Queer undocumented artist Julio Salgado speaks out

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When you travel without papers, what issues do you face?

The first time I flew on a plane was a couple years ago. I got on a plane with one of my best friends, and I was like, "This is crazy." For so many years, people had said, "Don't go to an airport, or you'll get arrested." The fact that I'm able to travel without being scared of doing it is because of the work of undocumented activists who are like, "Don't act scared man. Walk like you own that airport. Don't feel like you don't deserve to do that."

It's that thing that we say to ourselves: "Oh, I should be quiet and not say anything." I'm thirty years old, and I'm barely learning these things. I'm usually careful about the things that I say and doubt myself. But that's starting to change. I'm learning it through art, and I'm learning it through the people I'm meeting along the way. It's really amazing.

Favianna Rodriguez must be an incredible mentor. Talk about your relationship with her?

I'd been of fan of hers when I was in school. I'd e-mail her, but she wouldn't talk to me. She's busy, and she gets a lot of e-mails, or whatever. Then we met through a friend. She said she had seen my drawings on Facebook and was trying to figure out who the artist was. We ended up meeting in late 2011. She had her show in L.A., and she invited me. There were a bunch of other artists there doing political artwork. She was like, "Yo, we need to sit down. Let's talk about your work and how I can help." She said, "I'm in the Bay Area. You need to come up, because the Bay Area has a lot of Latino artists who do political artwork."

I met Emory Douglas. I'm such a huge fan of his and the Black Panther movement and all that artwork and imagery he did. It was amazing how he painted black folks in a way that was dignified. There was this image of black folks as dangerous or whatever, and he changed that through his imagery. What I'm doing is nothing new. It's just a tradition of artists who want to document what's happening to their communities. Favianna has been affirming and mentoring me in a way that I never had anyone mentor me about art.

Talk about the risks involved in coming out, speaking publicly and being open about your status as an undocumented person in the U.S. How do you negotiate that?

It's been a process. Eleven years ago, we were all afraid to come out. From 2009 to 2010, there's been a whole generation willing to come out and say: "Let me show you my experience, so you can see the issue and not be afraid." That has really been the motto. "We are undocumented and unafraid."

It took me eight-and-a-half years to finish college. In 2010, when there was the first sit-in in Tucson, I remember being like, "Oh, I have a degree. I can't do that." I was feeling sorry for myself.

Continue on for more about 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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