San Diego Native Tackles Immigration In New Animated Series 'Bordertown'
TOM FUDGE: Our top story on Midday Edition, the comic strip La Cucharacha has been nationally syndicated for more than a decade. If you read the funnies in the San Diego UT you've seen it. It's irreverent, topical. It's the world seen through the eyes of the Latino with his eyes wide open to the ironies of discrimination and the American dream. Its creator, Lalo Alcaraz has also illustrated a book that came out this year called A Most Imperfect Union, a contrarian history of the United States. His next project is a TV cartoon series in the style of the family Guy or The Simpsons. Lalo is a graduate of San Diego state and he swung by our studios late last week and had a talk with Alison St. John. ALISON ST. JOHN: So now you're quoted as saying you like to ruffle feathers and I think we can see that from your cartoon. La Cucaracha. Is there some reason why you picked your chief character in the cartoon to be called La Cucaracha? LALO ALCARAZ: Well, that's good, his slave name is Cucaracha, as they say or his Christian name. ALISON ST. JOHN: Which is cockroach, isn't it? LALO ALCARAZ: Cuco is a nickname in Spanish and Rocha is a surname in Spanish. ALISON ST. JOHN: Go ahead and describe him. LALO ALCARAZ: He kind of actually the, in the original version he kind of looked like Jiminy cricket on crack. He's kind of the way I dressed and he's kind of like a cholo street poet with kind of instead of cockroach antennas, he's got rabbit ears for some reason. It's just a design choice. ALISON ST. JOHN: Some Latinos are a little bit insulted that you choose to maybe represent them that way. Talk about why. LALO ALCARAZ: I mean some Latinos are irony deficient. They do not know that the song, the folksong La Cucaracha is an ancient, and I say each and, I mean from the 16th, 1700 all the way back to Spain where it's always been used we are familiar with it as use during the Mexican Revolution but it's always been a political satire vehicle it the folksong that people use to change lyrics to to make fun of the local land baron, or the King or the Gov., or the guys that are fighting, you know, against Pancho via or against Pancho Villa himself ALISON ST. JOHN: Because they are survivors LALO ALCARAZ: Yeah and it comes all the way back from Spain. So, and also yes and Chicano literatureyou know there's a famous book the revolt of the cockroach people by Oscar assay deck. And it's one of the first to kind of Mexican-American people to cockroaches but not in the negative racist way in the way talking about survival so I has some literary roots here as well. ALISON ST. JOHN: LALO ALCARAZ: Yes they may have to stretch things here little bit and I ask my audience to dig a little deeper. ALISON ST. JOHN: And that's part of your whole purpose. LALO ALCARAZ: I love it I think it's hilarious when people come up to me and ask are you the writer of luck and garrotte shut and I say do I look for hundred years old I look pretty old but not 400 ALISON ST. JOHN: So in fact I understand the Fresno bee did actually cartoon, pull the cartoon after the protest over that are you surprised it's still running in the Union Tribune LALO ALCARAZ: And Fresno is known as the Paris of the Central Valley so I don't know why it was pulled there ALISON ST. JOHN: But it is still here in San Diego LALO ALCARAZ: Yeah and my slideshow I still, recently read somebody posted to Facebook a picture of three letters to the editor from the Union Tribune here in San Diego and one of them was positive and the other two were negative. The other one of those said that the strip should be pulled, and the third one said that I threatened the whole, the lives of the whole Police Department of Ferguson Missouri somehow. They misread one of my strips. The first was actually supportive and said you know if you are so threatened by this little comic strip then here is a suggestion, don't read it. ALISON ST. JOHN: So have you had any discussions with the editors of the Union Tribune? LALO ALCARAZ: So have I. Every couple years they call me with some funny story, or with concerns. They never asked me to change or, that's rare ALISON ST. JOHN: You mentioned one of your strips that relates to Ferguson to what happened in Ferguson, and I don't know if this is the one that you are referring to can you describe that one? LALO ALCARAZ: This one is a Sunday comic. I do a series of the Sunday comics where Eddie drives his bug, this is my 1970 VW bug. Actually wasted drive this around here at San Diego state when I grew up in lemon Grove. San Diego state is 8 min. away for me. I studied art here and environmental design. And I used to drive this 1970 read Cal bug around and so I feature it in my strip. The guys are driving past usually some kind of a street vendor character or something and this time it is a heavily armored police guy with the black armor that, the AK, I think it is looks like a grenade launcher or something on his and a gas mask and a picture on the site and the captioned kind of on the sign says and I'm just a meter maid. And this is about the militarization of the police that we have now and I'm surprised that meter maids don't drive around in tanks. ALISON ST. JOHN: So we've also had a lot of controversy about this film, the interview. And it looks like Kim Jung Un to some degree has one I love this cartoon you've done of the Hollywood sign with searchlights crisscrossing the sky but instead of Hollywood it says Kim Jong Un up there in the Hollywood Hills. Talk about why, do you somehow kind of relate to him because he's one against the establishment? LALO ALCARAZ: I don't know if that's the way I relate to him. I mean I'm in the belly of the beast in the entertainment industry now, an industry that I have railed against for years for noninclusion of Latinos. So the shoe is on the other foot for me. I'm on the side and I think now I think most of the entertainment industry is critical of what Sony's reaction was. The story is still coming out, but the appearance of capitulating to cyber terror, you know, it does not look good. And they should know what it looks like. ALISON ST. JOHN: So it's like pointing a little bit poking the bubble of Hollywood. LALO ALCARAZ: Yeah I mean the biggest loss in Hollywood right now is Kim Jong moon. And he knows it, he's partying right now, eating caviar and drinking scotch. ALISON ST. JOHN: so talk about the border town series that you're getting involved with theSeth McFarland right now of family Guy, is this, what are the characters in this and did you have a strong part in designing those characters? LALO ALCARAZ: well they, the guy, Mark Henneman is the creator of border town and I got a call from Fox that said you want to meet with this guy, he runs family Guy, for a dozen years he is the head guy at family Guy. And a show runner. For Seth McFarlane so I went to meet him and I read the show Bible which is a description of what is going to go on in the show, the characters, the storylines and I looked at him and I said you know, you realize this is historic of course he realized it's the first animated show with a majority of the cast as Latinos and I don't just mean you know, the characters are, just about half are Latinos, but also it's come out in the sauce, the actors are Latinos ALISON ST. JOHN: I love when you said Hollywood has finally done the math and when you look at the audience, hey... LALO ALCARAZ: The only appearance of Latinos that you see are really spicy ruffled shirt Caribbean type Latinos. And we know that over almost 2/3 of Latinos in the US are Mexican descent people, one form or another. So yeah Hollywood finally figured out that each of those Mexican-Americans or Mexican immigrants, they have to I both each. That's double the eyeballs. ALISON ST. JOHN: Are all your characters going to have four eyes? LALO ALCARAZ: I hope they all have to I both, even the mutant has two eyes, but the storyline is the story of a, actually it's very Calexico kind of. I wish I could say it is San Ysidro and Tijuana, but ALISON ST. JOHN: can you find a difference forth in the LALO ALCARAZ: It's more Calexico to me it is more desert, it's a combination of the city where they live in is called Mexifornia and the story revolves around two neighbors, Bud Buchwald who is the most inept border patrolman in the world probably. ALISON ST. JOHN: Watch out border patrol. LALO ALCARAZ: We're going to have a lot of fans in the border patrol. And he is kind of a bigoted guy. He doesn't understand why his neighbor Ernesto Gonzalez, a Mexican immigrant who's been here 30 years, he cannot understand why he's doing better than he is. Well, because he's a hard-working guy. And Ernesto is very optimistic and upbeat and hilarious. And but is very, you know, kind of always feeling sorry for himself and reacting and kind of Archie Bunker ways. ALISON ST. JOHN: Okay but it must be a knife edge for you to be walking on because you have a lot of people presumably watching. What is the contribution you're going to be making to this cartoon series? And it's not just, you know you have to avoid stereotyping, but at the same time at some point the truth value walk that. LALO ALCARAZ: This is what's great about comics and cartoons and animation is you get away with so much because people think it is a nice little drying and that's helped me say a lot of things that otherwise I could not have said and this is all you have to do is watch Simpsons or the family Guy and see that the political satire they get away with, you don't think of those shows as politically satirical shows but they are. And also they mock everything, they mock our society. So as a producer myself I am a consulting producer and a writer on the show. I get to be there with all the writers who have been doing it for much longer than I have and pitched jokes and discuss characters and things and all of us at the beginning get to talk about the world and set up story ideas. And then occasionally you know, the guy who got me the gig is Gustavo Arellano who writes the Ask a Mexican column who is a friend of mine, he brought me in and we are, I joked that we are the Mexican police on the show. Because if some kind of cultural thing comes up they through to us and go is this right, or could you tell us more about this? Or you know like what is Menudo. You know, well that is a delicious hangover cure. ALISON ST. JOHN: so we are talking about the making of this new comic cartoon series on TV, border town, which by the way, when can we expect to see it start? LALO ALCARAZ: We just got moved to the fall of 2015 so we are not going to be a midseason replacer, we are going to be a full on and I'm hoping we will they will order the rest of the episodes, we have 13 that have been produced and we see the animation every week at the studio. And we get to critique it and look at it ALISON ST. JOHN: Do you feel tremendous responsibility to somehow represent the Latino community? LALO ALCARAZ: Yes I'm about to have a stroke right now just talking about it. It is pretty heavy. ALISON ST. JOHN: Satire is tricky, isn't it? LALO ALCARAZ: It is because I think the audience that is going to watch it is not as, you know, might not be as discerning of satire as some of my comic readers are used to what I'm trying to say, you know you have to be up on the news to really appreciate editorial cartoons, you know. ALISON ST. JOHN: Isn't it true to say perhaps that especially young people now are especially watchingDon Stewart and Stephen Cole therefore their news and somehow we are consuming news through comedy and satire especially more and more getting more sophisticated. LALO ALCARAZ: That's great when I grew up all I had was Mad Magazine, and now, yes you have the former now Colbert, I watch that with my kids last night, the last show of Colbert. It was so great and they get 90% of the stuff and thank God. And I hope that this show is going to accomplish a lot of that we have a lot of cultural comedy that is neither here nor there. It's not hard politically, but it is stuff that has not been seen on television stuff about Mexican culture, about Chicano culture, and immigrants. You know, it is going to be great. ALISON ST. JOHN: I want to quickly mention a couple minutes we have left there's also the that you've illustrated a most imperfect unit, a contrarian history of the United States, focusing on the dispossessed and minority groups and minority groups of all stripes. Is this something is like an alternative history for kids in school who do not get it from that perspective. LALO ALCARAZ: sort of to me now the book is basically the third book that Elon Stavans and I have worked on together, collaborated he's the author, he is an academic out in Massachusetts at Amherst. And he's a [Chelongo] Jew. And I am a wild Chicano cartoonist and so together we come up with these history books that are pretty cool and slightly off kilter from the norm. And you know, we need our kids and everybody to read these books dig deeper anything been kind of a regular textbook, because I not only get to explore Elon's texts, but then I get to interpret it with images ALISON ST. JOHN: With pictures yeah what really gets through to the students. LALO ALCARAZ: I think it's been really a great thing, and I'm considering changing my name to New York Times best-selling author because our book was on the New York Times bestseller list. ALISON ST. JOHN: Congratulations. As well I want to mention I also have your 2015 Lalo Alcaraz La Cucharacha cartoon calendar. LALO ALCARAZ: Every home should have it. ALISON ST. JOHN: It does look like that would be quite a fun one to have so thank you so much for joining us. LALO ALCARAZ: I want to say a shout out to lemon Grove, what's up. TOM FUDGE: Coming up next on Midday we will speak with a man who is into bread and went on the search for the perfect loaf. Stay tuned, we'll be back in a minute.
A San Diego native is on the team behind a new animated comedy sitcom tackling changing demographics and immigration.
The show focuses on the relationship between two neighbors, a border agent and an immigrant, living in a fictional town along the U.S/Mexico border.
Seth MacFarlane, the creator of the popular animated series "Family Guy," is the show’s executive producer and not necessarily known for being racially sensitive leading to criticism.
"We have a lot of cultural comedy, stuff that has been unseen on television about Mexican culture, Chicano culture and immigrants. It's going to be groundbreaking," Alcaraz said.
His comic strip, "La Cucaracha" is printed daily in U-T San Diego.
"Bordertown" is set to debut on Fox in fall 2015.
Alcaraz will speak at 6 p.m. Wednesday at UC San Diego's The Loft. For more information about the event, go to ucsd.edu.