Creating Technology for Social Change

Interview Highlights: Contextualizing Media Practice with Julio Salgado

The following is a summary of an interview with Julio Salgado regarding a project with the Center for Civic Media at MIT on the role of Media and Technology in Social Movements.

Contextualizing Media Practice

Julio then went on to discuss how he sees his relationship with different types of media. One approach involves harnessing what people are intuitively good at. “In any sort of movement…people have many talents. There are people who are really good at organizing. People who are really good at…talking to politicians. [There are] many ways…to contribute to a movement,” he said. This intuitive approach has been applied to the Dreamers Adrift project. “In my case…I can draw…and Jesus…is an amazing…spoken word artists and…he does these great things with like editing,” said Julio. In terms of situating media practice within the movement, Julio looks at other forms of artivist practice and sees the experience as a continuous learning process. “Artists have been doing this for years. I’m learning as I’m…going through this…through the process of creating stuff,” stated Julio. He then went on to contextualize the use of a visual medium in the movement. “I’m learning that…art and using art and media kind of go hand in hand because we live in a society that’s…visual. We’re constantly…bombarded…with images and…we’re used to that,” he explained. These visual essences of both Julio’s art and the Dreamers Adrift videos have placed them in a unique position in the movement. Specifically, the visual works concretize the themes and struggles of undocumented immigration, and they humanize the movement by adding human faces to the discussion. “Using that talent…definitely goes into the movement because people use those videos when they’re having a meeting…when they’re…facilitating a ‘know your rights’ campaign. To have people…actually see something…I think it helps. It humanizes the issues because [there are]…actual humans in this…[and the] videos…are going through these issues that we’re talking about,” said Julio.

The Wall of DREAMs and Media Resources

The work “The Wall of DREAMs” uses pen and paper in addition to digital technology. When asked about how using different mediums influences his practice, Julio spoke of the importance of being resourceful: “One of the things…[about] Dreamers Adrift [is that]…’we ain’t got no money’ (laughs). We gotta be very resourceful. I mean, I go to the 99 Cents Store and like buy paper, and like the cheap ass markers. You don’t have a to have lot of money to create media…use what’s available to you.”

As exemplified above, resourcefulness has been a key strategy for Julio and Dreamers Adrift. For the video creation process, Dreamers Adrift used an inexpensive Flip Camera, which is a small “ultra portable” camera that shoots in high definition. What seemed an even more central strategy was finding ways to create profound and imaginative works of art and other media, despite of budgetary constraints. In this sense, the need to be resourceful has incentivized the creators of Dreamers Adrift to think outside the box when creating content. “You can have all the budget in the whole world, but if there’s no soul and heart to it…it’s just something pretty to look at. We’re not about that…we’re about…the message that we are trying to get across,” said Julio. What’s more, part of being resourceful has been being self-reliant and independent from other actors that claim stake in the movement and who can overshadow undocumented youth. “Another reason why we do this…is because…a lot of time…people who are not undocumented [say] ‘I wanna tell your story…I wanna speak for you.’ What we wanna do is…document the undocumented by undocumented people,” he declared. Furthermore, Julio went on to dispel misconceptions about media creation being costly, and urging that others find whatever way they can to create their own media and be involved with the movement. “Creating a poster when you go…protest. That right there is a form of…cheap media that you don’t really have to…pay a lot of money for.

Fusing Old-School Media with New Media

For “The Wall of DREAMs,” a Dreamers Adrift video, Julio is shown illustrating portraits of undocumented youth. The camera focuses on Julio’s hand drawing the faces of Dreamers on blank pieces of paper using a sharpie while an acoustic guitar plays. The video has an accelerated frame rate, so we see the art being created faster than normal. In a sense, the video is a fusion of low tech and high tech media, as it contains digital video capture and material drawings on paper. Or as Julio puts it: “When we did that Wall of DREAMs…it was…old school. [It was] drawing somebody’s caricature.” The debate over immigration reform can overly highlight macro level misconceptions, such as the impact of undocumented youth on university financial aid pools, but behind those arguments are actual people. The Wall of DREAMs aims to humanize the movement through art by showing the faces of undocumented youth and emphasizing their career Dreams. “If you read on the bottom [of a portrait]…[the] person wants to be a doctor. It speaks to the…whole Dream Act [movement]…[where] there’s students who wanna be something…and they wanna do something for [a career]…and they can’t,” said Julio. The Wall of DREAMs is one example of how digital media is not necessarily replacing material media, as both digital and material media were used when they were deemed resourceful. “Using the simple medium of [material] art in…caricatures…just using a sharpie and paper…you’re able to…give that message,” commented Julio.

Most Used Forms of Media

When speaking about the most used forms of media, Julio placed Facebook at the top of the list. Facebook holds the crown because it has been the primary gateway for people to access the content on Dreamers Adrift. In Julio’s words: “I think Facebook…has been a huge…tool for all of us. I mean people…go through our page, to our website, through Facebook. That’s how people find out about the website and that’s how people see the artwork.” While Julio and Dreamers Adrift have appreciated the awareness and exposure that Facebook brings, the arguments against the use of Facebook were also briefly mentioned. Specifically, the criticism against Facebook’s ownership of user content was touched upon. “Sure it’s a corporation (laughs)…[and] our information is you know, being collected by God knows who…but…it has served us as a way to…organize,” he said.

From Street Artist Walls to Facebook Walls

Julio went on to make a very interesting connection between the Facebook “wall” and the street artist wall as canvas. When creating content and art, Julio aims to replicate the public accessibility that street art can provide, where messages as are relayed openly and visually. However, as street art can be reduced to vandalism and punishable by law, Facebook has allowed for an alternative digital public space. “The Facebook wall is my way to…paste on the Internet (laughs). Those old [street art] traditions of like quick fast communication,” stated Julio. Not all of the features afforded by Facebook were considered positive during our conversation. Julio noted that the open and public nature of the Internet often encourages derogatory comments and blatantly intolerant attacks that go unchecked. “We get some negative comments, you know. People just…hiding behind a keyboard to sort of attack us and saying ‘you people get out of here,’” he said. Overall, Julio embraces Facebook for the spreadable affordances that it provides.

Material Media: Paper and Posters

In addition to Facebook, Julio regarded paper and posters as some of the most important forms of media for the movement. These material forms of media were considered especially important during marches, rallies, and other forms of political protest and activism. “[When] there’s actually…marches or like a rally…[we use] good old…posters,” he said. The creation of these posters often involves trips to Kinkos, followed by their distribution to people involved in actions and events. Julio noted the unique relationship that people have to material media like posters, especially because they are tactile forms. “People like to have something to hold on to…much like the newspaper,” said Julio. Beyond the basic tactile relationship that material media can provide, Julio discussed how posters can speak to ownership in the movement, which can be empowering. “I think holding a piece of artwork created by one of their peers who is also undocumented…empowers them in a sense. They’re like, ‘damn, one of us did this.’ It’s not somebody else who doesn’t really understand what we’re going through, but it’s like somebody who is actually also undocumented. This art [is] for them, and for us too,” Julio affirmed. In a way, material media created by undocumented artists like Julio tap into the idea of ownership in the movement, where undocumented people are able to tangibly uphold the images that they believe should frame the Immigrant’s Rights Movement.

Queer, Undocumented, and Unafraid

Both Julio’s artwork and Dreamers Adrift are inclusive of themes from concurrent intersecting movements, which manifest through the media that are produced. For example, there has been much intersection between Immigrant’s Rights Movements and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Movements. Although not completely equivalent, the concept of “coming out” as undocumented to the public was largely influenced by LGBT movements, especially through the use of “coming out videos” on sites like YouTube. Beyond the similarities in some practices, Immigrant’s Rights Movements and LGBT Movements have intersected because many undocumented immigrants identify as queer. “I’m undocumented and I’m queer,” said Julio, and he incorporates “queer issues” into his artwork. He went on to add: “On my own I’ve created…pieces where…I try to celebrate this identity.” One example of how Julio has incorporated LGBT elements into his artwork is by modifying the Dreamer slogan of “Undocumented and Unafraid” to say “Queer, Undocumented, and Unafraid.” The inclusion of the single term “queer” may seem minor, but the implications are of great importance, because it acknowledges a “movement within a movement.” However, beyond mere acknowledgement, the intentional inclusion of intersecting LGBT themes in the media that Julio produces is a way to combat homophobia that can exist within immigrant’s rights movements. In Julio’s words: “I’ve heard conversations, you know…homophobia talk within undocumented folks [and] I’m like ‘hey…you’re part of an oppressed group, [so] do not oppress other groups.’”


Art by Julio Salgado

Many have embraced the media that have been produced on the intersectionality of movements. As Julio states: “A lot of my queer brothers and sisters have [said]…’hey, you know what, this is frickin awesome’…because we feel that…as a community…you have to like negotiate identities.” Furthermore, media that fuse LGBT themes with immigrant’s rights themes highlight how being undocumented affects people who identify as queer in different ways than those who identify as heterosexual. For example, in the Dreamers Adrift video “On Relationships, Marriage Proposals, and Being Undocumented,” Julio discusses the double barriers of the law that affect undocumented people who identify as queer. “It’s hard enough being undocumented, but try being gay too. Not only are we seen…as people who don’t have the right to marry, but also…we don’t have papers [documentation]. If somebody who’s undocumented [and]…heterosexual marries somebody, they can…get papers to do that,” stated Julio. In his art and through Dreamers Adrift, Julio is intentional about bridging social movements through media creation. “We try to touch into other subjects because…we’re part of them. And I think anybody who’s for social justice should be about social justice across [issues],” he said. The more recent “Undocumented and Awkward” series on Dreamers Adrift has also addressed the intersectionality of LGBT issues and being undocumented.

Undocumented Narratives Across Media

When asked about the role of narratives in his art and in Dreamers Adrift, Julio responded: “Narratives are very, very, very important because…we can sit here and talk policy…law and everything…[but] there’s a human aspect behind every issue that people seem to forget. Using a narrative…telling our stories…[and] telling specific snippets of our lives makes it much more clear to the [average] person. It’s really important that every single person has a different story…[and] every single person has a different way [of] how they came to this country [and] why they came to this country. There’s no one typical…immigrant story. It’s very important within…Dreamers Adrift that we try to use…[those] personal stories and mix [them] with art. [In] The Science of DREAM…we wanted to [portray]…a dysfunctional [romantic] relationship that students have had with The Dream Act, because…it hasn’t passed, or because The Dream Act has been totally watered down from its original [form]. Having this visual idea…it might be easier to understand or easier to explain to somebody who might not understand this. Narrative plays a big role in what we do.”

This concludes Part 2 of 2 of this interview summary blog.

I would like to thank Julio Salgado once more for agreeing to collaborate with the Center for Civic Media: Thank you Julio!