Tucson Citizen
Thursday, September 30, 2004

'La Cucaracha' crawls on everyone, makes no excuses

     Lalo Alcaraz works on his comic strip
     "La Cucaracha."
     Cuco Rocha, a human-sized
     cockroach, is the main
     character in "La Cucaracha." 

The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES - The cockroach isn't swallowing the pre-election rhetoric. You can be Democrat, Republican - it doesn't matter. If you drag out sombreros and piñatas to court Hispanic voters, and then forget the nation's largest minority group after Election Day, the cockroach will lash out.

But he'll also try to make you laugh along the way.

The cockroach is Chicano hipster Cuco Rocha, the main character in "La Cucaracha," the only politically edgy Hispanic-themed comic strip in U.S. newspapers today, and part of a growing number of strips that are more editorial than comic.

The cockroach is militant, self-righteous and mad. And through national syndication on the daily funny pages, he and his jalapeno-hot political satire are crawling into millions of homes.

Creator and artist Lalo Alcaraz uses the roach to lambaste President Bush, challenger "Juan" Kerry and pretty much anyone else in between. Cuco Rocha watches MTV "Voto Latino" shows and calls whites "gringos." He also makes up a game lampooning Mexico's classic bingo game. In Cuco's version, each candidate in the election gets a card: Kerry is Juan Kerry, "El Valiente" - the brave one; Bush is "El Ex-Borracho": "now thankfully hooked on Jesus and extended vacation days."

In a recent strip, the roach meets a Kerry campaign volunteer surveying "what's on the minds of the Latino voter." Looking doubtful, Cuco, his thin whiskers tense, replies, "Most Latinos are against the war." The eager young aide writes down "immigration."

"The parties ... have a very shallow approach to Latinos," says Alcaraz, a "disgruntled Democrat" by his own account. "Mariachi music does not make up for an actual plan on helping Latino communities."

He swivels in a chair in his 25-by-25-foot studio, cluttered with photographs, comic strips and cucaracha prints bulging from a cardboard box on the floor. A Che Guevara poster he's modified with Bush's face above the words "Freedumb Fighter" hangs on the wall; a mini-Mexican flag is draped over the sink.

Because he gets hate mail and death threats, he calls this his secret bunker, "somewhere in Los Angeles."

The Fresno Bee, which pegs its readership at about one-third Hispanic, pulled "La Cucaracha" after receiving a barrage of protests from readers who considered it racist to suggest that a roach speaks for Hispanics.

In San Diego, where Alcaraz grew up, readers of the Union-Tribune have objected to his "pro-Hispanic immigrant" slant and urged editors to move the strip into the opinion section. But Chris Lavin, the editor who oversees Union-Tribune comics, defended Alcaraz and his "take-no-prisoners style" in a column last year.

More than 100 other newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times, Houston Chronicle, Chicago Sun-Times and Tucson Citizen also carry "La Cucaracha."

"Newspapers are losing audiences to television and the Internet because those are edgier, more real," the 40-year-old artist says.

"I'm showing a non-PC, non-sugarcoated view of life. It's OK to be bicultural and bilingual and you don't have to water that down for whites."

Alcaraz says he depicts the main character as a cockroach from the East Los Angeles barrio as a means of confronting racial stereotypes head-on. "In Mexico, La Cucaracha is a mainstream pop icon, an idea about resilience," he says. "Here, it's a racist epithet. I wanted to make the point that it didn't have to be."