Why do I make art? What kind of art? For who? What purpose does this art serve? Arent’ those the kind of questions every respectful artist making art about any marginalized community should be asking themselves? Girl, I don’t know. But I’ve been reflecting on these questions thanks to “Latinx Art: Artists, Markets, And Politics” by Arlene Dávila. These are questions that have always been a constant in my life. But every so often, something I read or watch will inevitably make me look for immediate answers to these questions, then I panic, and start drawing something. Or in this instance, turn to this Illegal Blog. For this today’s post–which I’ve baptized with the Behind The Illegal Image series–I will give a little more context to the “Becasuse I Exist” image from 2010. This image got a shout out last week on this Latino USA piece about how post 9/11, undocumented immigrants like myself became scapegoats of the war against terror.
I actually started writing about some of my images last year as part of this timeline that accompanied My Name Is Julio: A Short Documentary By His Best Friend Jesus–a short film I self produced and was directed by my BFF Jesus Iñiguez. I was supposed to create a timeline of selected pieces beginning in 2010 and write a blurb next to each of the images. I only completed blurbs for the first three images. To be honest, I got overwhelmed. Just putting the timeline itself was a lot because we also needed to complete the actual short by a certain time. Thankfully I have my public archives that anyone with access to my Facebook and old Tumblr page can see.
This is what I wrote on the timline blurb about “Because We Exist”:
M.I.A.’s “Born Free” was such an influential song for me in 2010, a pivotal year in the migrant right’s movement. More specifically, it was the year that undocumented youth got tired of having others speak on their behalf. In May 2010, undocumented activists Lizbeth Mateo, Yahaira Carrillo, Mohammad Abdollahi, and Tania Unzueta, along with Raúl Alcaraz, sat at Sen. John McCain’s office in Tucson, AZ to put a face to the DREAM Act. This image was one of the first of many images that just came out of me, fueled in great part by the organizing of these undocumented activists and the loud guitars that M.I.A. sampled from Suicide’s “Ghost Rider.”
My gut reaction to what folks on the ground were doing was to document it via artwork. Nobody asked me, and I didn’t ask permission. Barely out of college by that year, and armed with a laptop, sharpies, and a sketchbook, I started making these illustrations. The majority of these illustrations carried the same theme: undocumented students donning cap and gowns, fighting for a chance to study and not get deported. These images were my way of standing in solidarity with my fellow undocumented immigrants. I didn’t have a scanner, so I would take a picture of the drawings I would come up with, using Photobooth and dragging the image file to a Photoshop program. Because of this transfer from paper to digital was so poorly made–a rascuache moment you can say–the final pieces ended up super grainy and pixelated. These pixelated, grainy mistakes ended up making other artists think that they were actual hand-made prints and that the grainy parts were ink spots, which actually made the images look kinda cool. I mean, the drawings were made by hand, so they were kind of right. It gave them a DIY print aesthetic, when in reality it was an I-don’t-got-money-for-a-scanner approach. The M.I.A. influenes became even more literal when I started using M.I.A.’s lyrics on the illustrations.
A lot of the images that I ended up making in 2010 about the DREAM Act were black and white. I would fuck around with colors using the Photoshop program, but the editorial cartoonist in me felt that adding color would make it TOO cartoony. But of course that was silly and once I figured out how to make better color illustrations–the crop tool baby–the majority of images that ended up on this album were all color.
And that’s that on that image. For the next installment of Behind The Illegal Image, I’ll get into the colorful gay stuff. In the meantime, enjoy this Behind The Image video that Jesús made back in 2013, which was one of the inspirations for the short film we put out this year, which was the inspiration to write out a timeline, which is now this Behind The Illegal Image series on the Illegal Blog. Enjoy.