Cartooning is not what it used to be, according to Chicano political cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz. Alcaraz spoke Monday night in Houston Hall, opening up the 14th annual Festival Latino de Penn. "A Mexican sense of humor is unknown in the U.S," Alcaraz said. Combining the sharp wit of his mother -- one of his earliest inspirations -- and a sense of Latino activism, this native Californian produces a weekly comic entitled L.A. Cucaracha that is published in "alternative publications" around the country. Transforming the Bowl Room into a multimedia center, Alcaraz used slides, video and a lively commentary to explain to the audience of about 20 what he did as a cartoonist in the Latino community. To the sounds of laughter, Alcaraz presented slides of many of his cartoons, noting that the issues he parodies are significant to the Latino community today. Among the topics covered in his cartoons are Proposition 187 -- the California referendum regarding illegal immigration -- the death of Mexican music star Selena and the 1996 presidential campaign. "It's really important to make the kids aware," Alcaraz said, adding that he tries to make his work accessible to all members of the Latino community. In an attempt to reach out to more people, Alcaraz has recently created a home page on the World Wide Web called "the Virtual Barrio." "The Internet is a great way for us to publicize our work," Alcaraz said. "We didn't want to get locked out of the Internet like we did with TV." For instance, the home page includes the "Goatee Club for Men" and "Home Girls," a parody on the movie Show Girls. These and other similar features put mainstream American life into a Latino perspective. Alcaraz noted that his work does not go without criticism. He said he receives hate mail frequently, from Latinos and non-Latinos alike. But he added that the hate mail will not stop him from writing the controversial cartoons. Alcaraz received some of his most vehement criticism from a project he worked on during the 1994 California gubernatorial campaign. Proposition 187 was on the same ballot and Alcaraz formed a "Hispanics for Wilson" group as a joke, an ironic twist because Gov. Pete Wilson (R) was in favor of the measure. Under the name Daniel D. Portado, or Deported Dan, Alcaraz's fake group encouraged immigrants to return to their homelands, an act he called "reverse immigration." Once people started to take him too seriously, though, he decided to put an end to "Hispanics for Wilson" and stick to cartooning. Festival Latino De Penn also celebrated yesterday with a keynote address by two prominent Latino authors.

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