Cartoonist Without Reservations: Ricardo Cate’ Is One Funny Indian

copyright Ricardo Cate' Ricardo Cate's cartoons often feature a Custer-like Caucasian and an Indian trading barbs. Copyright Ricardo Cate'

Alex Jacobs

Funny and poignant cartoons by Native artist Ricardo Cate.

Ricardo Cate’ is from Kewa (Santo Domingo Pueblo) and he has found a little niche for himself in the art world of Santa Fe. He draws and paints cartoons, one panel at a time, and was picked up by the Santa Fe New Mexican, the local paper of the state capital. His cartoons are seen by 60,000 readers daily, he’s close to having 4000 of them published, and he’s the only Native cartoonist featured in a daily mainstream newspaper. This attention led to a recent book of his cartoons being published last year.

Actually if you add up all that he has done, his niche grows bigger. For the last year, he’s rented a downtown space at The Mercado on 114 San Francisco St, #104, he also sells at Indian Market, this year with IFAM and in previous years with SWAIA. He was also invited to the Cherokee Art Market in Tulsa this October. Ricardo told me that he started as a nine- and 10-year-old selling his parents’ art at the Palace of the Governors portal program, back when things were way different. He participates in his pueblo’s doings, dancing ceremony since he was a kid. As an adult he still loves to dance, just like at the recent Santo Domingo Feast Day on August 4th. That’s a very busy schedule but par for the course when you are among thousands of other artists trying to make a living in an art town like Santa Fe.

The book, Without Reservations, is selling, stores can’t keep it on the shelves ( has it) but he has yet to see any royalties. He is actually reluctant to discuss it, worrying that it may go against him. It sounds like he went in on promises, and as a first time author, didn’t read the fine print, trusting the publisher. That’s too bad because Ricardo Cate’ is a genuinely nice guy doing his best to help his family and so he is constantly working every day, all week. He started up the cartoon part of his art four years ago and used to love to commute from Kewa to Santa Fe on the Rail Runner train. He has a vehicle now, so he’s on the go a lot with his shop, where he also paints, and volunteering to teach kids, any kids, and of course tending to his own kids, dropping off and picking them up. He has self-published books and that effort went well, but now he’s at a loss trying to explain and understand this problem with his new publisher.

Ricardo doesn’t act stressed, he’s just busy all the time, painting his original cartoon art, dropping off art at the New Mexican, getting ready for Indian Market or another show. He teaches and shows kids his art, they come to his shop, see his cartoons and ask him to come to their schools and he never says no. He will drop everything, arrange his schedule to visit classes, most times for free, sometimes just for travel money. I must add that culturally, it’s not his people’s way to be boastful and he isn’t. It took me a lot to coax comments that weren’t about cartoons or kids.

Ricardo takes time off for Tribal activities, even though it might be considered more work. He says its therapeutic, it’s a vacation from all this art as business work, it’s fun being with family and community. He’s helping out, whether it’s family or officially tribal, but they’re responsibilities he doesn’t take lightly and enjoys doing these activities in his community.

Can you tell us how the whole cartoon art business came about?

People come in and laugh at my work. I get no respect. You know the saying, if we didn’t have humor, we’d be crying all the time. I feel the humor is important, it’s just as important as what Sherman Alexie does. I grew up on the Rez so it’s a little different, where we all know “NDN humor.” Every tribe has their own style, we Pueblos have our clowns and that’s important to us. But you see, it’s all been an oral tradition, and now I’m putting it down on paper. And I have to do it on a daily basis and so it has to be more universal because it’s a daily and mainstream. Sometimes people call my stuff edgy, only because they are mainstream, so I post my inside-NDN material on Facebook and people love them and share them. This inside NDN material I think is important and unique, and I found a way to put it down on paper for all people, to get a glimpse of Native life and our perspectives.

I noticed a little controversy with your art in the New Mexican**. Like all newspapers they ask readers to vote on cartoon strips to see what’s popular and or what could get replaced. This being Santa Fe, some sensitive folks were a little peeved with your cartoon “violence,” that usually being some white dude like your General (Custer) figure getting a few arrows in his shirt. Can you tell us about that?**

You know I tell my kids, this is the one cartoon we have, why don’t they just leave it alone. It was a scalping cartoon, and two people wrote in angry letters about the “violence” and the “scalping”…yet Argyle Sweater had a cartoon about torture that same day and no comments were made about that. So I handled it my own way, and my next cartoon after that was, “…my non-Native characters will no longer be scalped, but I will have them permed and combed.” They tell me my strip is the most popular cartoon anyway.

As a cartoonist giving the Native side of the story, you can’t help but be provocative — do you have a larger goal you hope to accomplish?

Well, if I had the money, my dream would be to honor my father and start something like, the Juan Cate’ Scholarship Fund, to get money to the kids who want to go to school and to learn, at all levels…because everyone always says we have no funds for the students.

Ricardo is counting on Indian Market this year to give him some breathing room. I thought this was going to be an easy story, and it is in some ways, like many things appear on the surface, but this man needs a little help with his dreams, and his bills. You can learn more about Ricardo on his website ricardocate.comand his Facebook page.

Alex Jacobs
Santa Fe, NM
August 21, 2014

This story was originally published on August 21, 2014.