Quino, creator of ‘Mafalda,’ keeps it light while inspiring generations

Today, July 17, we highlight the life of the great Argentine cartoonist, Quino, who is celebrating a birthday today.

Born Joaquín Salvador Lavado in 1932, Quino has captured the sentiments of joy and frustration of generations who work for a just world. His cartoons, tinged often with biting social critique, are still as relevant today as they were when he started drawing for newspapers in 1954. Quino exclaimed in 2004: “Sometimes I ask myself, how is it possible that I’ve drawn things so long ago that continue happening today?”

DEMOCRACY: (from Greek: demos, people, and kratos, authority) Government in which the people exercise their sovereignty.

Quino is known throughout the world as the creator of the cartoon character, Mafalda, the disarmingly clever little girl who makes witty pronouncements and political critiques at the dinner table and in the schoolyard. Even though this “bambini terribili,” as she was known in Italy, retired from her daily appearances in the papers in 1973, “Mafalda” continues to be published in more than 30 languages.

Quino’s success lies in the simple yet profound ways in which Mafalda and her friends reveal the inequalities and injustices of the world, both on a global and a personal scale.

With “Mafalda,” Quino highlights different forms of domination, among them adultcentrism. Adultcentrism is the way in which, in capitalist society, able-bodied, working-age adults are seen as the highest fulfillment of human potential. Adults are uniquely capable of making decisions about the structuring of society. Adultcentrism recognizes a person’s value according to his or her “productive potential” in the market. This logic violates the specific rights and needs of children, who “should be seen and not heard,” as well as separating our elders from the rest of society after they can no longer be “useful” in the cycles of production.

In the book Revolución Cotidiana: Espiritualidad y Política, [Daily Revolution: Spirituality and Politics, 2009] Ángel Pichardo Almonte has developed a critique of adultcentrism as one of seven pillars of domination, whose role is to keep people divided, alienated and convinced that radical changes to society are impossible:

Many words and phrases in daily life reveal adultcentrist thinking. ‘Children should speak when the chicken pisses’ is a popular phrase in rural Dominican Republic, which is reference to the fact that chickens do not urinate at all. This phrase reveals the common attitude that children have nothing to contribute in conversations with adults.  Words like ‘retarded,’ which stems from the medical diagnosis of ‘mental retardation,’ or ‘dumb,’ originally used to describe people who lacked the ability to speak with their tongues, are now common insults in society. The mistreatment children and differently-abled people suffer in families, schools, in the street and other spaces is a product of adultcentrism. Such mistreatment is an abuse of power based on the belief that children and the differently-abled should blindly obey the mandates of able-bodied adults because their lives are the property of their parents, teachers, and doctors. Developing a critique of adultcentrism has pushed us to reject the conception that ‘children are the future,’ an idea that negates their ability to actively and consciously participate in the present.

Adultcentrism manifests itself in subtle ways, such as through the lack of recognition of children’s consciousness and intelligence. In the following comic strip, Mafalda gives a witty response to a man who asks her a condescending question.

“Hi, what’s your name?” “Mafalda.” “How nice. Do you go to school?” “Yes, of course. Do you pay all of your taxes?” ... “He was the one who started talking about our obligations.”

Through the character of Mafalda, Quino shows the intelligence, creativity and social consciousness possessed by children. He works into his comic strip topics relating to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, signed by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1989, becoming international law in 1990.

In the next comic strips, Quino denounces the violation of the right to a quality education. He points out the poor physical conditions of the school where Mafalda attends, as well as the disconnect between what she’s learning in class and the social problems that affect her and  her peers.

RECESS! “It’s notable that the decorators at the Ministry of Education have been able to give the same aesthetic to the whole school.”

(Learning the M sound in grammar school) “My momma babies me; my momma loves me.” ... “I congratulate you on having such an intelligent mother. Now please teach us something a little bit more important.”

In other “Mafalda” strips, Quino defends the right to play and recreation, guaranteed as part of Article 31 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. He dedicates many strips to the imaginative, creative games Mafalda and her friends make up together. This next strip helps the reader to remember the importance of play and leisure for children’s development, and the lack of importance adults often give to children’s priorities.

“Felipe, can you go and buy some milk for me?” “Sorry, mom, I don’t have time!” “When grown-ups tell that lie, they get away with it!”

Moreover, through his cartoons, Quino makes a clear critique of the exploitation, colonialism and imperialism that limit parents’ abilities to dedicate sufficient time and energy to their families and communities:

“Every day we send our FATHER to that damn office and they give us back THIS?!”

(Pharmacy) “Did I tell you my dad went to the doctor?” “To the doctor?” “Yeah, to see if they would prescribe him something for his fatigue, jumpiness, worry, nervousness, imbalances and anxiousness.... But according to the doctor, they don’t yet have any pills to combat normality.”

As we celebrate the long and creative life of Joaquín Salvador Lavado, or Quino, may we integrate humor, laughter and the participation of people of all ages into our efforts for justice and human dignity.

“It’s absurd! Why can’t kids vote?” (Well said! Right on! That’s it, how come?) “Aren’t we also part of this country?” (Yes, sir! Right! Bravo!) “Aren’t we citizens just like everyone else?” (Sure we are! Of course!) “Aren’t we just as much ‘people’ as anyone else?” (Ah, no! Don’t go insulting me!)

Tim Shenk, Justicia Global.


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