Patt Morrison Asks: Pocho pundit Lalo Alcaraz

The cartoonist behind "La Cucaracha" talks about @MexicanMitt, "the Juan percent" and painting the White House brown.

Cartoonist and artist Lalo Alcaraz is the creator of the first nationally-syndicated, politically-themed Latino daily comic strip, "La Cucaracha."

Cartoonist and artist Lalo Alcaraz is the creator of the first nationally-syndicated, politically-themed Latino daily comic strip, "La Cucaracha." (Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)

Every presidential campaign turns out to be a quadrennial godsend for editorial cartoonists, but for Lalo Alcaraz, 2012 is a jubilee year. Herman Cain, chowing down at a Miami restaurant, asks, “How do you say ‘delicious' in Cuban?” Newt Gingrich uses “bilingual education” and “language of living in a ghetto” in the same sentence. And then there's Mitt Romney, son of a Mexican-born Mormon who also ran for president of the United States. Or the “United Estates,” according to Romney's mysterious alter-Tweeter, @MexicanMitt, who's muy simpatico with his staunch “supporter” Alcaraz.

After 20 years of spearing politics and politicians in his cartoons, first in the L.A. Weekly, then The Times and other papers, Alcaraz still draws seven “La Cucaracha” comic strips a week. He also runs the website pocho.com, cohosts a weekly radio show on KPFK, teaches at Otis College and creates gallery-exhibited acrylics and pencil drawings. Dude has time to mingle with Mexican Mitt? Chale — get outta here!

What strips did you read growing up?

I remember reading “Gordo,” by Gus Arriola, the first kind of Latino comic strip in the U.S. My formative comics are “Doonesbury” and “Bloom County” in college. “Bloom County” especially was political and outrageous and modern.

You do a daily strip plus individual panels. Some people think that if they can read a comic strip, they can do one too.

You know, the No. 1 requirement for being a syndicated daily cartoonist is the ability to keep doing it forever, until you die. That's the quality they're looking for! It gets tiring, but I'm not tired of it.

Some issues never change, just the names of the politicians.

Look at the presidential race — “self-deportation” is back. My character — the militant right-wing self-deportationist I created in 1994, Daniel D. Portado — now he's on Twitter trying to reclaim his glory.

Your daughter is a teenager; you must be mindful of the need for role models, like your level-headed character Veronica.

Teacher Vero is based on my wife. I try to make sure she's as strong a character as can be and doesn't take any guff. Most of the characters are just kind of long-suffering. The Cucaracha rants a lot; the Cucaracha and [laid-back] Eddie are both me. I'm half-ranty, half-clueless.

There's Kafka's cockroach character Gregor Samsa, and Don Marquis' cockroach Archy — what's the appeal?

“La Cucaracha” was supposedly a song people would sing in Spain and change the lyrics [to] mock whoever was in power. It came to Mexico that way.

My strip's about the people, the 99%. People who have hated me or tried to get rid of my strip without reading it say it is about a whole bunch of cockroaches, which is not true. One character is La Cucaracha. Nobody ever told Charles Schulz, why are you saying all the white kids are “Peanuts”?

Do you read your email?

I go through phases. Sometimes people CC me on their hate letters when they write in to The Times or whatever paper is running me. They don't think I'm going to write them. I just got one from a high school basketball coach; this guy is demanding that my strip be dropped, and [his letter] includes this racist stuff about Obama and Halle Berry. I wrote him back: You're a basketball coach, I'm assuming you have some African American players, do your players know what a racist you are? [He said], “Oh, I'm not racist.” He told me to relax!

You were born here to Mexican parents and lived near the border. You started a 'zine and then a website, pocho.com. The concept of “pocho” and “pochismo” was originally a slur. Now it has bragging rights.

It's not a replacement for “Chicano,” but it's a kind of parallel. It's been used against immigrants who, when they go back, are perceived as [having] been here too long, as not being as Mexican as they could be. Mexicanos, they'll make fun of pochos and talk about how agringados [“gringo-fied”] we are, and meanwhile, they're sitting in a McDonald's in Mexico City having a Big Mac and listening to American pop music and watching American TV shows that are dubbed.

Now, how long have you known Mexican Mitt?

I've been actively supporting Mexican Mitt's campaign for a month or so. It seems he came out as a response to the lack of Mitt Romney's personality and the lack of his acknowledgment of his Mexican roots. Latinos were so attention-starved, we look for any sort of acknowledgment in the mainstream media. When Mitt Romney turned his back on the Mexicans — Mexican Mitt must have been a reaction to that.

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