Out­sider hu­mor

Na­tive car­toon­ist laughs at life for all of us

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PAGES By Johanna DeBi­ase WITH­OUT RESER­VA­TIONS: THE CAR­TOONS OF RI­CARDO CATÉ By Ri­cardo Caté

96 pp. Gibbs Smith. $9.99 A marginal­ized pop­u­la­tion is a group of peo­ple who ex­ist out­side the main­stream cul­ture be­cause they are per­ceived as hav­ing mar­ginal im­por­tance, in­flu­ence or power.

Na­tive Amer­i­cans are an un­for­tu­nate ex­am­ple of marginal­iza­tion.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tions of Na­tive Amer­i­can peo­ple are rarely found in me­dia. From tele­vi­sion to movies to the news to advertisements to com­mer­cials, indige­nous Amer­i­cans are sel­dom se­ri­ously or re­al­is­ti­cally de­picted.

Worse yet, im­ages of Na­tives that we do see are ei­ther racist stereo­types, such as the Cleve­land In­di­ans mas­cot, Chief Wa­hoo, or in­sult­ing cul­tural car­i­ca­tures used to sell T-shirts to teenagers or vel­vet paint­ings to tourists.

Un­for­tu­nately, when marginal­ized pop­u­la­tions at­tempt to speak up and em­power them­selves, peo­ple in au­thor­ity get de­fen­sive. Con­sider re­cent events such as the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment and Stand­ing Rock, both of which met with vi­o­lent re­sis­tance from the pow­ers that be.

But there might be one guy that has it fig­ured out.

Ri­cardo Caté, a res­i­dent of the Santa Domingo Pue­blo, has been draw­ing the daily car­toon, “With­out Reser­va­tions,” for

The Santa Fe New Mex­i­can since 2006 and most re­cently, The Taos

News. In 2012, Caté pub­lished a col­lec­tion of his comics in a book by the same name.

Caté has been draw­ing comics since the sev­enth grade but is not con­ven­tion­ally trained as an artist. He is an out­sider artist in more ways than one.

Caté’s comics por­tray pudgy Amer­i­can In­di­ans wear­ing stereo­typ­i­cal breech­cloths, war bon­nets, hair feath­ers and braids while Cau­casians usu­ally look like Gen­eral Custer with the oc­ca­sional pil­grim or cow­boy thrown in.

What bet­ter way to fight the es­tab­lish­ment than to make fun of it. The art of po­lit­i­cal satire is as unas­sail­able as it is de­fense­less. One can no more take of­fense at a joke with­out ap­pear­ing to ad­mit

its truth than one needs to de­fend a state­ment that was merely a joke.

Cate’’s satire does not hold back from mak­ing fun of In­di­ans as well as ev­ery­one else. Jokes about Spam, di­a­betes, child sup­port and Jerry Springer share the page with gags about bro­ken treaties, The In­dian Re­lo­ca­tion Act and the near ex­tinc­tion of the Amer­i­can bi­son.

Many of his car­toons would justly earn the hash­tag “fun­nynot­funny.” While each comic is in­grained with gen­uine hu­mor, an un­der­lin­ing sense of irony, a win­dow into how things are and how they shouldn’t be is al­ways ap­par­ent. It can be dif­fi­cult to laugh when the in­jus­tice is so clearly high­lighted.

In one comic, Gen­eral Custer shows an In­dian to a barbed wire fenced area with a sign that reads: In­dian Reservation. Custer says, “Think of it as your own lit­tle gated community.”

In an­other comic, two Na­tives stand on a beach watch­ing a group of English mer­chant ships sail to­ward them. One man says to the other, “Maybe we should have passed tougher im­mi­gra­tion laws.”

Many of the comics com­ment on mod­ern life on a reservation and cur­rent events. In one comic a sign over a scale reads: “Your weight and de­gree of In­dian blood 25 cents.” In an­other, three kids in the back of an open truck bed call out to their mother as she heads into the Wal-Mart: “Hey, you can’t just leave us out here in the truck — we’ll suf­fo­cate!”

On the inside cover of the book, Na­tive writer, econ­o­mist and en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist Wi­nona Duke is quoted as say­ing, “For those of us en­trenched in the great­ness and depth of our com­mu­ni­ties, we find that [Caté’s] heart – and gut-felt hu­mor speaks to our minds, mem­o­ries and hearts.”

You don’t have to be Na­tive to ap­pre­ci­ate his hu­mor. Much of what he pokes fun at is the way in which main­stream me­dia has his­tor­i­cally and in­ac­cu­rately per­ceived Na­tives. For ex­am­ple, in one comic, an In­dian walks into a card store and asks the clerk, “Do you have any, ‘Honey, I’m re­ally sorry I shot you with an ar­row’ cards?”

In an­other panel, an In­dian is demon­strat­ing smoke sig­nals for Custer. He says, “Check this out. It’s our lat­est tech­nol­ogy in wire­less com­mu­ni­ca­tion.”

In the book’s in­tro­duc­tion, Caté says, “There are those who say my car­toons aren’t po­lit­i­cally cor­rect. I would say to them that they could pick up any his­tory or so­cial stud­ies text­book and find po­lit­i­cal in­cor­rect­ness in the chap­ters deal­ing with Na­tive Amer­i­cans.” And, Caté would know since he used to teach mid­dle school so­cial stud­ies. Ac­cord­ing to In­dian News

To­day, Caté is the only Na­tive car­toon­ist fea­tured in a main­stream news­pa­per with his more than 400 car­toons seen by about 60,000 peo­ple daily. Na­tives rep­re­sented in me­dia is a step away from marginal­iza­tion and to­ward giv­ing voice to at least one as­pect of their world.

Non­na­tives seek­ing out and read­ing th­ese car­toons cre­ates stronger al­lies. But pol­i­tics aside, “With­out Reser­va­tions” is funny. It makes us laugh at our­selves and at the sit­u­a­tions we find our­selves in. Both thought­pro­vok­ing and light-hearted, it is the best of both worlds.

“With­out Reser­va­tions” is widely avail­able in re­gional book shops and on­line re­tail­ers.

COUR­TESY IL­LUS­TRA­TION

RI­CARDO CATÉ is a res­i­dent of the Santa Domingo Pue­blo.

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