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Poster of the Week — Who's the illegal alien Pilgrim?

Many posters use the slogan “No Human Being is Illegal,” and by showing isolation or family separation they intend to evoke compassion. In contrast, Yolanda Lopez challenged authority. The Aztec crushes immigration papers and demands, "Who’s the illegal alien, Pilgrim?" The tone has changed, and her poster reminds viewers that the Europeans arrived without the permission of the Indigenous peoples. She appropriated the pointing finger and frontal stare from James Montgomery Flagg’s famous World War I recruiting poster "Uncle Sam Wants You," and the connection between the 1917 poster and Lopez’s is as striking in its contrast as it is ironic in its implications. In 1990, CSPG produced “Courageous Voices: Posters on Racism, Sexism & Human Rights,” and included this poster. The exhibition opened at Rancho Santiago College Art Gallery in Santa Ana, and the Los Angeles Times called it one of the year’s ten best exhibitions in a non-profit gallery. The exhibition subsequently traveled to 14 venues throughout Southern California and across the US, including Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. In 1996, when it was exhibited in UCLA, a high school class came and spread throughout the gallery. A group of Latinx girls had gathered around this poster and I overheard them talking about how cool it was to have posters dealing with current events. Two years earlier, California voters had passed Proposition 187, which denied access to basic services such as education and healthcare to the undocumented. Although ultimately declared unconstitutional in 1998, the court battle was still taking place in 1996. I brought their attention to the date. The drawing and first poster was made in 1978—before most of them were born. The poster on display was printed in 1981, and it was reissued in 1994 in response to Proposition 187. The fight for immigrant rights had been going on for generations, and was one of the ongoing battles for justice addressed by “Courageous Voices.” Yolanda Lopez (1942-2021) died this month. Her art and activism were inseparable. A granddaughter of Mexican immigrants, her art intersected and augmented the Civil Rights, Chicana/o and Women’s movements. Her most controversial works subverted the traditional image of the “Virgen de Guadalupe” into pre-Columbian goddesses and modern liberated women. Yolanda Lopez ¡Presente! – Carol A. Wells Founder and Executive Director Center for the Study of Political Graphics

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