Lalo Alcaraz does not shy away from controversy. He invites it. In 2002 his satirical comic strip, La Cucaracha, the first nationally syndicated, politically themed Latino daily comic strip, was heralded as one of the most controversial comic strips in American history, often cited along with Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury. The hate letters claiming La Cucaracha was “anti-white” and demanded it be yanked from the over 60 newspapers it appeared in.
Alcaraz was born in San Diego and grew up straddling two cultures, not American enough for some and not Mexican enough for his relatives, an identity crisis that led him to realize he was Chicano. “A Chicano is a politically conscious aware Mexican-American,” explains Alcaraz. “I consider myself a Chicano artist. My work hopefully shows that I want to promote Mexican and Chicano culture, plus that I want to defend the rights of immigrants.”
Though he earned a master’s degree in architecture from Berkeley, it was his upbringing that shaped his outlook in life. “My attitude in life came from seeing my family and myself struggle and be mistreated like second class people, just because we were Mexican,” Alcaraz recalls. “I inherited my parent’s Mexican wit and outlook. Mexicans are very cynical and can be very pessimistic about life, but deal with it by laughing at their own tragedies and misfortunes. I needed to find a way to deal with the feelings of anger and fight back with humor and satire.”
And fighting back with humor is what he has always done. For over twenty years Alcaraz has attacked Hollywood, satirized politicians, made fun of the establishment and has led social activist campaigns like the one against Disney’s attempt to trademark Dia de los Muertos. In addition to his comic stip, Alcaraz published the satirical Pocho magazine which can now be found online at Pocho.com. And further extending the Pocho brand, he is also a creator and host of the Pocho Hour of Power which claims the tag line “Political Satire Radio” on KPFK in Los Angeles. He has also written several screenplays, but “they went into turnaround, AKA perpetual limbo. They were probably ahead of their time, like a lot of my work,” Alcaraz explains.
Finally, in 2013 the break he was looking for came by way of a call from his good friend Gustavo Arellano, editor of the OC Weekly and author of the Ask a Mexican column. He set up a meeting for Alcaraz with Mark Hentemann, creator of the new FOX animated series Bordertown. Alcaraz was hired as producing consultant and one of the writers on the show. He was excited for the opportunity, not only for himself but for his community at large. However, once the news started circulating among social media, Latinos became suspicious about Bordertown and what the end results would be. They assumed that anything about the border would contain the usual stereotypes and they began seeing Alcaraz as a sell out, without even having seen the show.
Alcaraz is quick to point out to them that that was the reason he and Arellano were brought on as consulting producers. He understood their concerns. Bordertown takes place in a fictional setting, but he insisted that instead of the same old Hollywood stereotypical angle, the show explores the shifting demographics. In this case the series is about a racist Anglo border patrol agent and his Mexican-immigrant neighbor who is more well off than he is.
Beyond the story angle, Alcaraz proudly tells LATINO, “Our show has 5 Latino writers out of a total of 14 on this first season of shows, which is revolutionary, and probably a world record for any US English language primetime TV show.” Futhermore, he claims, “By having authentic voices and input on the show, we can present issues that are just not seen on television.”
In hopes of showing the Latino community how Bordertown portrays Latinos, screenings have been organized at community centers. “We have been screening Bordertown all over the country to show, especially the Latino audience, that the show is not the usual lame portrayal of Latino life,” Alcaraz explained. “Audiences have been pleasantly surprised, with most reviews saying, ‘Bordertown is not the show you think it is.’”
This notoriety has also given him just the push he needed. Disney came calling despite Alcaraz’ earlier criticism, inviting him to come on board as a writer/consulting producer on Pixar’s Dia de los Muertos project, currently known as Coco.
Alcaraz has never lost sight of where he comes from and where he is headed. He wants everyone to know Latinos matter and he wants that voice to be heard. Now it’s time for the community to get behind Alcaraz and support him as he has supported the community all these years. Bordertown will premiere on FOX on January 3, 2016.
Bel Hernandez Castillo