Monday, January 27, 2020

Cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz’s Journey from Lemon Grove to Hollywood to Improve Latino Representation | The Casagrandes

Originally published: Thursday, October 03, 2019.

Cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz’s journey from Lemon Grove to Hollywood to improve Latino representation


Cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz, a San Diego, California native, is the creator and author of "La Cucaracha", the first nationally syndicated, politically themed Latino daily comic strip. Photographed, September 26, 2019, in San Diego, California. (Howard Lipin/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Lemon Grove native Lalo Alcaraz has long been an advocate for better representation of Latinos in America. Now, it’s his day job.

A shy, but artistically-inclined kid from Lemon Grove has become a bold artist whose influence can be felt far outside Southern California — not just across the U.S. but around the world.

Lalo Alcaraz got his start as an editorial cartoonist at San Diego State University’s student newspaper The Daily Aztec before going on to create the first nationally-syndicated, politically-themed Latino daily comic strip, La Cucaracha. More recently, he’s worked as a cultural consultant on the Pixar film Coco and the upcoming animated Nickelodeon show, The Casagrandes.


The Casagrandes

“It’s a job I wish didn’t exist, you know, because if we had adequate representation, if we had culturally competent people that really knew their stuff, you wouldn’t need to drop me in from outer space on a project,” Alcaraz said at a panel at the L’ATTITUDE conference in San Diego last month. “To Pixar’s credit, they were like, ‘We want this done right.’”

Cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz, a San Diego native, is the creator and author of “La Cucaracha,” the first nationally syndicated, politically themed Latino daily comic strip. Photographed, September 26, 2019, in San Diego, California. (Howard Lipin/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

He recently met with The Conversation podcast at The San Diego Union-Tribune to talk about growing up in the San Diego region, what inspires his art, the challenges of publishing an editorial cartoon in the politically charged climate of 2019 and how he’s taken all he’s learned to Hollywood.

Here are some excerpts of the interview. Listen to the entire conversation below.



What was growing up in the San Diego region like for you?

“I grew up a kind of typical Mexican border kid. My mom came through Tijuana. She lived there for 10 years in the ‘50s from 1948 to 1958 and then was undocumented for a bit and then got her papers as a nanny in La Mesa. My dad came, I think, through Texas from Zacatecas, Mexico. My mom came from Mazatlán, Sinaloa and they met at Helix High School, the high school I went to, in an English as a Second Language (ESL) class, sometime early 1961 or 1962. Their desire to assimilate and fit in and learn English — it only took my mom 50 years to learn English — got them together and created me. And then I eventually graduated from that high school. I’d like to find that class where they met and put a plaque... they’d remove it the next day. I grew up in Lemon Grove after living in various cities and back and forth — Logan Heights and Tijuana for a tiny bit — but I grew up basically in Lemon Grove. It was like Mayberry, but SoCal style. It was a time of, kind of a lot of racism and police profiling. We’d get pulled over on our bicycles by the sheriffs. My parents were treated pretty poorly and it made me the bitter old cholo that I am today.”

Would you say growing up here influences your art?

“It is everything. That’s what kind of sharpened my sense of injustice.”

How much of yourself do you put into the characters in La Cucaracha?

“They’re definitely me. Half of me is angry all the time, wants to tell everyone how they’re wrong constantly, never has an incorrect opinion, and the other half of me just wants to chill and sit on the couch and drink a beer and watch endless hours of crap TV. Preferably science fiction crap. ... I’m usually more of the angry cucaracha.”

How would you say life for Latinos in America has changed or not changed since you’ve started illustrating it?

“Sometimes I’ll see a cartoon from 1994 and all you have to do is change the date on it because obviously we’re living in a super, hyper anti-immigrant time — not everyone, I mean, where some people think it’s ok to be that way — so, you know, I think society goes in cycles instead of progressing forward sometimes, I feel. So things have changed, they haven’t changed. The thing that has changed is, you know, society’s catching up to the things that I was saying 25 years ago, especially stuff about show biz and representation and it’s just becoming a thing. That’s why I’m fully employed. I’m fully overemployed these days in Hollywood so, you know, we’re getting more representation, but it’s still not enough.”

What can you tell us about the show you’re working on now?

“I am a consulting producer, cultural consultant and gadfly and freelance writer on this show called The Casagrandes, and it’s on Nickelodeon. It’s for ages 6 to 11, and it’s the first animated show about a big Mexican-American family. It’s a spin-off from a show called The Loud House, which is one of the top shows there at Nickelodeon. The character, Ronnie Anne, is a little Mexican-American girl who was a super popular character on the loud house so they decided to spin that off, move her, her brother and her mom from Royal Woods, this Michigan suburb where The Loud House is set, to Great Lakes City, which is like a fake Chicago kind of amalgam of a bunch of cities — to go live with the mom’s family. They live in a big apartment building. The abuela, the grandma, is the building supervisor and they have a market, a mercado, on the ground floor. ... We’re making it as authentic as possible.”

Is it funny? Serious?

“It is very funny and it’s a good co-viewing show. I watched 10 years of Nickelodeon shows when my kids were little, so if you are that parent, you can watch this show because we sneak in a lot of funny adult things that kind of get by everybody but not the grown ups watching.”

The Casagrandes premieres Monday, October 14, 2019 at 1:30 p.m. (ET/PT) on Nickelodeon. Click the following link for more details!: http://nickalive.blogspot.com/2019/09/nickelodeon-reveals-casagrandes-theme.html

Which Casagrande are you MOST looking forward to learning more about? I'll ❤️ some of my favorite responses!

From USA Today:

America, love 'our food AND our people'


Lalo Alcaraz is a Chicano artist who served as a creative consultant on "Coco" and now on the Nickelodeon series, "The Casagrandes." He's also the creator of a daily comic strip, "La Cucaracha," and regularly draws up editorial cartoons. Contributed/Lalo Alcaraz

A week after the Academy Award nominations came out as white as ever, I talked via email to artist, producer and creative consultant Lalo Alcaraz about Tinseltown and his successful career. The creator of "La Cucaracha" — the first Latino politically themed, nationally syndicated comic strip — answered my questions from the Nickelodeon studios, where he's currently hard at work on a new show, "The Casagrandes."

Lalo, I remember when La Cucaracha first syndicated in 2002. And then I remember when papers started dropping it because it was too political and/or brown, then they’d pick it up again. Can you believe you’re still doing it?

Nope, I can’t! There were angry people campaigning against my little comic strip even before it officially launched. Overall, the whole ride of my national daily syndication has been pretty smooth. The newspaper business has never been easy, but now it’s much rockier, so there’s no one more surprised than myself that "La Cucaracha" is still making people laugh and cry angrily on the comics page after almost 18 years.

What was it like working on "Coco"?

It was a dream. I couldn’t believe a major studio like Pixar was interested in my opinion. But flying up to Northern California to work at Pixar, to give feedback to the whole team about an amazing and important film like "Coco," that was quite an experience. The directors, producers, the artists and voice talent were the best, and the visual artistry was mind-blowing, even in its raw form.

Did you know it was going to be such an amazing movie?

It was going to be such an important movie for Mexico, for Chicanos and Latinos and a major cultural touchstone, that it had to be done right. The work of our team of consultants and community members paid off in a big way onscreen and in the hearts of millions of people all over the planet. Pixar doesn’t mess around, they make good movies. We just helped them with a little extra amor.

Let’s talk Oscars ("Coco" won best animated feature in 2018). What was your reaction when you saw the nominees last week?

I’m never surprised when the Oscar nominations are not diverse. The past few years we have seen a slight improvement, with the work of Mexican filmmakers being recognized as top level. But yeah, I have no illusions that industry awards will be diverse if the content being green-lit by the major studios is still mainly centered around white characters and stories. Can Hollywood stop remaking “Little Women,” por favor??

Who/what were some of the most striking omissions? [...]

The most striking omissions are stories from the Latino community. I wish there were more performances to pick from ... Latinos over-index as moviegoers. Hey, Hollywood! We might go even more to the movies if we could see ourselves onscreen! Instead, Latinos are usually relegated to token roles at best, stereotypical roles at worst, but mostly invisibility.

You’ve worked in Hollywood for a long time now. Has it gotten better?

I’ve been working on and off in Hollywood for 30 years. Mostly off. Recently, I’ve had a pretty good five-year run. ... Hollywood is seemingly improving. There’s an increase in Latino actors and writers, plus shows featuring Latino-themed stories, but the opportunities still greatly lag behind our numbers.

And speaking of Hollywood, you recently started working on a Nickelodeon show called "The Casagrandes." Congrats! How’d you get involved and what do you do?

I’m consulting producer, cultural consultant and freelance writer. The Creative Producer Miguel Puga got me hired to help guide the cultural content of the show. I get to advise on stories, marketing, I chime in with jokes in the writers' room, and write scripts. I also help on every recording session, which basically means keeping accents and Spanish pronunciations as authentic and appropriate as possible, and coming up with alternative lines on the fly.

What do you hope it accomplishes, like politically or culturally or human-ey?

In this toxic anti-immigrant, anti-ethnic era in which we are all living through, it’s more important than ever to create art that shows minority communities as normal, funny, and as messed up as everybody else’s communities. In my opinion, Mexican-American /Latino families are the standard for tight-knit, loving familias. But it seems that the USA needs a little reminder that we are awesome.

America, you should love both our food AND our people.

I’ve always thought it would be hard to be a comedian nowadays — even SNL sometimes seems like a muted version of reality. How do you use what’s happening for your art?

Satire is in such a weird place now; reality outpaces it every day. I try to keep up with the news cycle by cranking out editorial cartoons on the subject of the moment. I don’t worry if my work is too hard-edged for people, because when the president calls my family rapists and drug dealers, and babies are being separated from their parents at the border and then caged, who has time for politeness?

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