Lalo Alcaraz: Political Cartoonist with a Border Background
- Written by: Pilar Marrero, Portrait by: Samanta Helou Hernandez
A memorable video from a Telemundo show in 1994 features a man with his hair all poofed up, oversized sunglasses, a shabby coat and a big wide tie. The man identified as “Daniel De Portado” and supposedly represented a group called “Hispanics for Wilson” (referring to Pete Wilson, the governor at the time).
The man listed the group's demands on the show: banning of Mexican food as a biological weapon, banning all banda and Linda Ronstadt music, and the deportation of every immigrant to Mexico, no matter where they were from. Its members also promised to "self-deport" to Mexico to make California better.
It was trademark Lalo Alcaraz, who was the man behind the glasses. He was better known for his comic strip “La Cucaracha” and his very political cartoons, targeting anti-Mexican racism, which he was already doing way before Proposition 187 qualified for the November 1994 ballot.
“When I was in college at San Diego State, I was the editorial cartoonist for the school paper, and I was already drawing about immigration, violence on the border and racist attitudes,” he recalls. "I was already doing these things because I grew up on the border, and I was aware of these issues.”
His fake identity as “Daniel De Portado” (literally Daniel Deported) was an attempt by Alcaraz to go beyond the reach of his anti-187 cartoons, which were already being shared photocopied and shared by many, in the era before the Internet and social media.
Twenty-six years later, Alcaraz is a successful artist whose biting commentary on today's politics has grown more bold — and popular — than ever. He has published best-selling books, been a Pulitzer-prize finalist, a cultural consultant for the Oscar-winning Day of the Dead-themed animated global hit Pixar movie “COCO” and worked his magic on TV shows such as “Bordertown” and “Los Casagrandes.”
But his subject is still the same because anti-immigrant politics have only grown louder since 1994 in the United States.
"For me, drawing cartoons about what the community was going thru meant two things, always: First, I try to express what people might be feeling and put it out there to show it's valid. Second, I want the whole society to see how they would feel if they were on the receiving end of these things. That's my concept of drawing cartoons to this day,” he explains.
Lalo's parents are Mexican immigrants from Sinaloa and Zacatecas, and he grew up near the border. He is a graduate of San Diego State University with a BA in Art and UC Berkeley with a Master's in Architecture.
He always felt personally affected by anti-immigrant types and policies, so when 187 started becoming an issue, stirring hate speech against undocumented immigrants and their supposed negative impact on California, he needed to get intensely involved.
Lalo and his friend Esteban Zul started Pocho Magazine back then. Then-governor Wilson, who used the anti-immigrant proposition to ride to a reelection victory that seemed impossible just months before, was on the cover of one of the first issues.
“One day, Esteban and I were talking about it and we could not believe all the hatred that was being spewed every day. I can remember having a big knot in my stomach and thinking, ‘What can we do to fight this?’ because the cartoons weren't really doing it,” he recalls.
This was when they created the fake "Hispanic for Wilson" group.
But Lalo's cartoons from that time are equally memorable. He heard some activists called the governor "Pito Wilson” and drew him using that name. He drew him as Hitler and as "el Chupacabra.” He drew him as an elderly white woman watching the border with binoculars and called him “Auntie-immigration.”
When it was published that the Walt Disney company had contributed money to Wilson, he thought it was very ironic.
“Here is this company starting to market their movies to a Latino community in the United States, and they were ready to support this anti-immigrant thing. Yeah, we know big corporations give money to both parties, but I drew Mickey Mouse as a Border Patrol pointing you out to Mexico. I called it “Migra Mouse.”
The Chicano cartoonist, a resident of Los Angeles for more than a quarter-century, is now working to defeat Donald Trump with his cartoons and promoting voting with his Vota/Vote cartoon with a “calaca” (skeleton).
A recent cartoon showed Trump surrounded by huge coronaviruses and was entitled “viruses for Trump.”
Clearly, time has not made Lalo Alcaraz less direct or bold at expressing his political views with his work.