I would like to see Mexican Mitt who is a friend of mine have another four years of life. Although, I would not be heart broken if he doesn’t. As far as drawing, Mitt Romney is easier for me to spoof because obviously I’m opposed to everything he says and he’s a robot. He’s a human simulation. He’s not real.
Obama is tough. Although, he’s kind of a wonk and a nerd and that’s kind of funny, but it’s not that funny. Mitt Romney is from another dimension.
Q: What about the GOP campaign and how it’s reaching out to Latinos?
A: He (Romney) is reaching out horribly through his son Craig. He looks like Bobby Brady. We see those ads (Romney’s campaign) a dozen times. On pocho.com, when they pop out a new Latino ad, we’ll take it. If it’s in Spanish, we’ll do funny English subtitles and spoof it. They’re so easy to spoof because it’s the same thing. We see three Hispanic politicians saying, “Oh Mitt Romney loves us. He’s one of us. He loves our values and he’s for business.” It’s like the same thing I’ve seen for 25 years.
Republican Latinos are always saying, “Latinos are naturally conservative, so they should be Republican.” But that’s their whole argument. That’s it. They don’t have anything beyond that and I go – And?
Q: How do you deal with controversy?
A: I think over the years I’ve learned to self-censor—kind of. I don’t have a topic limit on editorial cartoons. It’s whatever is in the news I’ll do a cartoon on it. In the comic strip that’s different. It’s in the 50s. You can’t do every topic. I do an editorial cartoon about priests or Jerry Sandusky, but not in a daily comic strip. One time I did a cartoon about George Bush’s response to a shooting on a reservation, which came after Columbine. Columbine shooting response huge—reservation response nothing. Bush said some lame thing. That strip was flagged by the paper and they told everybody “get ready there is going to be a strip about the shooting.” This is in Minnesota. They told people you’re going to be offended. Don’t look at La Cucaracha that day. In a month, I was out of the paper.
How was I to know?