IYA! Youth Activism

September 25, 2007

Shorty Fatz is a comic strip, a world created by Samuel Rodriguez, Angel Luna and David Madrid. This world exists at the confluence of race, ethnicity, immigration, labor, politics, urban life, youth culture and, more than anything else, good-old-fashioned humor—in other words, their San Jose, California barrio. The Shorty Fatz trio is part of a growing number of extremely talented ethnic inner-city youths who are using their unique experiences and skills to try to give something valuable to their communities. Most of the characters are drawn from the varied personalities of their surroundings, like the comic’s namesake, Shorty Fatz, an oblivious, booze-loving yet sharply insightful Chicano.

“Breaking old stereotypes and making new ones” is the motto of the Shorty Fatz comic strip www.shortyfatz.com. When asked about the motto, Rodriguez laughs, then explains that today “in the different immigrant groups you see styles crossing, cultures crossing, even subcultures crossing: a Punjabi-Hip-Hopper, a Black kid speaking Spanglish or an Asian girl driving a low-rider.” The comic reflects the increasingly multiethnic reality of their community. “We want people to know we’re from the barrio,” says Rodriguez, “but we want to show people the complexity of it. It’s not just Latinos or Chicanos; it’s also all these other groups adapting to the cultures around them.”

In reference to some criticisms they receive about reinforcing negative stereotypes, Rodriguez says: “If you think that we are bringing our people down by the way we portray them, you’re in denial about what’s happening on the streets.” The Shorty Fatz world, says Rodriguez, has a character representing the critics who “say what we do is taking a step backward,” because they also make up part of the community. The critic, he says, is “a Chicano activist, a Che-beret-wearing, ‘I’m gonna save the world,’ superhero character. We even gave him a cape!” After laughing again, Rodriguez continues: “People can’t get mad because we show what’s going on around us. We have to be honest. We can’t hide our flaws. We have to be able to criticize ourselves.” If anything, he adds, “this is a step forward. It’s putting out questions and generating discussion.”

Luna, Madrid and Rodriguez match this philosophy by using Shorty Fatz comic strips, when appropriate, in their work. They help generate group discussion in workshops with at-risk youth on everything from racism to immigration issues as part of their day jobs at Silicon Valley De-Bug ww.siliconvalleydebug.org. De-Bug began as a publication that examined the work experiences of those on the high-tech, low-wage assembly lines of Silicon Valley and now focuses on youth and working people’s perspectives on Silicon Valley life... with frequent commentary by Shorty Fatz.


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