The Ruth B. Shannon Center for the Performing Arts is embracing the local flavors of Mexican culture this month with Wednesday evening’s “Latino Heritage Night.” Sponsored by the Center for the Collaboration of the Arts, Whittier College was visited by Californian authors Lalo Alcaraz and Gustavo Arellano.
The theater’s foyer, adorned with colorful paper flowers, or ofrendas, and the art works of 12 Latino artists, also housed a “pop-up shop” presented by Uptown Whittier’s local Mexican vintage shop, Lunasol.
The audience was even treated with a traditional Ballet Folklorico routine performed by Whittier’s own Paso de Oro, or Steps of Gold.
The only thing missing from this cultural feast was an actual feast. But, fortunately, the panel featuring Alcaraz and Arellano offered enough sustenance.
Topics such as immigration, racism, assimilation and anti-Mexican hate-mail do not seem to be so easily associated with humor. However, in the satirical hands of master stereotype-spoofers Alcaraz and Arellano, much laughter ensued.
“Satire is one of the most powerful tools to fight stereotypes,” Arellano said. The Orange-County-born editor of the OC Weekly also writes for a national syndicated column entitled “¡Ask a Mexican!,” wherein he answers any (yes, any) and all questions about Mexicans including: “Why are Mexicans always so happy?”
This past April marked the release of Arellano’s Tacos USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America. The self-proclaimed optimist believes that since Americans have come to love Mexican food, they will eventually come to appreciate other aspects of Mexican culture. “One nation, under tacos,” Arellano said.
His honesty is not always so appreciated by readers. “My favorite hate-mail was a bag of horse manure,” Arellano said.
“Can I have it back?”. Alcaraz said.
The interplay between the two friends and collaborators added to the delight of the evening’s festivities. The two even share a relationship transcending their professional lives. Both have family from the small town of Jerez, Zacatecas in Mexico.
Alcaraz is a resident of Whittier who describes himself as a “San Diego refugee.” The panel featured a slideshow of the cartoonist’s works, some of which are part of the first nationally-syndicated, politically-themed Latino daily comic strip, La Cucaracha. Since 1992, Alcaraz has been generating editorial cartoons for L.A. Weekly.
“Everyone’s a satirist in Mexico; you come here and lose your sense of humor,” Alcaraz said. While earning a master’s degree in architecture at the University of California, Berkeley, Alcaraz dabbled in stand-up comedy and found a passion aside from environmental design.
Recently, the illustrator has taken to the social media outlets of Twitter to broadcast his scandalously hysterical account @MexicanMitt a spoof insight to the life of 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Also, he is looking to reboot the mock-news site and webzine Pocho.com.
The comedic layer of irony and lighthearted self-mockery from the two authors is grounded in a bicultural history of Mexican-American heritage that has been laden in unrest.
Upon a cartoon of two teepees on fire with the infamous words “We will never forget” above, Alcaraz takes pause to let the powerful image sink in. “There are greater genocides that have happened on American soil,” Alcaraz said. “I love laughing at my own shit to keep myself sane.”
“The authors were real, honest and easy to relate to,” junior Jonae Varela said. “Both authors have great stories and culture that contribute to the on-going Hispanic stereotypes and make them into comedic acts.”
Before a book and poster signing following the show, the audience was given the chance to explore the authors even further. In response to the question “How do you do this for so long? It’s depressing,” Arellano, who is also an investigative journalist said, “You have a feeling that you know what you’re doing is right.”