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.
Who exactly is Mexican Mitt?
He [is] Mitt Romney’s alter ego who somehow exists in the same dimension as Mitt Romney. People tweet Mexican Mitt every day and ask questions. They’ll say, “I saw you on the news!” They say, “Why did you deny your Mexican heritage again today?”
Romney has been running for four years. Where has Mexican Mitt been all this time?
Most of the time he’s been sequestered [at] his campaign headquarters, which is a sprawling goat ranch somewhere in Chihuahua, but apparently he’s been on the move [too]. He live tweets the debates while he’s onstage and not — and people just accept this.
I would love to do shots with Mexican Mitt as he barbecues a goat for me on his ranch. He’s living the Mexi-Mormon dream.
OK now: Romney is eligible for dual U.S.-Mexican citizenship because his father was born in Mexico. And Mormons have been known to baptize the dead by proxy, in order to be united in the afterlife with those who died before the advent of Mormonism. So, maybe Mexican Mitt could apply for Mexican citizenship for Romney by proxy?
That is the first thing Mexican Mitt is going to do as soon as this column is out! He did baptize Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera the other day.
Are Mexican Mitt’s politics different from the real Mitt’s?
Mexican Mitt gets tweets from people who say, “I love you so much but I can’t stand what you say.” He’s against the Dream Act; he thinks undocumented students should only dream of him. He loves firing people; he goes to Home Depot and hires undocumented workers just to fire them.
How’s his Spanish?
Pretty good, although people get nitpicky and they start quizzing him: What’s the Mexican national cheese? And Mexican Mitt says: Goat! Mexican Mitt, he’s redefining what it means to be Mexican.
His Twitter mantra is “I am the most Mexican man in the world! Follow me as I run for president of the United Estates.” What are some of his best tweets?
Well, of course, “I am the Juan percent.” That’s a classic. And “I am a yob creator.” There’s a lot of them. Oh, and his tax plan is the Juan Juan Juan Plan: 1% tax on the 1% rich 1 time only.
What does Mexican Mitt ultimately want out of this campaign?
He’s in it to win it. He wants to go all the way and paint the White House brown.
Some years ago, Americans began spending more on salsa than on catsup. And Newt Gingrich is studying Spanish. Isn’t that noteworthy?
It’s a slow-moving ship of American pop culture. [And] the Republicans are simultaneously bashing Latinos with the pinata stick in one hand and a bag of candy in the other.
Come on, you can tell me: Aren’t you really Mexican Mitt?
I am really really behind Mexican Mitt 100%.
This interview was edited and excerpted from a longer taped transcript. Interview archive: latimes.com/pattasks.