There’s one mousey milestone that won’t be marked with a “Get Your Ears On” celebration at Disneyland this year although it endures in Chicano political memory. Back in 1994, California Governor Pete Wilson wielded Prop. 187—a ballot initiative wanting to strip “illegals” of access to basic public benefits and services such as public education—to help win re-election. La Cucaracha cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz responded in the pages of LA Weekly with agitprop.
He didn’t parody Pete, but instead gave Mickey Mouse a migra makeover for the ages. “I saw in the news that the Walt Disney Co. was supporting Wilson,” Alcaraz recalls. “To be fair, they also donated money to Kathleen Brown, his opponent. That’s what big corporations do. They hedge their bets.”
But the cartoonista remembers Disney dubbing its animated features in Spanish around that same time. Making forays into the Spanish-speaking immigrant market while supporting a Know Nothing politician such as Wilson struck him as hypocritical. A Mickey Mouse spoof was in order. “I dressed him up as a border patrol agent with really cute shorts,” Alcaraz says with a chuckle. “I like to say it was my first viral image.”
Before social media, people clipped the cartoon, passed it around and made protest signs out of it. Migra Mouse even headed to Mexico, where 10,000 posters were printed during a labor strike; stacks of them were smuggled back into the United States and given to the artist.
The image proved so popular that Alcaraz used it for the title and cover of his first political-cartoon book on immigration a decade later.
In all those years, the artist never heard a peep from Disney about the ‘toon. [Once, an assistant to a Disney executive (who’ll forever remain anonymous) sought the original print of another cartoon he drew depicting Mickey Mouse as Michael Eisner flipping Roy Disney off—but that’s a topic for another column!] But Alcaraz did get a call about a Pixar project a year after drawing “Muerto Mouse,” this time satirizing Disney’s ill-fated attempt to trademark “Día de los Muertos” for merchandise.
That lead to him being brought in as a cultural consultant for Coco. (Did your abuelita laugh at the chancla gag in movie? Thank Lalo!)
“I saw that things were lining up in favor of representation, and Pixar was sincere about trying to make Coco the right way,” Alcaraz says. “I took that chance by joining their Coco team even after having been one of the voices pushing back against Disney for trying to trademark Día de los Muertos.”
Okay, so maybe Pixar kept the cartoonist’s involvement from Disney until the last possible moment. But after an Oscar for Best Animated Featured Film and families repeatedly watching Coco on Netflix, it all worked out, no?
Alcaraz’s Coco role also gave the cartoonist the opportunity to work offscreen with Imagineers, giving insight into planned Día de los Muertos seasonal revamps at Disney California Adventure in Anaheim. During the collaboration, an interesting fact arose: 50 percent of park-goers are Latino. “That blew my mind,” says Alcaraz. “I have several comadres that have the yearly pass. It’s borne out by anecdote. So why not demand more of Disney to serve the community rather than just exploit it?”
Disney’s definitely trying to make the case in Anaheim by stepping up its philanthropic game, following a living-wage campaign brought by resort labor unions last year. But by continuing to back local candidates friendly to the resort but hostile to the city’s undocumented residents, there’s still a long way to go. As long as that’s true, Migra Mouse’s legacy endures.
“People bring up Migra Mouse to me all the time,” says Alcaraz, now a cultural consultant for The Casagrandes, an animated Nickelodeon series about a Mexican family due in October. “The image is a reminder that it’s okay to point big corporations in the right direction of working with the community and not against it.”
Gabriel San Román is from Anacrime. He’s a journalist, subversive historian and the tallest Mexican in OC. He also once stood falsely accused of writing articles on Turkish politics in exchange for free food from DönerG’s!