Hopeful,'Unapologetic' Art Rebrands the Immigration Movement

However, unlike the civil rights movement, immigration reform has benefited greatly from the digital age. Powerful images and videos are shared across platforms, and "go viral" on sites like Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and Instagram.

In the weeks following the January release of a documentary about the movement hosted by rapper Pharrell William's YouTube channel, called 'Migration is Beautiful,' Rodriguez has seen a new young wave of supporters persuaded to join the movement because of its art. As of publishing the documentary has more than 20,000 views on YouTube, and Rodriguez says she's heard from many young students who say they want to get involved in the advocacy movement.

"These are 14 and 15 year olds who see what we do and say 'Whoa! I want to be down with this,'" Rodriguez said. "Some of them had no idea that these things were happening in our country before seeing our art."

Julio Salgado, a 29-year old undocumented artist based in L.A., who is waiting for his DACA application to come through, says his work relies heavily on new technologies. Salgado's cartoonish images of undocumented faces often accompany posters protesting the deportation of or calling for justice for specific immigrant families. He is also an advocate of LGBT immigrant rights, and the term "Undocu-queer" appears in many of his works.

Social media has been a tremendous organizing tool for DREAMers, but also a way to share art and images, Salgado said.

"I used to think, 'I wanna go out and put my art on walls,' but, then of course, I said to myself, 'Damn, if I get arrested doing it, then that's a whole different issue for me," said Salgado, referring to his undocumented status. "So I started sharing my stuff on Facebook, and I got a huge reaction there and so I started a Tumblr and I've gotten so much support."

But new technology doesn't help overcome all the barriers facing the movement.

"You're not going to walk into a protest with your computer monitor, or on your lawn," said Wells. "Even in this hi-tech age, posters need to be printed."

And printing, of course, takes money. Although the immigration arts movement has exploded over the past two years, with more artists involved in the game than ever, finding funding is still a struggle. A few organizations like CultureStrike (organized by Rodriguez), the Opportunity Agenda and the National Association of Latin Arts and Cultures (NALAC) are helping to raise funds for artists in the movement. Rodriguez also believes the movement has a real lack of undocumented artists, who often struggle even more with securing funding and work due to their status.

"The political movement has changed in direction, and is now led by undocumented migrants who were once in the shadows. But, we have to ask how we can make the art movement reflect that shift." said Rodriguez, who took Salgado under her wing two years ago.

Art is integral to the success of the immigration reform movement, according to artists like Maxis, Rodriguez and Salgado. And having a symbol tied to the cause legitimizes the ideas of the movement in the eyes of the media and the public. Protesters accompanied by "beautiful" images are more convincing than those without them, says Rodriguez.

"Art is beautiful. It speaks to more senses than press releases and newspaper headlines," said Rodriguez. "The more we can turn a press conference into a performance art piece, by wearing butterfly wings, or showcasing our icon work, the better."

Pullitzer prize winning journalist and immigration reform activist Jose Antonio Vargas dedicated a lecture this week at USC to the importance of art in his fight.

"We need art in order to transcend the conversation that's become way too political," Vargas said.

The new brand of immigration protest art, however, doesn't only sway the apathetic and inform the ignorant. It also galvanizes members of the movement to continue the fight, according to Wells.

"Art reinforces the movement, it helps grow the movement, it creates the identity of the movement. It educates and it inspires," Wells said. "It cannot be underestimated."

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