Cartoonist Draws on Humor to Tackle Racism

Cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz shows and describes some of the comics he has published during his talk at Harvey Mudd College. Alcaraz's comics largely involve political commentary on issues from police violence to presidential candidates. (Morgan Albrecht • The Student Life)

On Monday evening, Feb. 22, Harvey Mudd College hosted political cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz at Drinkward Recital Hall as part of the Harvey Mudd Reading Series.

Alcaraz, a San Diego native, received his bachelor’s degree in Art and Environmental Design from San Diego State University before receiving a master’s degree in architecture from the University of California, Berkeley. From there, he went on to produce editorial cartoons for El Universal and LA Weekly. His comic strip La Cucaracha has since become well known as the first nationally-syndicated Chicano cartoon strip to appear in a major publication like the Los Angeles Times.

Other projects include several books, a writing gig on the animated Fox sitcom Bordertown, and co-hosting KPFK Radio’s talk show, “The Pocho Hour of Power.” He defines his work as “art with a political message,” and exemplified that theme throughout the presentation with artwork involving issues such as immigration law, cultural appropriation, and whitewashing in Hollywood.

The cartoons he presented tended to have a strong liberal bias. Some of the introductory slides included caricatures of Republican presidential candidates such as Donald Trump and Ben Carson. These portrayals elicited laughter from the audience, but he quickly moved on to more somber topics. Subsequent pieces provided political commentary on cases such as Walter Scott, an unarmed black man who was shot multiple times in the back by a white police officer in Charleston, North Carolina, and Dajerria Becton, a black teenager who was slammed to the ground by a white police officer at a pool party in McKinney, Texas.

“I was shocked as anyone else at watching a cop put his knee in a 14-year-old girl in a bikini at a pool party and throwing her around like a rag doll,” said Alcaraz. In accordance with cases like these, much of his work reflects the racialized violence directed towards people of color in the United States.

Alcaraz uses humor to address serious issues on racism. (Morgan Albrecht • The Student Life)

He made light of the storm of criticism that he has endured throughout his career, citing the phrase “Go back to Africa” as his favorite piece of hate mail (Alcaraz is Mexican-American).

He later described the reason behind his unfailing good humor. 

“Political cartoons, like lots of visual media, are super powerful. So when someone sends me hate mail, I already won. I’m already in their head, I ruined whatever day they had; they got so mad they had to write me a letter,” he said.

Audience members, most of them students, responded enthusiastically to Alcaraz’s presentation. “I thought it was interesting that his work comes off very strong, but he’s also trying to do something with it,” Phillip Diffler HM ’16 said.

Alcaraz confronts challenging and serious topics with humor, a tool which has proven to be more powerful than any nasty tactics his adversaries may take.

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