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Guest: Vicko Alvarez
Vicko Alvarez is the creator of ScholaR Comics and CholActivist—two comics projects inspired by Vicko’s life, Latina activism and chola culture.
Born and raised in Dallas, Texas and currently living on the south side of Chicago, Vicko is one of five children born to working class immigrant parents.
The stories told in ScholaR Comics reflect a clashing of cultures and generations. The comics use lighthearted, sometimes humorous events to tell otherwise tough stories of growing up Latina in a low-income neighborhood. ScholaR Comics’ main character is ScholaR, who is raised by the same hood, attended the same low-performing schools, and witnesses the same street brawls as everyone else. ScholaR’s a huge nerd though. ScholaR is a bookworm who cares about her hood. She cares about her classmates and she cares about her family. She knows her parents struggle to make ends meet and she knows her streets aren’t always safe for playing. What she doesn’t know is why.
People and projects discussed
- Vicko’s series ScholaR Comics
- Vicko’s CholActivist work
- Vicko at the upcoming Latino Comics Expo: Aug 6-7, 2016
- Vicko’s work in the Artists Assemble! Empowerment and Inspiration in Contemporary Comics exhibition at the Museum of Latin American Art
- Not 1 More Deportation campaign
About Imagine Otherwise
Imagine Otherwise is a podcast about the people and projects bridging art, activism, and academia to build better worlds. Episodes offer in-depth interviews with creators who use culture for social justice, and explore the nitty-gritty work of imagining and creating more just worlds. Check out full podcast episodes and show notes at ideasonfire.net/imagine-otherwise-podcast. Imagine Otherwise is hosted by Cathy Hannabach and produced by Ideas on Fire, an academic editing and consulting agency helping progressive, interdisciplinary scholars write and publish awesome texts, enliven public conversations, and create more just worlds.
Cathy Hannabach (00:03):
Welcome to Imagine Otherwise, the podcast about the people and projects, bridging art, activism and academia to build better worlds. Episodes offer in depth interviews with creators who use culture for social justice and explore the nitty gritty work of imagining otherwise. I’m your host, Cathy Hannabach.
Cathy Hannabach (00:24):
Welcome to the Imagine Otherwise podcast, which is produced by Ideas on Fire, an academic editing and consulting agency, helping progressive interdisciplinary ScholaRs write awesome texts, enliven public conversations and create more just worlds. This is episode 15. Our guest today is Vicko Alvarez, the creator of ScholaR Comics and CholActivist, two amazing comic projects inspired by Vicko’s life, Latina activism and chola culture. Born and raised in Dallas, Texas and currently living on the South Side of Chicago, Vicko is one of five children born to working class immigrant parents. The stories told in ScholaR Comics reflect a clashing of cultures and generations. The comics use lighthearted and sometimes humorous events to tell otherwise tough stories of growing up Latina in a low income neighborhood. ScholaR Comics’ main character is named ScholaR, who’s raised in the same hood, attends the same low performing schools and witnesses the same street brawls as everyone else.
Cathy Hannabach (01:25):
However, ScholaR is a huge nerd. ScholaR’s a bookworm who cares about her neighborhood and community. She cares about her classmates. She cares about her family. She knows her parents struggle to make ends meet. She knows her streets aren’t always safe for playing. What she doesn’t know is why. Vicko’s here today to talk about comics, about education, social justice activism and how she uses all three to imagine otherwise. Thanks so much for being with us, Vicko.
Vicko Alverez (01:53):
No problem. Thank you for having me.
Cathy Hannabach (01:55):
You’re the creator of ScholaR Comics, which I just adore. It’s so smart. It’s so much fun. It’s a really important project in the world. Tell our listeners a little bit about that project and how you came up with the idea for it.
Vicko Alverez (02:11):
ScholaR Comics, The main sort of aspect of it is the series that I have online. The comics come out once a month more or less. It all basically revolves around the story of the character named ScholaR. The idea is that she sort of a middle school aged, little Latina girl sort of just growing up in a neighborhood that’s not so perfect. It’s very much a reflection of how I grew up, how many of my friends grew up. Basically, sort of battling this duality of a world that’s kind of telling her that she’s not meant to do much and her wanting to do a lot. Her just sort of observing her world and the way that it looks at her as a woman, as a Latina, as somebody who’s growing up in a low income neighborhood.
Cathy Hannabach (03:00):
Nice. Why comics as a medium? What drew you to that?
Vicko Alverez (03:05):
I honestly got into it just for fun. I just thought that it was fun to create these sort of animated characters. Then eventually it just sort of clicked that it would be a perfect medium because of the combination between images and words. I recently decided to pursue an education master’s degree. It just made so much sense to be able to create books that… create a story rather, that is told, not just in words, but also with images. I think it clicked a lot, especially because I was working with young students. I just noticed that a lot of students don’t… They don’t like to write, but sometimes when you combine images into a writing exercise, they’re a little bit more willing to do it. A lot of it was actually because of my interest in just sort of seeing how it worked in the world of education. Eventually it just became fun for me. I’m an artist at heart. I always loved anything visual. I just liked the idea of taking my love for visual art and combining it with storytelling.
Cathy Hannabach (04:12):
Nice. There’s a fascinating and long history of activist tinted comics or comics that have a kind of activist or social justice framework to them. I’m thinking of the feminist comic movement, the lesbian comic movement, starting in the ’60s and ’70s all the way through today. Do you see ScholaR Comics as kind of tapping into that history as maybe one of the current manifestations of that history?
Vicko Alverez (04:43):
Yeah. Definitely. I think that it especially taps into comics that I think are more geared towards people of color. I’ve just seen so much on Facebook, much on these sites for sort of localized crowdfunding of people trying to create more work like this that’s geared towards people of color. I really think that it’s just part of this, I guess you would call it a comic movement of artists who are starting to really push for more representation of people of color. You even see it in some mainstream comics like The Black Panther and the movie that’s coming out in the next couple of years and Spiderman being Puerto Rican now, Afro Latino. I’m pretty excited for it. I’m glad to sort of just contribute my nugget.
Cathy Hannabach (05:42):
It seems like there’s been a lot of popular interest in comics lately, right? You mentioned Spiderman and all of these kind of big Marvel or DC based comics that are getting turned into really profitable movies these days. But it seems like you’re also pointing out the limitations of some of those mainstream representations, right? Kind of what is absent and who is absent, who stories, whose bodies, whose experiences, whose politics don’t get to show up in say a Marvel movie. It seems like ScholaR Comics is really doing some kind of fantastic work in filling in some of those gaps and pointing out there are other stories that would be really great to hear and learn from in this medium.
Vicko Alverez (06:28):
Yeah. Definitely. I almost feel like a lot of millennials are really nostalgic for their youth. That’s part of the sort of just revival of the comic culture. I think aside from my character being Latina, it’s the fact that it also focuses on a Latina who’s in a low income neighborhood. I feel like there isn’t too much talk of folks who… of comic characters, I guess, that are in that sort of position. It’s one thing to be a person of color. It’s another thing to tell a story of people who are traditionally overlooked, poorer classes basically.
Cathy Hannabach (07:11):
Nice. One of your other creations is CholActivist. Can you tell us a little bit about that. Did it grow out of ScholaR Comics? Is it completely separate? How did that come about?
Vicko Alverez (07:24):
It’s a little bit separate but still related. The whole concept of ScholaR and CholActivist just came out of my friends and I sort of joking around about how we put the chola in ScholaR. We’re from these quote unquote rough neighborhoods, the way that people perceive it. But at the same time we’re getting these degrees. We’re in academia, a place where people have time and time again told us that we don’t really belong. Not only that, we’re also doing something for our community. Doing something to change the way that society sees us. There’s a ScholaR character. Then there’s CholActivist character. It’s basically this idea that, okay, sure, we’re from these neighborhoods, but we’re doing something about it. We are activists in our own communities.
Vicko Alverez (08:13):
CholActivist, the way that I use it is… Unlike ScholaR, it’s not a series of stories. I use it more for a lot of activist work that I do to create images that I think can be helpful and can also just resonate with these communities that I care about, lower-income Latinas. I use CholActivist in posters that have to do with immigration work largely. The fight against deportations, the Not One More campaign. I’m not sure if you’ve heard of that, but I like to sort of… She’s sort of a grownup version of ScholaR, I guess. ScholaR’s figuring out her world. She’s in school, but CholActivist is grown up and doing something about the world that she lives in.
Cathy Hannabach (09:04):
Nice. You grew up in Dallas. You’re living in Chicago. This is kind of a key theme in, certainly in ScholaR Comics. It shows up in CholActivist, too. Have you noticed any kind of significant continuities or differences in their comic scenes there, the Latina art scenes there?
Vicko Alverez (09:25):
Yeah. Definitely both. Just differences and some similarities. Some similarities I think would just be that a lot of what I see as the mainstream comic world, but also the alternative comic world is it’s still majority white, which I think a lot of people are creating great work in that alternative scene. It’s just still feel… I still feel like it hasn’t been as inclusive as it could be. People of color, including stories that directly resonate with people of color. I definitely think that’s a commonality. Differences. I left Dallas when I was 18. It’s kind of hard for me to figure out what the scene is like now in Dallas. I feel like most of the comic artists I’ve connected with are either in the Midwest or the West Coast. That’s a little bit trickier for me to decide. But in terms of the art scene in general, I definitely think it’s a little bit more lively in Chicago, but Dallas is sort of on a come up from what I hear.
Cathy Hannabach (10:34):
Right. How do you see your work with these comics, but also maybe more broadly combining academia, art and activism in the service of social justice?
Vicko Alverez (10:48):
Cathy Hannabach (10:49):
Sorry. It’s a big question.
Vicko Alverez (10:50):
That’s okay. I saw the question. I was, that’s something I really need to think about. I think just the very fact that my main character’s name is ScholaR…
Cathy Hannabach (11:04):
Vicko Alverez (11:04):
Should sort of answer that. I think that it sort of… It tells stories that are just honest. With the ScholaR series, I don’t sort of blatantly say, oh ScholaR is a feminist in the making or I don’t say ScholaR’s really upset about living in this poor neighborhood, et cetera. It’s more subtle in the way that I guess I try to get messaging through because I do it through stories that are just sort of every day interactions that she has, whether it’s watching TV in the very first comic where there’s this novella basically on the TV saying all of this stuff about this woman who will die without her man, whoever it might be. ScholaR just sort of being, what? Why? Those are everyday interactions. Every day just activities that I remember always sort of tilting my head and being, why?
Vicko Alverez (12:16):
I think that ScholaR Comics series sort of bridges everything through just honest storytelling. There’s another one that I put up maybe a couple of months ago where there’s a new student, Rosita. The setting is a classroom. Instead of it being the home, we have a classroom now. The teacher mispronounces her name. Rosita doesn’t even speak English at this point. ScholaR’s sort of the one to reach out and be, it’s all right. Rosita doesn’t even know how they do Valentine’s day. This was a February comic. Even that you can get messages of we need to do better in our classroom settings in helping immigrant children get used to this completely new world. I think that I just do it through honest storytelling.
Cathy Hannabach (13:14):
Nice. ScholaR Comics is a really fabulous example of kind of how art can be used both for individual healing and kind of individual identity work, but also always connected to a broader collective or collaborative work towards social change, right? I’m curious what maybe advice or insight you have for others who are interested in using art or activism or academia for those kinds of dual purposes? The individual identity work but also that kind of structural collective change.
Vicko Alverez (13:52):
Actually, I liked that part about in your question about individual healing because that’s actually how the comic started off. I didn’t want to post them online at all. Even though they were in comic form, I just thought that some of the stories were too personal for me to be ready to put them out in the public. It made me a little nervous because it was my individual form of healing. It made me a little nervous to put it out and have other people look at it, judge it or even worse judge me. I guess my first advice would be take a chance. Some of the stuff that ends up being the most personal to us can end up resonating with so many other people. That’s what I learned when I put ScholaR Comics out in the public is that there were all these other people who were, whoa. That’s how I grew up. I have not seen this enough in story form, in comic form.
Vicko Alverez (14:54):
I think that was something that really helped me just keep going with the comics is hearing that other people not only wanted to see more of them. Some of them were even telling me that they needed to see more of this. It was really encouraging. My main advice would just to be… Recognize what’s extremely significant to you. What’s really personal to you, whether it has to do with academia, activism or all of it. Take a chance to see if it might resonate with others. Put it out there to see who else it might help to provide some individual healing for them.
Cathy Hannabach (15:39):
Nice. It is scary, right?
Vicko Alverez (15:41):
Yeah. Super nervous.
Cathy Hannabach (15:44):
Especially when it’s our own stories. It’s a different kind of vulnerability, right, than just putting the work that we… Maybe the scholarship that we make or blog posts we write that are about other people or other things, right even if they are very important to us, it’s different.
Vicko Alverez (16:01):
Yeah. I got really nervous when I started including stories about ScholaR’s mom. I was, oh my gosh, I literally just drew ScholaR’s mom, just like my mom. We’ll see how this goes.
Cathy Hannabach (16:12):
How did it go, if I may ask?
Vicko Alverez (16:16):
I think my mom just sort of thinks that I’m doing drawings. She hasn’t really paid too much attention to them. But so far so good, I guess.
Cathy Hannabach (16:26):
Awesome. This podcast is called Imagine Otherwise. This brings me to my favorite question that I get to ask guests. It circles around their vision of a better world. That world that they’re working towards when they draw their comics, when they make their art, when they organize their rallies and protests, when they teach their classes, whatever work they do in the world. That thing that they’re striving for. I’ll ask you what is admittedly a giant question, but I think a really important one, which is, what’s that world that you’re working towards? What kind of world do you want?
Vicko Alverez (17:06):
[inaudible 00:17:06]. Hope this doesn’t sound, I don’t know, too-
Cathy Hannabach (17:12):
Vicko Alverez (17:12):
Cathy Hannabach (17:13):
Go for it.
Vicko Alverez (17:15):
Ideally I would work towards a world where we don’t have to protest anymore. There’s always that sign that gets passed around in memes on Facebook that’s, no, I can’t believe I’m still protesting this. It’s, we shouldn’t have the protest any of this stuff anymore. Ideally, it’s not just a world where we don’t have to protest, but it’s a world where we can just enjoy what it is that we love. From the perspective of an artist, it is really, really hard to enjoy what you love when you’re an artist. So many people told me when I was… I’ve been an artist I feel since I was a kid, but so many people along the way tell you that’s not going to make you money. That’s not going to get you out of this neighborhood. That’s not going to get your parents… That’s not even going to sort of allow you to pay back your parents’ sacrifices. It’s just so hard, especially as an artist to live the life that you enjoy. Create the world that you want to see, at least for yourself, if not for others.
Vicko Alverez (18:17):
I think ideally I would just love to be in a world where your passion is something that you can really pursue. It’s something that not only makes you a living but makes you happy. It’s something that’s very difficult for me right now, but it’s something that I’m also trying to create for myself. I feel like I’m on the way there. I feel like I’ve surrounded myself with a great community of artists, a great community of musicians. A lot of us just have so much of this in common. So much of our mindset, our personalities are very similar because of that similar road of people telling us that we couldn’t and us doing it, regardless. Us creating the communities that we want to see. Whether here in Chicago, LA, Texas, you name it, we’re all creating these little communities that are the world that we want to see. I’m really hopeful for those communities becoming larger and larger to eventually be the world that we would want to see in the future.
Cathy Hannabach (19:21):
It seems like you’re working education is a great way to expand that, right? A great tie in for that. Teaching, teaching others how to do that, too.
Vicko Alverez (19:29):
Yeah. Definitely. I do a lot of comic programs with students, mostly middle school, but some elementary school students. I love looking at the little girls specifically and just being, you can be an animator. You can be a cartoonist because so much of that stuff I know is not being encouraged anywhere else. I just love being the one to be, yes, you can do it. Yes. Let’s try to get better at this so that you can finally fulfill this dream that everybody tells you it’s probably silly.
Cathy Hannabach (20:03):
Nice. Well, I think that is a great place to end on. Thank you so much for being with us and sharing your fantastic work.
Vicko Alverez (20:11):
Yeah. Thank you again for having me. This was fun.
Cathy Hannabach (20:14):
Thanks for listening to another episode of Imagine Otherwise. Editing for this episode was done by Julie Lenard. Be sure to check out our website at imagineotherwise.com to listen to full episodes, read show notes, and see links to the people, books and projects discussed on the show. You can also subscribe to us on iTunes.