The Son de Allá y Son de Acá exhibit at Chicano Park Museum in San Diego opens at a moment when United States immigration policy is in turmoil. Reuters reported last week that President Joe Biden’s administration would “add sections to a border wall to stave off record migrant crossings from Mexico, carrying forward a signature policy of former President Donald Trump,” [Oct. 6, 2023]. A return to a failed border wall project shocked residents living along the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border.
The inhabitants of the U.S.-Mexico border
regions confront the issue of immigration almost on a daily basis. However, many things about immigration have changed over the past decade. Former President Donald Trump’s decision to build a border wall was
the most controversial immigration policy of the past century and the most damaging environmental action ever for border communities.
What has also changed over the past decade is that migration into the United States is no longer just a border issue. Conservative governors from Texas and Florida are weekly transporting newly arrived migrants by the thousands to “sanctuary cities” including Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York City. Still, 70 percent of Americans surveyed by a recent Gallup poll considered immigration to be good for the United States.
Moreover, new immigration studies show that migrants arriving on the U.S.-Mexico border are no longer principally from Mexico. A Pew Report noted that immigrants from countries other than Mexico accounted for 63 percent of those crossing the border. Pew Researchers found that most of the non-Mexican migrants “involved people from the Northern Triage countries of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.” Other prominent migrant groups included Venezuelans, Haitians, and Cubans.
The changing perception of the immigration
landscape can be found in a new exhibit Son de Allá y Son de Acá at the Chicano Park Museum in Barrio Logan, San Diego, California. The exhibit, which opened this past weekend, features 45 artists from the states of California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas.
The artists in this new exhibit live and work in the Borderlands. Artist Mata Ruda from Phoenix, Arizona was
recently featured in Phoenix New Times as one of the 10 Arizona artists who “Put Immigration Front and Center.” The newspaper noted that one of his murals depicts a mother “holding a photograph of her daughter who died while attempting to cross the U.S.Mexico border.” Ruda’s work included in the Son de Allá y Son de Acá exhibit is titled “The memory of this moment will haunt me forever, a tropical moon, a sleepy lagoon and you.”
Another artist featured in the Chicano Park exhibit, Alejandro Macias, was raised in the border town of Brownsville, Texas and now teaches art at the University of Arizona, Tucson. His website notes that his “body of work addresses themes of heritage, immigration, and ethnicity, which are set in contrast to his critical engagement with the assimilation and acculturation process often referred to as ‘Americanization.’” In 2021, I saw one of Macias’s paintings of an anonymous male figure with colorful linear serape-like imagery in place of a face wearing a cap that read “Immigrants Make America Great.”
A similar painting of a portrait of a man wearing the same shirt with the sky in place of his eyes and head is in the Chicano Park Museum exhibit and is titled “And Then It Dawned On Me.”
The Los Angeles cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz is
undoubtedly the best-known artist in the San Diego Son de Allá y Son de Acá exhibit at Chicano Park Museum. A two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist, Alcaraz is the first Latino to
receive the prestigious Washington Post Herblock Prize. Michael Cavna of the Washington Post reported on Alcaraz’s 2022 prize ceremony noting the judges’ comments that “No other political cartoonist working in the U.S. brings as much passion, dedication and brilliance to the fight for fair immigration at the border and justice for the Latino community.” In the January 6 Washington D.C. insurrection attempt, school book bans, and protests highlighting workers’ rights and border immigration the Latino cartoonist found more than enough material to satirize.
Alcaraz is also one of the few Latinos ever featured in the New Yorker magazine. Graciela Mochkofsky’s thoughtful essay, “Lalo Alcaraz and the Long Journey of a Latino Political Cartoonist” in the May 18, 2022 New Yorker speaks volumes about the very successful career of Alcaraz. As noted by Mochkofsky, his journey has been long, and it has not been without great difficulties.
Alcaraz grew up in San Diego, the son of immigrants from Sinaloa and Zacatecas. His father, who worked as a gardener, died in a car accident when Alcaraz was thirteen. Alcaraz attended San Diego State University [SDSU] in the mid-1980s earning a degree in art with a focus on environmental design. He joined the SDSU school newspaper and drew cartoons focusing on politics and
culture. From San Diego State, Alcaraz went on to study architecture at UC Berkeley. While in the Bay Area, he co-created a comedy group, the Chicano Secret Service.
Alcaraz moved to Los Angeles after finishing his studies at UC Berkeley. He joined the staff of L.A. Weekly, a popular Southern California alternative magazine. At the L.A. Weekly Alcaraz created “L.A. Cucaracha,” a comic strip, which ran for ten years and since 2002 has been nationally syndicated in more than sixty newspapers as “La Cucaracha.” Alvarez told the New Yorker that the main character, Cuco Rocha, is “such an angry Chicano activist that he turned into a cockroach.”
Alcaraz gained national attention as a vocal opponent of Governor Pete Wilson’s support of Proposition 187, an anti-immigrant state legislative initiative. [Prop. 187 eventually was found to be unconstitutional]. Alcaraz turned to other art forms when his cartoon of Migra Mouse was placed on placards and used at
anti-Proposition 187 protest rallies. Alcaraz transformed Mickey Mouse into Migra Mouse, a slightly unlovable character dressed in a Border Patrol uniform.
Alcaraz is a multi-talented cartoonist who also performs in plays and is known to create controversial art pieces. In the late 1990s, he painted Che Guevara with a Nike icon on Che’s famous beret replacing the communist star symbol with the widely recognized Nike checkmark. Ricardo Duardo, the inventive Chicano artist and talented East Los Angeles printer, arranged for Alcaraz to print a limited edition of the Che piece. Harriett and I bought one of these fabulous prints in the 1990s. We included this silkscreen print in our Chicano art exhibit Estampas de la Raza curated by the McNay Art Museum in 2013. The exhibit, which includes Alcaraz’s piece and 60 other Latino prints, has traveled to numerous cities including Los Angeles, Chicago, and Albuquerque. Last week the Estampas exhibit closed in Sacramento and is currently opening in Atlanta, Georgia.
Alcaraz’s painting in the Son de Allá y Son de Acá exhibit portrays the iconic Chicano activist Oscar Zeta Acosta, author of The Revolt of the Cockroach People. Dartmouth Professor Israel Reyes, who has written about Alcaraz’s work, told the New Yorker that the cockroach “is a metaphor of how immigrants, Mexicans, have been represented as insects, as a nuisance, as space invaders, the Latino threat to be eliminated.” Alcaraz appropriates the concept of the cucaracha and turns it upside down as “a way of empowering through this image that was used to marginalize.” Alcaraz credits Acosta for influencing the name of his comic strip L.A. Cucaracha.
The Chicano Park exhibit is making an important statement by bringing together these Latino artists to continue to raise issues of social justice. Adelante Barrio Logan y San Diego!