Artist Julio Salgado creates work that challenges the usual undocumented immigrant narrative and encourages activism.
Inspired by what he calls Mexican artist Frida Kahlo’s ‘selfies,’ Salgado’s self-portrait illustrations are whimsical, but controversial. Salgado, a journalism major, says he fully understands the power of words.
“I use words like ‘illegal’ or ‘faggot,’ because they are used against me. I’m going to make art out of it. Something you don’t want me to do,” Salgado told the Los Angeles Blade at the opening of Into Action, a large-scale pop-up exhibit where his work was featured.
Salgado came to the U.S. from Mexico in 1995, when he was 11 years old. He and his family were visiting Los Angeles, when his younger sister developed a deadly kidney infection. The family stayed so she could be treated, and never returned.
In 2010, Salgado began creating portraits of other queer undocumented immigrants, using the phrase, “I am UndocuQueer,” a marriage of his identity as a gay, undocumented person. He also co-founded the undocumented youth media group Dreamers Adrift, and he is currently the project manager for CultureStrike, an organization that collaborates with artists to challenge anti-immigrant sentiment in the U.S.
Salgado’s work has inspired a legion of young activists, rallying around the Dream Act. Although the legislation would have given undocumented minors also known as “dreamers” a pathway to citizenship, it never passed.
It would eventually pressure President Obama to issue the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, in 2012.
Obama’s executive action allowed 800,000 undocumented young people, including Salgado, to temporarily stay in the U.S. Trump announced the end of the program last year. “I’m supposed to be scared because they might take away my DACA or deport my parents, but art is a powerful tool,” Salgado says.
Salgado’s work and activism encourages undocumented people to come out of hiding.
“Coming out and saying ‘I’m undocumented and I’m unafraid’ is important. If we keep hiding, people can talk about us without us having an input. It’s like coming out of the closet. A lot of organizers have stopped deportations, because we’re telling our stories,” Salgado says.
Salgado says he hopes his work can paint a more three-dimensional picture of the undocumented community.
He’s currently working on a video series in the vain of the popular HBO Issa Rae hit, “Insecure.” It’s currently titled “Lo Sito,” or the site in English.
How long have you been out and who was the hardest person to tell?
I came out to my mother back in 2001 and a couple of years later to my father. It was definitely harder on my dad but he has definitely come a long way.
Who’s your LGBT hero?
If I had to choose I would say that it’s my ‘Undocuqueer’ community. Not only do we fight homophobia and transphobia but we also deal with being undocumented in times when immigrants are seen as enemies.
What’s Los Angeles’ best nightspot, past or present?
Circus nightclub was the place to be! I was so heartbroken when I heard it was demolished. So many memories of that place. It was my first 21+ club I attended.
Describe your dream wedding.
I don’t really have a dream wedding.
What non-LGBT issue are you most passionate about?
I would say immigration. But calling it non-LGBT is not fair because I’m a queer immigrant. It automatically makes it a queer issue. If you think about it, many of our current movements are LGBT issues because we exist in intersectionality.
What historical outcome would you change?
After DOMA was deemed unconstitutional, many in the LGBT community felt we had arrived with all the gay rights. But that’s not true. Many of us queers are dealing with issues of deportation, racism, trans women of color are being killed, black queers are being targeted by the police. There’s so much more to do. While the historical outcome was great, I wish more gays that benefited from the gay marriage fight would have stayed and continued fighting along with us.
What’s been the most memorable pop culture moment of your lifetime?
When I first saw Ricky in reruns of My So Called Life. Even though I didn’t catch the show when it was on the air, I was able to see reruns as a young queer teenager. We owe so much to Wilson Cruz!
On what do you insist?
What was your last Facebook post or Tweet?
A video about kids talking about Trump. It was sweet and hilarious. It gave me hope for the future!
If your life were a book, what would the title be?
#IllegalsInTimesOfCrisis. With the hashtag and all because I’m a millennial.
If science discovered a way to change sexual orientation, what would you do?
Run away from it! Being queer is amazing, why would you want to change that!
What do you believe in beyond the physical world?
I believe in a higher being. I’m a very hopeful person and I have to believe that there’s a reason why we are put on earth.
What’s your advice for LGBT movement leaders?
That they take care of themselves.
What would you walk across hot coals for?
What LGBT stereotype annoys you most?
That we’re all gay white men. Just Google the word “gay” and look at the images that pop up.
What’s your favorite LGBT movie?
“Mosquita Y Mari,” by Aurora Guerrero.
What’s the most overrated social custom?
What trophy or prize do you most covet?
My degree in journalism! It took me nine years to get that prize due to the limited opportunities for undocumented college students.
What do you wish you’d known at 18?
That even though it doesn’t always get better, the challenges that come your way make for a heck of a great story.
Why Los Angeles?
Bacon-wrapped hot dogs baby!