You may have seen La Cucaracha on your kitchen table one Sunday morning. The comic strip by California artist Lalo Alcaraz is about Cuco Rocha and his buddies (think Archie but way more political). The strip satirizes Latino culture, American life, conservative, sometimes progressive, politics, and gender relations.
On September 18, "La Cucaracha," in recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month, presented all the Latino shows in English that have gotten cancelled. I learned today, from a national columnist, that the Chicago Sun-Times has not been including "La Cucaracha" in its comics section since Saturday. This could mean it's out for good. It got smashed in our local paper, some say, because of the paper's new size.
I don't think American audiences get Latino humor. I understand. Sometimes, we're just not funny. Spanish-language shows like Sabado Gigante and comedians like Eugenio Derbez present silly humor that is immature, trite, and just dumb sometimes. Then there's that show with la maestra Canuta, a woman in exaggerated Frida braids and folkloric clothes who teaches a bunch of men and women dressed as kids. They speak in childish voices, use foolish double entendre, and attempt to scandalize the audience into laughter with long female legs and cleavage. It's unintelligent humor that neither entertains nor educates.
"La Cucaracha" is different. During the 2004 elections, Alcaraz came up with a loteria card of all the political players. Bush was el borracho. Laura, his wife, was la dama whose only job was to walk elegantly and look pretty. Teresa Heinz, John Kerry's controversial wife, was a bare-breasted sirena spouting profanity. If I remember correctly, Cheney was el diablo. Alcaraz's clever art portrayed a political analysis that could have helped Latino audiences contemplate the political past and future. This comic strip addressed an English-speaking Latino audience politically, socially, artistically in a way that, arguably, no other writer or artist has been able to do in contemporary society.
My favorite comics commented on education. I remember one that had Cuco walking down the street, passing a huge concrete building with a sign that said "Military Recruitment Office." The next frame had Cuco walking into a tool shed with a sign that said "College Admissions Office." There it was: a whole argument about the mis-allocation of resources for Latino youth.
Alcaraz stands alone. Unlike the African American community that has intelligent comics like Chris Rock, the Asian American community that has socially savvy Margaret Cho, the Latino community cannot claim anyone who can compete with these comics. George Lopez's two shows got cancelled. I thought his first show, a phony Cosby Show attempt, exaggerated the humor in unfunny ways. His mom was the predictable loud mouth, reminiscent of the Golden Girls' mom. However, his best friend on the show should have had his own spin off.
A few years later, Lopez's "inclusive" talk show focused on having almost all of the Latino artists talk about how they used to be poor. The conversations were worse than small talk.
A couple of years ago, I became a fan of another comedian Gabriel Iglesias: the I'm Not Fat, I'm Fluffy guy. I saw him live in October last year and had a good time. Many of the jokes were from his TV specials. But it was still a good time. Earlier this year, I saw him in concert again. To my disappointment--and the disappointment of many others who walked out--he got stupid drunk on stage. Before he came out, the announcer warned us not to record anything. Iglesias had new material, he said. He wanted to test it out. Joke after joke, tequila shot after tequila shot, it all sounded like the last concert and his past TV specials. Fans kept taking him shots. The more he drank, the older the jokes got. Soon, the audience started saying the punchlines along with him. Imagine Karaoke.
I think Latino comedians struggle to stay funny because, most of them, make jokes about growing up poor. After they make it and are poor no more, they have less to joke about. Lopez's and Iglesias's political commentary, whatever little there is, cannot compete with Chris Rock's or Margaret Cho's hilarious attacks. Lopez and Iglesias are cultural comics--which makes them ephemeral humorists. Carlos Mencia attempts political humor. But I can't tolerate his yelling and "dee-dee-ree" chant. Loud does not equal engaging.
Alcaraz, we must remember, fills the void of a missing politically conscious, socially aware Latino cultural critic that our city--our country--needs.
Cockroaches are supposed to be capable of surviving a nuclear attack. The Chicago Sun-Times editors, however, are proving to be more potent than the Atom bomb.
Please take a moment to write an email asking the Chicago Sun-Times to reinstate "La Cucaracha" in its comics pages. E-mail Editor-in-Chief Donald Hayner at email@example.com or Features Editor Amanda Barrett at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In 2007, the LA Times tried to cut the comic strip but had to change its decision after 36 hours because people e-mailed and called the paper.
Many thanks to nationally syndicated columnist Esther J. Cepeda for passing along this news. Check out her column in the Sun-Times.
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