Lalo Alcaraz bites back
By Bel Hernandez
Political cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz has never taken the easy road to success. In 1996, his satirical bent led him to challenge one of the most powerful mass media and entertainment conglomerates in Hollywood with Migra Mouse. Alcaraz took aim at Disney for supporting the re-election of then California Governor Pete Wilson, whose ill-fated Proposition 187 wanted to strip “illegals” of access to essential public benefits and services. That was followed by Muerto Mouse, shaming Disney for trying to trademark the Spanish term, “Dia de los Muertos,” slated to be the original name for the Disney hit film Coco. Alcaraz shrugged, “I've always been a pissed-off person, ever since I was very young.”
Alcaraz grew up in San Diego, just north of the Mexican border. He recalls, “I just grew up noticing that things were not fair, that being Mexican was considered bad. And I couldn't figure it out. I wasn't ashamed of being Mexican, but growing up that way, it doesn't make you exactly proud.” When his mother took him to Mexico to visit family, he had the opportunity to live in Mexico City, and realized how cool Mexican culture was. He compared Mexico City to Manhattan: “That's when my head exploded. I thought, why are people in the U.S. saying that Mexicans are below standard? And that’s when I became a Chicano.”
Alcaraz graduated from San Diego State University with a bachelor’s degree in art and environmental design. He then received his master's in architecture from the University of California at Berkeley. It was at Berkeley that he began fine-tuning his political edge. “In college, I met other Chicanos who were interested in doing comedy and satire from a Chicano perspective.” On a ride back to Berkeley from summer break, the idea for the 80’s sketch comedy troupe, the Chicano Secret Service, brainchild of Alcaraz and Elias Serna, took hold. The comedy troupe delivered social satire with rap and hip-hop, espousing the Chicano movement at campus rallies and on college radio stations, while performing in and around San Francisco.
The troupe also did a residency at Luis Valdez’s El Teatro Campesino in San Juan Bautista, and in Los Angeles worked with the Los Angeles Latino Lab. “That kind of got me thinking maybe a good platform for our art, for our political satire, would be in Hollywood,” said Alcaraz of the decision to move to Los Angeles. Although the troupe had a good run there, Alcaraz soon found himself forging other creative platforms. But there were many more failures than hits during those early years.
His television career started when he was hired as a writer for Culture Clash’s TV comedy show on Fox. This ended quickly. But with each failure, he gathered more fuel for his creativity. One of them was Pocho Magazine, a print publication, now found online, where readers can get their daily fix of “ñews y satire.” He has also been co-hosting The Pocho Hour of Power, a raucous, Spanglish-slinging, irreverent, and politically smart radio talk show out of the L.A.-based Pacifica Network KPFK radio station on 90.7FM.
But the jewel in the crown is Alcaraz’s daily satirical cartoon, La Cucaracha, for which he is still best known. It appears in over 60 newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times, and was the first nationally syndicated, politically themed daily Latino comic strip, one of the most controversial in American newspapers. It was first published in the LA Weekly from 1992 to 2012 and is currently syndicated by Andrews McMeel Syndication.
In his cartoons, Alcaraz pulls no punches. They are savage and sardonic, a punch to the gut that leaves you gasping, either with laughter or alarm. Whether he’s skewering Disney for cultural appropriation, or Ted Cruz for flying to Cancun while most Texans were without power, hypocrisy is the target and no one is safe. The “former guy” provided much fodder, such as where Baby Trump gets a vaccine shot of democracy. But Alcaraz has also taken shots at President Biden, comparing “Kids in Cages” to “Migrant Child Facilities.”
Throughout his career, Alcaraz has honed his trenchant style and Chicano sensibility, making his work instantly recognizable. There are few Latino satirical cartoonists in national syndication, and certainly none of his stature. After applying for years, Alcaraz was selected in 2020 as a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Editorial Cartooning.
So how did he gain entry into the lucrative world of Hollywood animation? Alcaraz was recommended for one of the consultant spots on the movie Coco (originally “Dia de los Muertos”) by Marcela Davison Aviles, Pixar’s Latina culture whisperer. “Marcela had the idea of pulling me into the team for Coco,” he recalls. “It was a team effort, and we won the Oscar. It was the number one movie of all time in Mexico, which made me feel great!”
Alcaraz is proud that he is also forging a path for future Latino artists in Hollywood. After 30 years of speaking his mind, his work has made him a Hollywood insider with a megaphone to create a more diverse reality of Latinos on TV through satire and laugher.
His next animation job was also as a consulting producer. This time around, he also got to write on Fox’s animated show Bordertown, where he had a hand in encouraging the hiring of the five Latinos in the writing room. “This has got to be a world record!” Alcaraz proudly says. And while it only ran for one season, Alcaraz was in, and on to his next gig, Nickelodeon’s The Casagrandes, which is now in its third season. “They got my big mouth in there, which I'm paid to complain and correct people. It's like I'm in heaven.”
Alcaraz is currently working on three animated projects, and writing episodes for the Cartoon Network’s Victor and Valentino, where the myths and legends of Latin American folklore come to life. And he’s taking his career to the next level by establishing his own production company. “I’m looking to create a Chicano employment pipeline,” he says. “I’m writing some animated shows which are in development, including my very own show in conjunction with a studio. I can’t say much beyond that.”
Alcaraz laughs, then continues: “I’m also writing a movie for a major studio. I’m working on a video game as a consultant and writer. I’m working on a mural project to promote a TV show and getting some graphic novel projects into production…and, I’m trying to do cartoons to save the world. That’s about it.”