Lalo Alcaraz: Political Cartoonist with a Border Background | KCET
Lalo Alcaraz: Political Cartoonist with a Border Background
Lalo Alcaraz: My name Lalo Alcaraz. I'm a cartoonist and writer. Back in the early '90s, I had just gotten out of UC Berkeley graduate school for architecture, and I moved to LA. I was drawing comics, and making a satirical magazine called Pocho Magazine.
I grew up in San Diego, on the border. My parents are Mexican immigrants. When I was a teenager, I started to hear about the anti-immigrant activists that lived on the border and hated Mexican immigrants. This is like years before Prop 187 happened, and these are kind of the same people that started Prop 187. I was acquainted with this mindset already because of the Light Up the Border people that, they would drive up to the border with their cars and light it up as undocumented people were crossing, trying to get across the border or also the Minutemen. All these, like really fake militia people that tried to intimidate Mexicans. They really hated Mexican immigrants.
When I was in LA around that time, hearing about this and hearing about people from Orange County, it started, so I thought, "This is no surprise to me," but it was interesting that they took it to a state level because before, it seemed to me like it's very Southern thing, Southern California, south, close to the border thing and the attitude's Orange County, but here it was all across the state now. It was like wow, this is not a good direction.
Even when I was in college at San Diego State in San Diego, I was the editorial cartoonist for the school paper. I found old cartoons of mine there. They look like stuff that I'm drawing now about, the issues anyway, about immigration, violence on the border, and racist attitudes. Prop 187 didn't make me start doing new things. I had already been doing them, but I wasn't prepared for the level of, of hatred that it made bubble up. I think I started doing more immigration cartoons than usual.
I did one editorial cartoon a week for the LA Weekly, around that time, starting in '92. That's the period around the time of 187 happening, and I was drawing Pete Wilson once a week almost in my cartoons. I drew Pete Wilson a lot. There's a couple that are standouts. Of course, I drew him as Hitler. Of course, I drew him as probably the chupacabra, and probably did all these things, in as many demeaning ways that I could. A border patrol agent.
I drew him like the church lady, like a viejita with binoculars at the border, and then I called him Auntie Immigration. I had lots of variations of Pete Wilson. Even I got sick of drawing Pete Wilson, believe me. There was one where I had the punchline. It was like it showed a vacuum cleaner that says Chupa Carpet, and then it has a-- what's the other one? I had the chupacabras, and then the last panel was Pete Wilson and it said, "Chupa, cabron." Basically, "Suck it, jerk." That was a super popular one, too. I had a lot of fun.
The other one that I'm thinking of is because I grew up in San Diego, I grew up with the immigrant crossing sign, the family sign. I think I might've drawn one of the very first, if not the first, political cartoon using the sign in it. It didn't have Pete Wilson or anything but it was from that era, and it says caution and it shows a family running, of undocumented people running, and then behind it says, "Caution: Politicians." The second half of the sign is a big politician with a stick chasing them. Those are pretty iconic images that I did back then.
For me, drawing cartoons about what the community was going through, for me, it's two things, always. It's for me to try to express what people in the community might be feeling, and to put it out there, to show that it's valid, our feelings of fear and paranoia, that we were feeling after getting attacked so much. Secondly, I wanted people in the community and not just the Latino community, but the whole community too, if they were on the receiving end of these things, or if they sympathize, then they should know what we're thinking and they should also feel like, "I'm not crazy for thinking these things."
That's my concept of drawing cartoons to this day. I got a hate letter, not a hate letter. I got a negative letter from a famous author actually in the San Francisco Bay Guardian. He's a famous author now. My comic came out there and he was like, "Hey, Pete Wilson again, in your cartoons. Wow. Interesting. Week after week, Pete Wilson." I was floored. I was like, "Okay, why is this really smart white liberal guy that's an editor at this paper not getting what we're going through." He would be embarrassed if I pointed that out today, but I'm not going to point him out.
It was a view into what we were feeling. Chicano artists have, like an ability, and it comes from I think being Mexican and also Latin American, of being able to create these really bold images and that's always my goal, to create bold images that hit you over the head and communicate instantly what I'm thinking. During this time period of people waking up and feeling under attack, and me, finally having like a little platform in the LA Weekly, I was super excited anytime people would share my cartoons.
There wasn't really an internet back then,, so people would Xerox my cartoons and blow them up at the copy shops, and hold them up in rallies and things, and they would pass them around. If people ask me if they could use the image for flyer, I would say, "Of course, go ahead." To me, that was like my internet, my social media, is getting the people in the movement to share the images. It only encouraged me to do more.
I think the biggest image-- well, two things. People used to say that I created the nickname for Pete Wilson, which was Pedo Wilson, which I did not. It was probably Juan José Gutiérrez or somebody in these groups did, or some guy on the radio or something. Secondly, I did draw Pete Wilson a lot, and I saw it as a way to punch back at Pete Wilson. Also, the biggest image that I had was Migra Mouse, which was when back then, the Walt Disney Company had donated money to Pete Wilson's reelection campaign, this very campaign about using Prop 187, but they had also donated to his opponent, which is what big corporations do. They just hedge their bets.
During this time, the Disney Company had started to market their movies to the Latino community, to the Spanish-speaking community. I thought it was pretty ironic of them to support this anti-immigrant thing clearly, and then give money, and then try to have those people as consumers. I drew Mickey Mouse as a border patrol agent, pointing you out to Mexico and that became a super huge image in a lot of rallies and things. People, again, made copies and held them up. Somebody even made me a big wooden Migra Mouse that I still have, which I'm going to donate to the Smithsonian, because it's pretty dope. It's beautiful.
I think it's all political messaging for me. It's getting that point across instantly, and empowering people who might not be able to articulate some of these points, and can look at an image and go like, "That's what I feel," and then they can copy it, and they can hold it up at a rally and show the world what we think. Back then, I had met my friend, Esteban Zul. He and I had created POCHO magazine and it was a handmade zine that we'd make photocopies. It was a humor magazine that we did, satire. Pete Wilson's actually on the cover, he's the cover boy for one of them. Possibly Issue Two.
Anyway, Esteban and I were driving around one day, and I was physically sick to my stomach. We were talking about Prop 187 and then we couldn't believe all the hatred that was being spewed every day. Lliterally, I can remember having a big knot in my stomach and thinking like, "What can we do to fight this?" Because the cartoons weren't really doing it and I thought, "What would be a fun way to attack Wilson?"
I had read in the news that Wilson, he had a fake Latino support group called Latinos for Wilson and it turns out, we ended up meeting some of these guys. I thought, "These guys, they're probably Cuban American business guys and they're really not into politics, but they'll do anything for the Republicans." I thought we should start our own group, that's really militant, that is like, "We're so pro-Wilson. We'd be so anti-immigrant, that we would be willing to deport ourselves to support Prop 187." We called it Hispanics for Wilson.
Back then, there really wasn't the internet but I think you could get on AOL, I think. We started, we'd write phony press releases about how we're willing to deport ourselves, and how we also, we called for the banning of Mexican food as biological weapons. We called for the banning of the music of Linda Ronstadt. She had just come out with a Spanish album, and she was attracting too many Mexicans to the US with her music.
Just a bunch of, and we called for the deportation of all immigrants, regardless of country, all to Mexico. We just put my P.O. box up there, and I think we had a voicemail number. We started faxing it all over the place, to media, everywhere, faxing, emailing, whatever you could do. People started believing it, that it existed.
One day, it was very early on, we got a voicemail back from a producer at Telemundo, for the Sevcec show. Pedro Sevcec was a producer for the show, Cristina, the very scandalous show. He was a journalist, and he just got his own talk show. The letter said, we would like to invite you to come on our show to discuss Proposition 187, and come out to, I think it was out in-- it wasn't Riverside, but it was out there, pretty far out east, to their studio and they were going to do the first live satellite hookup for their show between LA and Miami.
They invited us to the LA studio out there in the desert somewhere. We looked at that, and we said, "Oh my God, they believe this." I told my friend, Esteban, I go, "What are we going to do?" He goes, "What do you mean what are we going to do? We're going to dress up. We're going to go. We're Hispanics for Wilson." I said, "All right." They didn't get the clue from all the ridiculous points that we were making, because we're just trying to spoof these Latinos for Wilson who we were saying that they weren't militant enough.
Then my name as the head of the group was Daniel Deportado. The clue is in the name. We said, "All right." We got another friend, his name is Lalo Medina, and so that there could be three of us so we would pretend to be a big group. Then we gave them made-up names. Then I said, the one was my bodyguard, one was my assistant, and we went to that show. I was dressed like-- I had like my hair poofed out and combed over to the side. I had big narc sunglasses, like I was in 1970s narc from a bad movie. Then I wore a shabby coat, and, and a big, wide tie. Everything from the segunda.
We went and the audience was filled with high school students and their parents mostly, and some activists. The high school students had just gotten expelled or suspended for walking out in protest of 187. They're from out there, I think, from Riverside or something. They there was a lot of anger, and people yelling at us in the studio audience, and señoras, these old ladies were like-- they would interview us.
Well, before they interviewed us, the satellite link-up in Miami had these actual Latinos for Wilson guys, these like three, I'm not lying, I'm not trying to be rude, three Cuban attorneys, and they were over there supporting the anti-Mexican immigrant thing. Then also, there were a bunch of activists from UCLA, like professors and stuff, guys that we knew. Some professors I-- the name is escaping me right now, but they would cut from studio to studio, and then when the attorneys, the Latinos for Wilson would talk, and then it cut back. They would argue amongst themselves. They would come back to us.
Then Juan Jose Gutierrez, who was in our audience, who was a very vocal immigration activist, his nickname is Juan Jose Palabra because he's such a good talker. He would attack them, and he would make fun of their appearance and weight. Then I was like, "All right. This is barely--" He was just a few feet away from us. He called us out right away and he goes, "[Spanish language]" He was calling us out, call to say, "We were mercenaries, we're phonies, we're getting paid to do this, whatever."
Then I was like, "Whatever," ignoring him. Then they came to us and I would be like, "We have a list of demands." This is all in Spanish. We call for the banning of Mexican food as a biological weapon, it's bad for your health, too. Banning of all the Banda music and the music of Linda Ronstadt, it's attracting too many Mexicans. The crowd is going crazy, going like, "What?"
Then I said, "We are so for Pete Wilson, and this anti-immigration, Proposition 187, that we are going to deport ourselves to Mexico to show our support." The whole place erupted, and the señoras going, "[Spanish language]" This went back and forth, and then we-- I insulted the guy in Miami. I think I called him a Jorge de Queso. His name was like Jorge Quesada or something.
The show was over, we gave our demands then we said what we're going to do, deport ourselves. Then that was it, the show was over. The guys that we knew from UCLA, were looking at it through the monitor, going like, "That guy looks familiar." The broadcast ended and then the producers came and they said, "You know what, I think we need to walk you guys to the parking lot to your car, because these people want to kill you right now."
They were all worked up and they're all staring at us. They walked us out. Then we go out to the car, they didn't let anybody else out, they took us to the car. My friend's car has a No on 187 bumper sticker on the back of it, but they didn't see it. We get in the car. We're there laughing, we cannot believe this just happened. Then here comes the producer, running out. I'm like, "Oh, no, man. They're going to cut us from this whole thing."
She came over and she was like, "You guys forgot to sign your release." [laughs] We're like, "Whew. All right." We signed a release and then that was it. That was filmed about three weeks before the election of the vote on 187. Our effort was futile, probably, seven to one, hugely. Then they aired though our show, the Friday before the election. We're probably responsible for the passing. [laughs]
No. It was in Spanish, so those people weren't going to vote for it. It was so funny and so then Telemundo never found out until about, I think maybe a month later. We got a call from Telemundo from some producer that wanted and said, "We're looking for anti-immigrant person to come on a show." I could hear a bunch of people sitting around laughing. They didn't want to say, "I know what you did." I don't think they were going to admit it. They were teasing me and saying, they're going to fly me to Miami for some show, but that never happened, I think they were just calling back to let us know that they found out.
I think that because of this political hoax I did, Hispanics for Wilson, he did steal one of our main platform for Hispanics for Wilson, and used it as his political platform, which was self-deportation. When we shot a video of Hispanics for Wilson, we did a mini mockumentary about the group where we invent the Deporto Ray. We shoot any Brown person with the ray and they turn into a Mexican wearing a sombrero, and serape and a big moustache, and then they march back to the border. Then they march back to Mexico. Then eventually, Mexico becomes so full, the border explodes and it goes all the way up to Canada. [laughs]
We also went down to, we shot some footage down in Chicano Park in San Diego. I almost got stabbed by a guy who threatened me with a buck knife. He was going to stab me but he said he's going to cut off my tie, because I had an American flag tie. We went down there and we had five people, just for safety. I almost got jacked by the brown berets.
I also had a comedy group called Chicano Secret Service. We have performed with Culture Clash, and Teatro Campesino. It started in Berkeley. We would also do bits about Pete Wilson, whatever. We started touring a lot and doing lots of shows all over the country, but we did these two shows with-- one of the very first Rock en Español tours that came to the US. It was called the Revolucion, and it was '94. We did a show in San Diego, and we did a show at Universal Studios at the Universal Amphitheater, it's not there anymore.
We did a skit ourselves. Some of the bands were political, not really. We have other friends that were, and had lots of political bands that were doing lots of anti-Pete Wilson and 187 stuff, too. Anyways, real quick, we did a Pete Wilson skit on stage and we almost got killed with all the coins, that all of the Mexicanos were throwing at us. [laughs] We're-- [clanging sound] It was dangerous, so dumb.
In the scene, all our friends like Ozomatli, before they were Ozomatli, and all different bands, and Rage Against the Machine, Zack de la Rocha, we're all hanging out and doing stuff together, and performing at his studio. Everybody was really activated I think, by this. I spent most of Big Top Locos in a booth, selling posters and stuff. I was next to Eazy-E from NWA, I guess. They told me, I don't remember. That was an amazing event, but I was more like working the event than just attending. That's the curse of my life, I'm always backstage. [chuckles]
- Written by: Pilar Marrero, Portrait by: Samanta Helou Hernandez
Find more firsthand accounts of the campaign against Prop 187 here.
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.
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