I was a teenager growing up in Southern California when I first came upon Lalo Alcaraz’s comic strip La Cucaracha in the Los Angeles Times. My hometown of Fontana has an ugly history of white supremacy, and racism would often pop up in unexpected ways. The world of La Cucaracha—especially the main characters Eddie, Cuco, and Vero—helped me, a young Mexican-American woman, process my experience. I would often save clippings of my favorites. Sometimes I would collect strips because they seemed to say something important about my social and political milieu; other times I did so simply because I thought they were cool. That isn’t to say superficial: seeing one’s teenage self reflected in something cool was a balm that soothed the wound of internalized racism. Because it resonated with me (and not my Mexican immigrant parents), Lalo Alcaraz’s work also felt uniquely mine.
Now, Alcaraz is celebrating La Cucaracha’s twentieth anniversary as the first Latino-themed nationally syndicated political comic strip. He is also the recipient of the prestigious 2022 Herblock Prize for editorial cartooning, and the only person of color ever to receive the award. “I hate stuff that’s watered down and not specific. The more specific you are when you create art, the more universal it is,” Alcaraz told the Los Angeles Times back in 2002. That same sentiment has characterized his entire career. Besides his editorial cartoons, Alcaraz is also a writer, producer, and cultural consultant for animation, film, and television, as well as the founder of the satirical magazine POCHO. (Pocho is a pejorative slang term that refers to Mexican Americans, Mexican emigrants, expatriates, or other people of Mexican ancestry who lack fluency in Spanish and are unfamiliar with Mexican culture.)