Cartoons Cutting Through the Bullsh*t
By Erika Del Cid
Masq spoke with Victor Interiano, a Los Angeles based graphic artist who runs the site and Instagram account "Dichos de un Bicho", where he regularly uploads cartoon drawings on topics like Central American migration to the US; criticisms of patriarchy and systems of internalized oppression such as nationalism; as well as uplifting stories from his parents and cartoons with cats.
Can you explain your name, "Dichos de un Bicho", to us?
It literally translates into English as “sayings of a kid”, that’s a broad translation of it. In Spanish a bicho is a bug, but in Salvadoran Spanish it’s a word for a kid, a child, a boy. So when I was trying to figure out a cute name for the blog, I had already had a collection of memes from my old Facebook account called "Dichos de un Bicho". I was trying to come up with a name until my partner pointed out that I already had one.
A lot of people like the image of my cat, Angie, giving me the side eye, and that became the emblem.
When I first started following you I thought that the cat in many of your drawings was Bicho, and that it was the cat telling us all these things.
My cat is what grounds me, I guess that’s what I figured; she doesn’t take any bullshit, she just gives it straight to me. That’s kinda like the theme of my website: let’s just talk about stuff, and read how it’s happening without distilling, without that filter of BS that we create for ourselves. Lets just have these frank, open conversations about things that people don’t necessarily want to talk about, especially Central American issues. Even as numerous as we are here [in the U.S.], there are a lot of large scale narratives that don’t really include us. So that’s one of reasons why I wanted to create the website.
With regards to migration, your cartoons challenge the mainstream discourse in the US, where the prevalent image of immigration is of illegal Mexicans coming into the country. You bring in what Central American migrants go through in Mexico, and how they get treated poorly by Mexicans. People in the US see Mexicans as either the victims or as invaders, but they rarely see Mexicans in additional roles such as perpetrators of abuse against other migrants. Can you share some background as to why and how you decided to explore these issues in your cartoons?
I guess that goes back to me growing up as a Salvadoran kid in the 1980s in the US. But to be honest, when I first started, I was very hesitant to discuss the whole issue of Mexican hegemony because it became apparent for a lot of us [Central Americans] that there is a fear in discussing it. One, because we are afraid of alienating and discomforting our friends, colleagues, and coworkers that happen to be Mexican. Secondly, when it's brought up, we get labeled as haters. In dialogues I’ve had with different Central Americans, there is this hesitancy to discuss these issues at all, despite the fact that it’s very much a lived experience.
For me, growing up in the 80’s in the Pico Union area in LA meant that I got picked on by Mexican kids. For those of us who were growing up in that era, we had to deal firstly with white hegemony - all this whiteness telling us that there is something wrong with us because we’re brown, because we’re Latinos, Hispanic, or whatever. Or they confuse us with Mexicans. White people can’t differentiate between all the different nationalities - to them we’re all Mexicans - so there’s that aspect. Then you have Mexicans, kinda like as a secondary hegemony, creating a sort of hostile environment towards us because we’re the new kids on what used to be their turf. Even yesterday, I was having this breakfast with my parents and they were telling me that Salvadorans or Central Americans were not welcomed in East LA during ‘75,‘76, when they knew very well to stick to the Pico Union, Macarthur Park area because anytime you went to El Este, which is Boyle Heights, East LA, they were looked at in a certain way, people remarked about the way they spoke Spanish, and it was just a really unwelcoming environment.
It’s really wonderful to see that all of a sudden people are reacting to these topics, like “oh wait I see that too, yes, I’m glad I’m not the only one.” We think we’re the only ones thinking this, and to be able to relate to somebody so far away, you think “oh my god me too, I’ve seen that my whole life too”. And then you start creating a network of people, saying “this is a problem”.
What does the limited discussion of Central American migration mean for all the parties involved?
So the thing is, for those of us who live here, in first world privilege, the Mexican hegemony means erasure. It’s bad enough for us to be erased from the larger narrative, but for Central Americans in Mexico it can mean death and torture. It’s a whole different ball game, it’s part of the same construct of nationalism, as it operates transnationally, that is essentially working to minimize, dismiss and keep us in a particular position. Part of the problem is that sometimes Mexican folks think that we’re saying that they’re evil, and that’s not at all what we are trying to say. What we’re trying to say that they need to understand that their nationalism, as they understand it, is a weapon sometimes, like all nationalisms are. Take for example Salvadoran nationalism and how it has been “employed” against Guatemalans, especially indigenous Guatemalans. If you talk to anybody from the older Salvadoran generation, in their 50’s and 60’s, they have all these messed up stereotypes about indigenous folks in Guatemala or Black folks from Honduras, because "obviously El Salvador has not had any Black people".
The point of all this discussion about Mexican hegemony is not just to talk about Mexicans, but also to talk about the nature of nationalism and how it operates. When white people are nationalist, jingoistic, and racist in attacking migrants, there is nothing spectacularly unique about that, it happens to be an operation of the nation-state. So Mexico doing the same thing is not spectacular or different either, it’s the same damn thing that goes on in all nation states in Latin America; they all operate the same way. A nation state's national identity requires you to "other" somebody else so you can feel superior. This allows the nation state to operate with impunity or without having to worry about citizenry. So that’s kinda where I’m aiming for; it’s not just about Mexicans, it’s about fundamental conversations about the nature of nationhood, citizenry, and national identity.
Earlier you mentioned that you had taken down your contact information because of backlash you’ve received for some cartoons criticizing patriarchy, or men in general. Could you tell us more about that situation?
Last year I posted a cartoon which wasn’t necessarily aimed at men in general, but directed at men in the movement, men who organize and purport to being feminist men. Personally, I don’t think it’s possible for men to be feminist, the reason being that hetero cis-gender men, like myself, already have all of this privilege. We are part of the dominant group, who have been privileged by patriarchy, so for us to be part of a feminist movement is sort of a double edge sword. How can we be privileged, and at the same time identify ourselves as part of a group that is marginalized? It’s like when people say they are abolitionist, or in the same league as black folks who are working toward abolition; they can’t be because they are part of a dominant group. So that’s sort of the baseline from where I’m starting. When I made the cartoon, it was mostly about men who call themselves “feminists” but their behavior is otherwise. So I created eight different examples of men who I have encountered or have heard stories about.
The very first one is of a guy who worked at the college I worked at; he is the emblem of male feminism. He’s pretty famous for labelling himself as a male feminist, yet he had a reputation of sleeping with [female] students. His reputation was really awful regarding the things he had done, yet no action was taken against him until he actually transgressed; he slept with a student who outed him, and he ended up getting fired. So I started with him as an example. This is a guy who called himself a male feminist yet his behavior harmed young women. I then continued with different examples.
What were the reactions like?
A lot of the hate mail said things like, “how dare you do this, do you know what it’s like to be a man in organizing?” I think the one that provoked the worst reaction was the final cartoon in the series, the one where you have all these men who claim to be revolutionaries who were out celebrating Kobe’s retirement. You had all these men saying “I support woman, but yet I freakin’ love Kobe and we won’t talk about the fact that he raped someone”. Fundamentally, it was as if Kobe Bryant and his image was a toy for a little boy and somebody was taking that toy away from him. So they threw a tantrum about it, saying “How dare you take that this away from me? It’s what I enjoy, how dare you introduce this other perspective.”
I’ll give you another example. Recently, I posted an article about Pablo Neruda, a big time, famous writer. A lot of leftists love him because he was a revolutionary. He raped a woman back in the 70’s when he was an ambassador in Indonesia. People were surprised about it and didn’t want to acknowledge the rape. This is a prime example of the inability to understand that it’s possible to have two contradictory ideas when it comes to patriarchy. That you can admire somebody for the work that they did, but also recognize that they were messed up, a rapist and all this other stuff. I think this is one of the things about the left that I would like to criticize continuously because the left is misogynistic, and refuses to acknowledge it.
Most of your work is bi-lingual. Is there a specific reason that you chose to write in English and in Spanish? Is there a specific audience you are working for?
I live here, so I guess my primary audience happens to be folks who live in the US, but I also recognize that I have made an effort to create content in Spanish as well. I sometimes create stuff, put it out there, and then forget to do the Spanish version. My partner taught Spanish for a long time so she’s my editor most of the time. I try to translate the ones about feminism because I’ve received messages from people in Mexico saying, "Thank you so much for this because it's helping me deal with a lot of bros here who think patriarchy isn’t really a problem or that it’s a North American issue.” These operations often function the same way everywhere.
Another thing that I worked on through the web, and have had the immense privilege of doing was translating articles written by Salvadoran authors and translating them into English. There is one author, a historian called Elena Salamanca, whose articles I translated into English and posted on my website. I did this because a lot of the Salvadoran youth in the US either don’t speak Spanish, or they speak it minimally but don’t read in Spanish, so a lot of information on what’s happening in El Salvador isn’t getting transmitted here.
I think that part of the problem in terms of migration of Central Americans is that information gets compartmentalized. No one is talking the conditions that are being created in El Salvador, that the leftist government isn’t really necessarily helping. No one is talking about these things, or at least that information is self-contained in El Salvador. Nobody is talking about what’s happening in Mexico except those within Mexico. Here in the US, the conversation is mostly about migrants as they exist within the US migration system, and that’s where the conversation ends. Migrants are transnational survivors. Their transnationality in terms of their life experience is really important, yet it’s not being talked about at all. The moment they cross into the US, that’s what becomes most important about them. Their story can be utilized in the larger front against the US migration system, without fully understanding how the US immigration system has now extended itself across all of Mexico and into the Central American isthmus. It’s now one whole system, and it’s just crazy how it’s currently operating.
When I look at some of your work, I see it as a really good resource and I imagine it in classrooms. Where do you imagine your work to be? Do you have any dreams for where it will be shown?
I’ve been told that the piece I did on decolonization is actually being used in classrooms. I have a friend who teaches at UC San Diego who uses it in her ethnic studies class, and I heard that there are folks in Canada who do work in Native Studies, who are also using it. That particular cartoon was based on an article written by Eve Tuck and Wayne Yang called Decolonization is not a Metaphor, so that’s being used too. I’ve made special posters for some collectives in LA, especially the one on patriarchy. The one with all the ‘male feminists’ examples is a pretty good primer on really shitty male behavior that men can hopefully relate to and critique. I want to start making this artwork more accessible to folks who want to buy prints or donate to collectives.
Also, at some point I want to start creating children’s books. I have a little character called Jorgito Colonizado, based on Curious George, who is a little monkey and who talks about colonization.
My dream though is to see the one called “Desde Centro America con Amor” as a mural someday, like in Pico Union. It’s about the place where I grew up and it’s about loving Central America, and loving what’s there, and the bridge that connects the two homelands. So my dream is to see that one day.
Check out more of Victor's work at http://dichosdeunbicho.com/ and on Instagram @dichosdeunbicho.