Activism

Queer undocumented artist Julio Salgado speaks out

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Talk about how your work is used by the movement and what that movement looks like?

At first, I was making art as a selfish thing. I remember seeing the movie Exit Through the Gift Shop. In that movie, these street artists get their art out there by jumping into buildings and doing all these illegal things. They were all white artists. I thought to myself, "If I get myself into that situation and I do that shit and fucking go to downtown Long Beach, I'm going to get arrested." There's that whole racial profiling thing. I'm a bald-headed Mexican, and I don't have papers. So I went to the Internet, to Facebook, and I started posting all my images there.

There were people organizing folks who had that talent as organizers. I said, "I want to draw, and I'm going to speak out in my own way." People just started sharing it. It wasn't anything intentional. I didn't say, "Oh, I'm going to do this for an organization." It was like, "I'm going to put it out there because I have Facebook. It's free, and I can do that." People started sending me messages, and I started connecting with other folks through the Internet and eventually in person.

Making art is a way to tell a story. You are used to the news trying to tell the story for you. Whenever you turn on the news, you will see the border and people running across, and that was the narrative that was given. You are told, "Look at those criminals." That was our reality. Yeah, people were coming here, but there was never an explanation as to why they were coming. Why are they coming here? Who is coming here?

There were other stories about those of us who were already here, who were going to college and who were doing our own thing. The news wasn't telling our stories in their one-minute news clips. I knew there was a different story to tell, so I ended up shifting my major from art to journalism, because I wanted to tell those stories. That's why I started sharing my artwork. People started using it. I started printing posters, and people started using them. I was like, "Print them out." I'd send people the files, and you'd have people in Georgia or Chicago printing out my images and using them. That was pretty neat to be able to be helpful to other people who are in my situation in other parts of the country.

At what point did you start doing these presentations?

I'm not a professor. I didn't study art. Well, I did study art for three months, but quit because I didn't like someone telling me what kind of art to do. I never intended to be a professor. When I started getting these invitations, it was really weird, because I'm not an organizer, I'm not somebody who is doing a lot of that work. A friend of mine was one of the first students who did a sit-in. She was like, "If you don't go and explain your work, somebody else is going to do it for you. Somebody else is going to try to write stories about the art, and you are still alive. A lot of artists are dead. If they are inviting you to talk about your work, you should do it, because it's coming from your voice. As an undocumented, queer artist, you need to talk about this art and why you are doing it. It was often undocumented students at different schools who wanted me to talk. They wanted to talk about how we can collaborate and how the art can be another form of organizing.

My mentor Favianna Rodriguez does a lot of workshops. Many people feel uncomfortable and say, "I don't know how to draw." Favianna and I talk to them about collaboration. We're like, "If you have an idea, you can make something and put it out there." I feel like people think about it too much. They're like, "I wanna do this. I wanna do that." I'm like, "Stop talking about it, and stop thinking about it. Guess what? The more you think about it, the idea goes away." I try to spread that gospel.

Continue on to read more about Julio Salgado.

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Kyle Harris has been Westword’s Culture Editor since 2016, writing about the arts, music and film.
Contact: Kyle Harris

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