Bordertown Brings Border Life To Primetime
In Bordertown, the incitive ways of executive-producer Seth McFarlane (Family Guy, American Dad) remain. But there’s more to his latest show than twisted jokes alone: the show, created by Family Guy Mark writer Hentemann, takes on what show writer Lalo Alcaraz calls “the weirdness that happens on the border.”
Imagine in the United States all of the sudden bill 7010 is passed, the “show me your papers” law, which is modeled after Arizona’s SB 1070. That’s what happens in Bordertown. Life starts changing. Latino and latina newscasters are arrested for processing and deportation on live television.
“We wanted to spoof Arizona’s law and show how stupid and unconstitutional it was,” Alcaraz, who also advises on the show, explains. “We also spoofed the American immigration system with a deportation cannon.”
The show, based in the architecturally spanish and English speaking Mexifornia, centers around la migra: specifically, Border Patrol agent Bud Buckwald and his well-fed family. He watches patriotic news television and learns to be fearful of Mexicans. He hates “immigrants.”
In order to get a clear picture of life as a Border Patrol agent, the show had an agent come speak to the group.
“He was a Mexican-American, and he told us about this one border station in Arizona and how that’s the station where, if you screwed up, you get sent to because it’s in the middle of nowhere,” he said. “It’s a lot like our station. He also told us about a few of the mis-adventures and hazing [in the Border Patrol]. The un-funny part was the terminology they use for undocumented immigrants — “tonks”. We have echoes of that in the show.”
Relentlessly questioning of the status quo, Bordertown portrays Border Patrol in compromising light.
“In my upcoming border wall episode, I depict two federal agents committing massive, treasonous felonies, and that stuff does happen in real life,” Alcaraz discusses. “They discover border agents that work for the cartels” Alcaraz tells me that, while his personal experience does play a big role in the show, Bordertown is not about any particular border town or city.
“The border’s different all along the US-mexico border: there’s desert, swamp, rivers, highly organized parts, rural parts, and, in my mind, there’s a little dash of San Ysidro and Tijuana in the design of Mexifornia,” Alcaraz notes. “But a lot of it’s more Mexicali, Calexico, Coachella — these desertlike images so that it didn’t look like Springfield.”
Alcaraz has much experience within the latino community, in particularly in the American southwest. He has been covering immigration issues since he started drawing comics. He worked as an Editorial Cartoonist at San Diego State University’s student paper The Daily Aztec, where he attended college.
“I had stories about Border Patrol brutality back then,” he tells me over the phone. His life growing up was very much like many who live in the border regions.
“I grew up like a lot of people in San Diego, going back and forth across the border to Tijuana,” he said. “My dad and mom both lived in Tijuana for ten years or so before they even met. When they immigrated, they came through the border, but they stayed in Tijuana and eventually got their papers. My mom was definitely undocumented for a time, so I’ve lived what we put up on screen.” Alcaraz grew up in the San Diego bedroom community of Lemon Grove.
“In Lemon Grove, I grew up as a Mexican kid,” Alcaraz remembers. “My family spoke spanish, and we enjoyed the culture in the barrio. We would go to Tijuana every two weeks to get our groceries, and so I’d spend a lot of time in Tijuana. When I was younger I lived there for stretches when I was a toddler. My earliest memory is from my aunt’s house in Tijuana playing with a little toy soldier she had a house in downtown Tijuana by the old bus station.” His visits to Tijuana continued into his adult life.
“And then of course, when I was at SDSU, we’d go every weekend to the clubs like church, like sometimes Friday and Saturday,” he laughs.
This week’s Bordertown episode will be about the border wall. “Donald Trump just put up his new ad, his first big TV ad, and it’s about banning muslims and building a border wall,” Alcaraz explains. “We wrote that episode two years ago almost, but border issues never go away.”
Alcaraz believes the border is a ripe setting for poignant cultural depictions of life in the US, and an aspect of American life that most people in the US will experience increasingly over time.
“Even just Los Angeles and the border [region] are two different worlds,” Alcaraz opines. “The border is its own dimension. If you go down to Mcallen, Texas, it’s a different planet from, say, San Antonio. Even though San Antonio is a hugely Mexican town, it’s still not the border.
“The border is something else, it is its own creature,” he says.
Bordertown brings the stark divides of modern American culture to the fore similar to American Dad in the Age of the Bush Republican.
“I just want people to stop scapegoating immigrants, and that’s been my life’s work and I think this is a good pop culture stab at it,” Alcaraz says of the show’s plot.
I spoke with a deported veterans of the United States military, from his new home in Tijuana, about the show’s first episode.
“I think it’s funny and it’s making fun of real life and the racism happening in the country,” Deported Veterans Support House director Hector Barajas Varela, a deported American veteran himself, told me. “In a way, it’s a form of activism.” For him, the show points out the reality of immigration and deportation.
“There’s a moral to the story: that Bud’s way of thinking is wrong,” he wrote from the Deported Veterans support house in east Tijuana. The reviews Bordertown has received are all over the map, according to Alcaraz.
“But some of the reviews say it’s too left wing, some say its too right wing. I think we have a good mix of stuff,” he explains. The show is meant to be pro-immigrant.
“A big goal [for the show] is just for people to see immigrants as real people and not as a scapegoated people; that goes for all immigrants,” he explains.
Bordertown only has the first season finished, and hopes a growing and engaged viewership forebodes many seasons ahead.
“I think, we’ll never run out of ideas because we live in a great area of the country and the US is changing,” Alcaraz believes. “As far as I am concerned it changed a long time ago, but some people just aren’t up on it.” Alcaraz suggests that the US is ready for a show based on life along the border in the southwest.
“We’ve seen the midwest and east coast done to death,” he said. “It’s time to do some stuff out here.”