Chicano and the Man

Ralphie May, who is white, calls black men "niggers." In his standup act, he uses the word repeatedly; he also riffs on Mexicans, who "see the Virgin Mary in everything," and whose names are easy to remember "because they're on their necklaces." He was raised in the deep South, in rural Arkansas. He receives standing ovations at lowrider car shows.

"It's true, I'm down with the brown," says May, who is one of four performers in Latinos Locos, a comedy tour that kicks off in Phoenix. He is the only white one -- "the gordo gringo," he calls himself.

Despite his pull-no-punches standup, "the [Latino] community really likes me," he says. It is not immediately obvious why -- May suggests celebrating Cinco de Mayo by hanging out at Home Depot -- but stick with him, and you can't help but be impressed by his sincere respect for Mexicans, blacks -- indeed, anyone whose rich cultural identity has been trampled by the profound injustices of American capitalism. He laments the general dearth of positive role models in minority communities, and the hypocrisy of a nation that can enjoy Mexican food but has no respect for the people whose culture it co-opts.

"America forgets about its minorities," says May. "It baffles me that Americans can think they're the greatest nation on Earth. . . . How is our country doing? We're not doing enough."

But Latinos Locos is no tirade against white oppression: May's first priority is to "make people laugh," and he does a nice job of it. Besides, his slant is just one of four. Carlos Oscar, the host of Galavision's Qué Locos!, who is also part of the comedy tour, takes a somewhat different view.

"I love this country," says Oscar, a New York-born Puerto Rican who served in the U.S. Air Force. "We [Latinos] really stay close to our culture, but we love America as well."