Cartoonist Ricardo Caté creates paintings inspired by his well known series Without Reservations. Photograph by Minesh Bacrania.
ARTIST, CARTOONIST, ACTIVIST, DAD, Marine veteran, and farmer. Ricardo Caté juggles many roles as he moves through life. He’s best known for Without Reservations, the nation’s only Native-produced comic strip in a mainstream newspaper. With it, Caté delivers his trademark form of Indigenous wit 300 times a year in The Santa Fe New Mexican and the Taos News. His toon-based paintings are featured in galleries and museums throughout the state. He arranges donations of art supplies for the children of his native Kewa (Santo Domingo) Pueblo. And he drops social media truth bombs featuring his main cartoon characters, the Chief and his antagonist, the General, and the people of his tribe, using humor to examine issues both historical and contemporary. Among his accomplishments this year was publication of the Stoodis NM Coloring Book (“stoodis” being slang for “let’s do this”), which was aimed at educating Native children about COVID-19. You can sometimes spot him at what amounts to his downtown Santa Fe office—the Cowgirl BBQ, on Guadalupe Street. Don’t be surprised if his sketchbook is open to a pencil drawing of an idea in the works.
Today I addressed the Santa Fe Indian School middle school students coming back for their distance learning. I just love doing that sort of thing, knowing that because of what I do, people value my opinion and what I have to say, especially when it comes to kids. If I can play a part and offer them some advice, being a parental figure, if you will, it’s awesome.
It’s like my character the Chief is talking to them.
Without Reservations has always been just a cartoon. I’m improving on getting my point across, which is why it may seem that it has a role during these times.
I want to make people laugh and educate them at the same time.
I had already done a few quarantine cartoons for the New Mexican. When the New Mexico Department of Health called and said they wanted a pandemic coloring book to target Native youth, I jumped at the chance to explain it in my own way, with humor. I knew that the kids in my own family had questions. They were confused about what was going on.
These kids are bored. When the quarantine was in full effect, they had nowhere to go. At Kewa, kids are still not allowed to go off the reservation. They’re very well protected, but they’re stuck at home. My concern was that I didn’t want their creative minds to wither, so I came up with this thing where I asked for donations of art supplies, and I put a lot of my own money into it.
We’re going to have a contest for the kids, asking them to draw the best thing to come out of the quarantine. The pandemic is bad, but these kids are spending more time with their families. They get to work out in the fields and be creative. So there’s a lot of positive things that came out of it.
It’s planting seeds. That’s all we can do as teachers—plant the seeds through knowledge, through art, through wisdom, and through our actions.
The Chief loves visiting all the pueblos at Christmas and enjoys their dances. We’re hoping at Kewa that we have the Christmas dances, even if it’s a minimal number of dancers and maybe no spectators in the church.
We have to have optimism about the future. Sometimes it seems bleak and I hear a lot of comments about what kind of world we’re leaving the kids.
We can fix all that. We can make it better. I’m very optimistic.