Canto CCCLVI: Random Cool People I Know — Lalo Alcaraz

Or: America's Finest San Diegan

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Two of Amerikkka’s Most Wanted Mexican with glasses…

Gentle cabrones:

I sat in the front rows of the John Ferraro Council Chamber at L.A. City Hall., trying to avoid eye contact with the councilmembers before me. It wasn’t my day, and it wasn’t theirs.

It was Lalo Alcaraz Day in Los Angeles.

Councilmember Imelda Padilla, whose district is in the raza/Armenian portion of the San Fernando Valley, had brilliantly thought up of the idea to recognize the cartoonista/satirist/writer/my sometimes colleague/forever compa. Lalo thought up of the ludicrous idea for me to offer some words on his behalf.

Some words? I can write a book on him — and, let’s just say there’s a project brewing…somewhere…where I shall say a few! But for now, these shall suffice, along with all the cryptic Facebook and Instagram comments where Axios reporter Russell Contreras and I accuse Lalo of centering things (no, seriously: follow him on those platforms, and read for yourself):

I’ve now known Lalo for more than half of my life, which is both a blessing and sobering. Time really does fly when you surround yourself with genius.

I must’ve found out about Lalo by getting a bootleg copy of POCHO Magazine, the infamous zine he and other Chicanos created in the late 1990s. I definitely lurked in Pocho.com’s CyberCholo chatroom (or whatever the hell it was called) in the early aughts. I definitely remember stumbling down Sunset Boulevard with him after a party for…what was it? LA Weekly back when it was down? Maybe the Latin Alternative Music Conference, where Lalo did a HILARIOUS illustration of El Tri’s head dinosaur, Alex Lora?

A lot of drunken stumbling down streets. A lot of lifting each other up.

When the Los Angeles Times tried to cancel his strip, “La Cucaracha” back in 2007, I called my now-employer “stupid (Canto MXCVI) and helped to bring it back to our pages, where it remains. When I quit my job at the Infernal Rag, Lalo hailed my work. When the Remierda Moment happened, he hacked away at the haters. When I had the chance for a writing position at the one-season FOX cartoon Bordertown, I told the showrunner he should instead hire Lalo (that’s a canto for another time).

We host an annual calendar signing for him every December at my wifey’s Alta Baja Market that descends into DESMADRE. We’ve been on too many panels together to count, from screening Bordertown at CASA 0101 to talking to kids somewhere in SELA to talking to kids at Cal State Long Beach as part of that college program that brings Latinx high school students from rural California on a campus for a week (NOT the Chicano Latino Youth Leadership Project, where we’ve both spoken at).

I get mistaken far more for him than he does for me, which is all you need to know about our respective statures in Southern California. I own all of his books and too many of his prints to count — and you know his prints. Migra Mouse. Little Latina girl pretending to be a judge, in the wake of Sonia Sotomayor joining the U.S. Supreme Court. Barack Obama as Emiliano Zapata, to counter the Hillary supporters who were whispering to the lamestream media that Latinos would never vote for a Black presidential candidate.

So many Lalo stories to tell during Lalo Alcaraz Day at City Hall. He is a friend, and I’m lucky to know this legend personally.

My favorite Lalo story: Just after a Society of Professional Journalists/Los Angeles banquet where I was receiving a lifetime achievement award. I asked that he introduce me, and he did. We’re mingling with people after, then legendary KABC-TV Channel 7 anchor Marc Brown goes up to us.

“Lalo,” he said. “I think we’re related.”

Lalo is Chicano, Marc is African American. We all looked at each other and did the facial expression version of Jack Benny’s “Is that so?”

Turns out Marc married a sinaloense from the same part of the Pacific coastal state as Lalo’s mom! Marc was a huge fan of both of us, and we had a great convo.

So many stories I could tell. Councilmember Padilla’s staff gave me 90 seconds.


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The festivities began in Room 333 — an executive conference room. First time I had been to City Hall as an adult. Damn, it’s a beautiful building! History all over the place, sullied by too much corruption and the general incompetence that is bureaucracy.

Councilmember Padilla treated Lalo, his family and we friends to — what else? — Porto’s. In attendance: Boxy Dee and Jeff Keller, Lalo’s longtime cohorts on “The Pocho Hour of Power,” which they’ve done for free since forever. Abelardo de la Peña Jr. (a previous Random Cool People I Know) and his wife, back from being on the road to celebrate his recent retirement (although, Abelardo being Abelardo, he’s already helping out with Caló News). Not too big of a group, since it was a Wednesday morning, and the Lalo reception would be Friday night at a gallery in Whittier, where the Chicanada ain’t shittier.

We were walked to our council chamber row. Damn, the spotlights on the council are ugly! Makes its seem like an interrogation room, which I guess it should be in a way. Maybe those lights are a modern-day version of the Iron Throne?

One by one, the councilmembers sat down in their spot on the legendary horseshoe. Lording above them all was council president Paul Krekorian, whom I’ve never spoken to before but seems well enough. You know who wasn’t there, now that I just realized? Mayor Karen Bass. Wonder where she would sit…

The council staffers stood behind their bosses as Lalo and his family approached the podium, followed by the four people who would speak. Marta Segura, L.A.’s Chief Heat Officer and Director of Climate Emergency Mobilization praised Lalo’s longtime work on civic issues like democracy, COVID-19 vaccines and prevention, and much more. Consuelo G. Flores, the legendary artivista, hailed Lalo’s art.

Above us, some of Lalo’s greatest hits flashed on big screens. Both Lalo and I whispered to each other in gleeful disbelief that one of them was a recent one of Donald Trump in an orange dress and heels with the motto “Lock Her Up,” which now that I think of it makes no sense but is HILARIOUS — Lalo at his finest.

Councilmember Padilla introduced me, and a breeze of guarded anticipation filled the chambers. I wasn’t here in my day job, because it wasn’t about me. But nevertheless — flattered!

This is what I would’ve said, if it was anyone else except Lalo:

You might all know Lalo Alcaraz for his art, his hilarity, his comic strip, his Hollywood career, and his stature as one of the great L.A. satirists and a Chicano icon. I want to talk about a different Lalo — the mentor. The guy who loves to speak to students, from kindergarten through senior citizens, and has all the Instagram selfies with them to prove it. In a world of icons who make themselves unavailable, Lalo has never been that. People might think of him as a funny sangrón, but he has as big a heart as you’ll ever find.

He is a true Angeleno treasure, and I’m lucky to consider him my colleague, and my brother.

That’s not what I said. I needed to impress – Lalo. The more esoteric and caustic, the better.

Here are my prepared remarks, along with my usual asides.

Hello everyone: I had a prepared one-hour speech about what an incredible person Lalo Alcaraz is, but I was told I only have three minutes, so here’s my 90 seconds (laughter from councilmembers). You can read my full speech this Saturday, on my personal newsletter, gustavoarellano.org (laughter, but especially from Lalo).

Anyways: an amazing cartoonista and radio show host. The most beloved San Diego County native in Los Angeles since Pete Wilson (awkward laughter, loud laughter from the Lalo gallery). A Hollywood chingón. Migra Mouse. Daniel D. Portado (at this point, I looked back at Lalo and his family and said something about how his infamous Prop. 187 alter-ego would have to return this election cycle). The Pocho Hour of Power. The epitome of a mensch, someone who gives back to the community he loves and stands up to the losers that want to bully good people. A proud zacatecano who is not a convicted felon or a bigot (that one fell flat for everyone but Lalo, who cackled – IYKYK)

My sometimes colleague and forever compa. The greatest Mexican with glasses ever (some chuckles, but Lalo is the only person who knows where this comes from). Lalo (at this point, I brought him up right next to me and put my arm around him): I’ve only been mistaken for you three times today (howls from Lalo, laughs from others) — may I get confused with genius forever, and #renewbordertown

Councilmember Padilla said something about it being comedy hour at the city council meeting, which elicited laughs from everyone else. As she was saying that, councilmember Kevin De León walked into the council chambers. He had been waiting behind a door the entire time for me to finish my remarks — pobrecito!

Following me was Lalo’s longtime agent-attorney Jeff Cohen aka Chunk from the Goonies. Then Lalo said some words, and introduced a new, LAlo-centric city seal. Then councilmembers took their turn to praise.

Monica Rodriguez praised Lalo’s work — as long as it wasn’t about her, she deadpanned, which elicited rightful laughs from the audience. Hugo Soto-Martinez praised Lalo’s beautiful tribute to L.A. labor-political titan Miguel Contreras when he passed away. Eunisses Hernandez made a playful remark about me being from “the O.C.” (no one except Angelenos call it that, councilmember!). De León talked about how crucial Lalo’s work was during the Prop. 187 days, eliciting the usual hisses and back talk from the audience, along with a removal. Marqueece Harris-Dawson mentioned how during the Prop. 187 days, he was campaigning against it in South L.A., and all he had to do to convince people to oppose it was bust out a Migra Mouse poster. Traci Park straight-up admitted she was a newish fangirl.

The audience applauded, and we got escorted out of the chambers, with each member of the council that sat on the left side of the horseshoe — Padilla, Park, Curren Price, and Nithya Raman (Katy Yaroslavsky was absent) — shaking Lalo’s hand. Krekorian also joined in, and told me it was nice to see me — I need to do an exit interview with him…

We took some photos in the press conference room, then Lalo’s crew got to take a tour of City Hall. I needed to leave for a future canto. Need to go to City Hall more often, though!

Councilmember Padilla: Gracias for honoring my friend and a pillar of LAtino LA. Lalo: I’m so proud of everything you’ve done, everything you’re doing, and everything you’re going to do. It’s an honor to be your friend, and SO many people are proud of you. Please remember that when armchair Aztecs, wokosos, alt-losers and the hilarious haters talk trash on you.

But one thing: Why must you center success so much?

**

Enough rambling. This was the semana that was:

The no-one-reading-me jabs were expected; the Remierda one? FUUUUUCK…

IMAGE OF THE WEEK: This is actually from earlier in the year, but I had one of these this past week. Canto to come…

QUOTE OF THE WEEK:

“I can do no more. Such things have been revealed to me that all that I have written seems to me as so much straw. Now I await the end of my life.” — Thomas Aquinas

LISTENING: Pepito,” Baby Gaby. Pepito in the Mexican cultural canon is a trickster character — a innocently X-rated Dennis the Menace, if you will. This particular song (with an OLD SKOOL Mickey Mouse-Pegleg Pete faceoff) was recorded by a member the legendary Sanchez family (Al Hurricane fils and pere, Sparx, Tiny Morrie, etc.) of New Mexican music, but this isn’t a remake of a albur-ish corrido — it’s a take on the calypso classic “Shame and Scandal in the Family.” Get past the accented, stereotypical Spanglish, and it’s funny — Lalo and I once pitched an Bordertown episode ending to this (Pepito was a character on the show), and the showrunner LOVED the idea. I’ve written about New Mexican music before, but got to get more into Trini songs…

READING: “Caroline’s Clothes: The Life and Loss of an Antebellum Woman”: Commonplace is the excellent publication of the American Antiquarian Society, and this sad, detailed story about the clothes of a 19th-century young woman is proof. Watch out for that person who’s going to cross out your name from your homespun garb!

BUY MY NEW CO-BOOK! People’s Guide to Orange County tells an alternative history of OC through the scholarship and reporting of myself, Elaine Lewinnek, and Thuy Vo Dang. There’ll be signings all year — in meanwhile, buy your copy TODAY. And, yes: I’ll autograph it!

Gustavo in the News

Gustavo Stories

  • Grítale a Guti”: Latest edition of my Tuesday night IG Live free-for-all.
  • Orange County’s only nonprofit newsroom celebrates 15 years”: My latest KCRW “Orange County Line” commentary congratulates the Voice of OC on its quinceañera!
  • This story of ’60s Catholic social justice still has power decades later”: My latest National Catholic Reporter columna talks about my recent experience as dramaturg for Center Theatre Group’s recent reading of “The Trial of the Catonsville Nine.” KEY QUOTE: “And I was also reminded of the power of the stage. A few years ago, the play “Heroes of the Fourth Turning” earned praise for its depiction of conservative Catholics debating Trump’s America. Who is up for writing a progressive version of that?”
  • How a homophobe repented and became an imperfect LGBTQ+ ally”: My latest L.A. Times columna talks about the hate that was once in my heart, and remains in the hearts of too many. KEY QUOTE: “I remind myself that people can change — and those who’ve experienced a road to Damascus moment must urge others to follow our path.”
  • ‘I’m going to keep succeeding’: Huntington Beach’s Latina MAGA mayor speaks”: My next latest L.A. Times columna talks to Maywood native-turned-beach buchona Gracey Van Der Mark. KEY QUOTE: “The fact that she’s a proud Latina fluent in Spanish makes Van Der Mark a particularly potent force this election cycle, as Latinos increasingly grow skeptical of President Biden and Republicans need every last Latino vote they can get.”

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