On Wednesday, February 7th, the Albuquerque Journal newspaper printed a cartoon showing three men robbing a couple on the street at gunpoint. One man is shown holding a sword with explosives strapped to his chest and another has MS-13 printed on his jacket signifying gang affiliation. The victimized white woman is shouting expletives at the perpetrators and her male counterpart proclaims, “Now Honey, I believe they prefer to be called DREAMers… or future Democrats”.
By late morning Thursday, one day after the cartoon was published, an intersection in downtown Albuquerque was blocked by protestors supporting DREAMers. They marched around the intersection with bull horns and signs reading “Education not Deportation,” “Don’t Deport Our Students,” and “UNM (University of New Mexico) Professors Defend Immigrants.” One protestor led a chant, “We are the immigrants, the mighty, mighty immigrants, fighting for justice and for our families.” Things turned tense when a truck trying to cross the street pushed back a protestor who stumbled to regain her footing. Eventually the truck turned back.
Protestors assembled in front of the offices of New Mexico Senators, Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich. They used the controversy caused by the cartoon to urge the senators to push immigration reform legislation that would allow DREAMers to remain in the country legally. Later that day Udall rebuked the journal for running the cartoon, writing on Twitter “Words and images are still hateful and offensive, even when they appear in a cartoon. The @ABQJournal should apologize.” Heinrich also took to Twitter condemning the paper, “Shame on the @ABQJournal for stooping to a new low and publishing a heinous and bigoted depiction of Dreamers in today’s paper that serves only to sow division in our community.”
The cartoon drew strong condemnation from the New Mexico legislature. In the Senate, Republican Lieutenant Governor, John Sanchez, said, “I’m offended as a Republican, and I’m offended as a conservative, that they would try to depict Democrats as thugs and terrorists.” In the House of Representatives Democratic House Majority Leader Sheryl Williams Stapleton asserted that DREAMers are not criminals and said the cartoon sent a “distasteful message to all New Mexicans”.
The five elected members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation issued a statement chiding the paper, “The day after the Journal editorialized to say ‘our elected representatives in Washington should put aside some of the vitriol and make a real effort to come to agreement on an immigration reform package,’ the editors printed a cartoon that does the exact opposite…. It’s never the right time to refer to a group of nearly 800,000 people as criminals, especially when they are active members of our communities, including military service members, teachers, doctors, business owners and more. And now is absolutely the wrong time to print such a divisive cartoon.”
The cartoon also evoked a strong negative reaction across the country. The New York Times wrote the cartoon, “was viewed as bigoted”, while the Washington Post called it, “a provocative, racially tinged cartoon.”
The immense political pressure led Albuquerque Journal Editor in Chief, Karen Moses to issue an apology for running the cartoon. “In hindsight, instead of generating debate, this cartoon only inflamed emotions. This was not the intent, and for that, the Journal apologizes. I repeat that the Albuquerque Journal does not condone racism or bigotry in any form.” Many in New Mexico find it difficult to accept that apology as sincere given all that is known about the cartoonist that created the offending piece.
Sean Delonas, was a cartoonist for the New York Post for over two decades and his cartoon is syndicated to appear in several publications. The cartoon printed in Albuquerque on the 7th is only one example of his decidedly anti-immigrant perspective. Just one month previous, Delonas shows a donkey representing Democrats saying to a mother and father tucking in their kids for the night, “To hell with your kids’ dreams… we only care about illegal alien dreamers. I need their votes.” Though he does take an occasional jab at Trump, most of his cartoons would likely delight the most right-wing perspectives.
In 2009, Delonas compared President Barack Obama to a monkey in a cartoon for the New York Post. In reaction, civil rights leaders including Reverend Al Sharpton protested in front of the Post’s building, calling for a boycott. That same year, in an article Vanity Fair asked the question, “Sean Delonas: Stupid, Racist or Both?” The editorial concludes, “…his artlessly drawn editorial cartoons gleam like beacons of right-wing idiocy.” Because of his anti-homosexual views, GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) lobbied unsuccessfully for several years to have the New York Post drop Delonas’ cartoons.
The cartoon seems to play off Trump comments about Mexican immigrants from his summer 2015 announcement that he was running for president, “They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” Since then, Trump has insisted his remarks were true and has repeated the sentiment on various occasions.
For many, the cartoon is an extension of the overt racism that is becoming more commonplace in the era of Trump. Albuquerque resident Robert Martinez said, “The Trump atmosphere has given people a perceived license to show who they really are.” Martinez says he is thankful in a way, “While hurtful and hate filled, at least we can better see white-of-day. Sadly, I have lost friends to this division and suspect more will follow. Delonas’ cartoon is but a reminder of the hidden division and true feelings and fears of many people not of color. Worst of all I believe this is about their spirit.”
Martinez says the cartoon has created extensive conversations around New Mexico and he is optimistic about the outcome. “All the anger, hurt and shock at some point can become productive and progress the issues. I am hopeful that patience, positive action, and dialogue will follow.”
The Albuquerque Journal is a daily broadsheet newspaper founded in 1889 and is the largest paper in the state of New Mexico. It has a daily circulation of just under 100,000 and a Sunday edition that is distributed to just over 116,000.