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Baldo: Comic strip entertains and educates, combating racial stereotypes  

By Arooj Ashraf, La Prensa Correspondent
 

Cartoonist Héctor D. Cantú has a flair for blending humor with culture to combat racial stereotypes through his comic strip Baldo.

 

As a young comic enthusiast Cantú often marveled at the absence of Latino comic characters. “Instead of waiting for someone else, I decided to create my own,” Cantú told 85 people at Cleveland State University’s Mather Mansion on Oct. 15, 2008. His first comic was published at age 12, in a newspaper published by his brother.
 

An award winning journalist, Cantú is an editor—he is an editor at Quick, a daily news tabloid in Dallas that targets young readers, and was managing editor of Hispanic Business Magazine. He is an expert on the U.S. Latino market — for three years he wrote a nationally distributed column that examined issues in Hispanic America.

 

In 1998, Cantú  partnered with artist Carlos Castellanos and created characters: Baldomero ‘Baldo’—a 15 year old Latino teenager growing up in U.S.-America, living with his 8 year old sister Gracie, Papi Sergio Bermudez, and Tia Carmen, who bring snippets of Latino cultural heritage and tradition to life. Four strong characters left no room for a mother, “So we took the cheap way out and killed her,” Cantú said.

 

By April 2000, the strip was launched by Universal Press Syndicate and now appears daily in nearly 200 newspapers around the nation. “Baldo is currently the only comic featuring a Latino,” said Cantú, which gives the comic a unique platform to present a Latino voice in the mainstream U.S. media.

 

Cantú emphasized Baldo was not a manifest of his personal experience of growing up Latino in the United States. The strip’s main purpose is to entertain through daily scenarios involving work, family, culture, superstition, sometimes religion, and even death.

 

“Baldo is not a political cartoon, our main purpose is to entertain and make people smile,” he said.

 

However, Cantú does not shy away from the opportunity to give Latinos a voice when he feels there’s a vacuum in the information. After Ken Burns’ World War II documentary War, aired on PBS and sparked criticism for ignoring the role Latinos played in the military, Cantú saw an opportunity to share the untold stories.

 

He introduced the character Benny Ramírez, a WWII veteran, who offered a composite of many stories told by Latino veterans and archived by Dr. Maggie Rivas-Rodríguez of the University of Texas at Austin’s U.S. Latino and Latina World War II Oral History Project. The two week script personified the brutality of war, the discrimination minority veterans experienced within the military and upon returning.

 

The essence of the script is captured in a one-liner by Benny, “If I don’t keep my story alive, who will?”

 

Cantú said he felt obliged to use the little platform he had to share the sacrifices Latinos have made for this country and was invited by NPR to share his message with a broader audience. His own uncles served in the U.S. military.
 

Lucia Stone, a Cleveland State Spanish Teacher’s Assistant, described Baldo as a gutsy comic—“Cantú has a great sense of humor; it’s subtle and yet very biting at the same time and really gets the message across.” Students from her class attended the lecture presented by the Cultural Crossings Speakers Series and Stone said she looks forward to discussing what messages they derived from the comic and their opinions on discrimination. 

 


Cartoonist Héctor D. Cantú with Cleveland State

professor Antonio Medina-Rivera

Cantú said Baldo’s heritage gives him a unique perspective on relevant issues. When one and a half million Latino students marched out of schools and colleges to demand fair immigration regulations, Cantú felt Baldo should take part as well.

 

So in the guise of a student reporter, Baldo took to the streets and sought to present information from both sides of the debate. Cantú said most of the dialogue came directly from newspapers articles. The strip sparked an outcry of hate mail. “We didn’t set out to say what was right or wrong; we wanted people to talk, and they talked to us, often in a very bad way,” Cantú said.

 

Sometimes the strip reflects real personal and painful incidents. “I am always looking for ideas and storylines,” Cantú said.

 

Discrimination is a sore issue with many readers and Cantú’s inbox is often filled with complaints, accusing him of making the “white guy too arrogant” or accusing minorities of being too sensitive. “Some even say they have never ever experienced discrimination in this country,” he said.

 

Cantú sees claims of reverse discrimination as an effort to desensitize; “If everyone is a victim of discrimination, it begs the question: ‘Does it matter anymore?’” On the other hand some Latinos find his humor paints them in a negative light and accuse him of perpetuating the same stereotypes he hopes to dismantle.

 

Cantú acknowledges the comic can not bare the burden of satisfying everyone but ‘as long as it brings a smile to someone, Baldo has done a good job.’ Often, the negativity becomes inspiration for a new script that defuses angry flames with a good dose of humor.

 

Stone isn’t surprised that some feathers get ruffled when the strip generalizes cultural norms. She would like the strip to focus on higher education and present strong role models.

“That is where Gracie comes in,” said Cantú. The feisty little chica is a strong role model and exhibits a delightful thirst for knowledge and an eagerness to be an Ivy League graduate, noble prize winning-supermom-president.

 

“I am convinced there is an ‘I hate Gracie Fan Club’,” said Cantú. He imagines a group of Goth teenagers fuming over Gracie’s perky sunshine attitude and says perhaps there will be a storyline based on them too.

 

Cantú is currently working on a script that addresses domestic violence. Cartoons are difficult work—“they require the perfect balance of words and illustrations; so without one, the other doesn’t make sense,” he said.

 

Cantú has published two comic books based on Baldo. The strip was briefly in queue for becoming an animated cartoon to be aired on Univision but it never made the cut. Always looking on the bright side, Cantú said, “Well, at least I have a theme song,” which he shared.

 

Visit baldocomics.com for some hearty chuckles.

 

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