Migrant Art Takes on Political Meaning

Activists hope books, films and images will change public perception of immigrants.

This March 8, 2013 photo shows, prominent "dreamer" and activist, Erika Andiola performs during the filming of La Santa Cecilia "El Hielo" music video in Los Angeles.

Prominent "dreamer" and activist Erika Andiola performs during the filming of La Santa Cecilia "El Hielo" music video on March 8 in Los Angeles.

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Author Duncan Tonatiuh, who grew up in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, before attending high school and college in the United States, says he wanted to offer children a representation of what it was like to cross the border. "We don't hear much about migrants in the media in a personal way, often it's as statistics."

The momentum of the immigration rights movement has not reached same-sex marriage's levels. The fate of the deal expected to be released by the Senate's so called gang of eight is still in flux. And likewise immigrants living here illegally are not yet the norm gay characters and representations are in mainstream culture. "Modern Family" includes a delightful gay couple, but no one is worrying whether Gloria has proper documentation.

Yet activists are marking other milestones—like the Associated Press dropping the term "illegal immigrant," which Rodriguez calls a "huge, huge gain"— as signs that American perspectives are changing. "Finding language that is used to talk about an issue is key," says Rodriguez.

[ALSO: The Associated Press Revises Another Politically Charged Term]

Those who oppose efforts to allow undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship have called some of these works "propaganda," a term even some activists haven't shied away from, "Art that comes out of a political situation anytime, some of it is more like propaganda," says Jacoby, "and some of it is real deep art that would be good without that politics."

And it is good for the artists who create it — many of them doing so at the risk of revealing their own undocumented status. "I am doing it for myself, I am doing it to heal myself, because all these years I felt like a criminal," says Julio Salgado, a young undocumented immigrant who first began creating political cartoons to post to Facebook because "Facebook wasn't going to ask me for papers." The personal is political, so the saying goes, but political migrant art is inevitably very personal. "We have to continue to show ourselves in dignified ways," says Salgado.

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  • Some Lawmakers Will Still Say 'Illegal Immigrant
  • View: Political Cartoons About Immigration

  • Corrected on : Corrected on 4/25/2013: A previous version of this article misstated the name of an organization that helped produce “El Hielo.” It was the Americas Business Council.