It often feels like the loudest voices in the immigration debate belong to the most xenophobic among us. Conservative media pundit Anne Coulter recently stated, for instance, that “Americans should fear immigrants more than ISIS.”
Holding down the other end of the ring is Carol Wells, an immigrant rights activist and founding executive director of the Center for the Study of Political Graphics in Los Angeles. Since 1989, her nonprofit has amassed some 85,000 political posters, including many revolving around immigration issues in the United States and Europe. She has now organized a timely show featuring 75 of them that she hopes will speak to people who remain indifferent.
No Human Being is Illegal — Posters on the Myths & Realities of the Immigrant Experience revisits major episodes in immigration history over the past four decades, from the mass deportations of the 1980s and ’90s to the recent 2011 Arizona law that allowed for racial profiling. “While repression, racism, discrimination, and unemployment profoundly affect all of us, immigrants are the most vulnerable,” Wells told Hyperallergic. “Fortunately, many are fighting back, and as always, posters are central to educational and organizing efforts.”
One made in 1981 by artist Yolanda Lopez features an indigenous chief assuming Uncle Sam’s iconic army recruiting posture, this time asking Americans of European descent, “Who’s the Illegal Alien, Pilgrim?” Another printed in Greece in 2003 borrows the immigrant crossing “CAUTION” sign first created by the California Department of Transportation in 1990, which has since become an internationally recognized icon for immigrant rights. “I think the European immigrant rights posters are especially surprising, as they use the same slogans and reveal the same crisis that is happening in the US,” Wells explained.
Though the center usually display original posters in its exhibitions, the current show features laminated reproductions that can travel to community centers like Mercado La Paloma in Los Angeles that might not have adequate security or climate control. Wells mostly just wants the images to be seen by as many people as possible.
“The artists, activists, and organizations making these posters know the important connection between art and social action,” she said. “There have never been successful movements for social change without the arts being essential to conveying the ideas and passions of these movements.”
Posters on the Myths & Realities of the Immigrant Experience runs at Mercado La Paloma (3655 South Grand Avenue, Los Angeles) through June 28.