In the Summer of 2016 while living in San Antonio, Texas, Arlene Mejorado began a project about her mothers border crossing story. She invited Maribel Hermosillo Gonzalez to stand in for a portrait in the spirit of her mother that would later be used for a piece called "My Mother's Passport" illustrating the story of how her mother disguised herself in order to bypass border officers in Eagle Pass, Texas. One of the portraits she made this day would later become the face of We the People - Defend Dignity. In this portrait Maribel appears grounded, looking straight with her hair hugging part of her neck as the San Antonio breeze gives movement to an otherwise stern stance. The portrait represents dignity, courage, and resilience. Maribel is connected to indigenous heritage and believes her ancestors are present not only in her bloodline, but in her spiritual draw, her mission towards justice, healing, and love. A portrait that confronts displacement and alienation, her peaceful glare also invites compassion when current media is flooded with dehumanizing images of migrants and indigenous people in crisis.
We the People: Defend Dignity
A collaboration with Shepard Fairey/Obey Giant and Amplifier Art, 2017.
Defend Dignity is a political graphic that is part of a 3 portrait series for the We the People campaign released by Amplifier Art on January 21, 2017 in conjunction with the Women's March, the largest single day protest in U.S. history. The campaign brought language and visual inspiration to a social justice movement and the sentiment was harnessed by an incubator of artists, photographers, poets, and activists that resulted in the creation of this iconic series.
During the Women's march millions of people took to the streets ignited by the inauguration of the 45th president of the U.S. that took place the day prior. Thousands of We the People posters were distributed across the world, as spreads in the New York Times and the Washington Post, and high resolution images were released on the internet to make the image as accessible as possible for all.
Defend Dignity is a visual intervention and direct response to the xenophobic, racist, and anti-immigrant sentiment promoted by the current U.S. administration, the corporate sponsors of detention centers, and the daily enforcement of fear and discrimination by the state as well as "nativist" civilians. At the release of Defend Dignity, Trump signed an executive order to enforce the following: 1. US-Mexico border wall will begin construction. 2. The "catch and release" policy that quickly returned border crossers back will end. 3. Federal grants from "sanctuary" cities and states that do not enforce immigration law will be defunded from federally grants. 4. Visas will be withheld from people in countries until they take back people from the US who are here illegally and have broken US laws.
In finalizing the details of the image, Shepard consulted with Arlene and decided to refrain from incorporating the U.S. flag as the symbol brings a charged sentiment to many immigrant, Native American, and African American legacies that isn't empathized by other groups in the U.S. Arlene decided on a red rose that is true to Xicana and Mexicana fashion aesthetics from ballet folkloric dancers, to rockabilly greasers, to the flowers that adorn women during Dia de los Muertos. The eagle was suggested by Ernesto Yerena. Ultimately, the final graphic challenges xenophobic and racist bigotry while celebrating those that feel reflected in the image.
In addition to the free campaign, limited edition screen prints and lithograph prints were released and co-signed by Shepard Fairey and Arlene Mejorado for art collectors. Many prints live in peoples' homes, in classrooms, in labor centers, and in special collections including the Library of Congress. Photo by Ayse Gursoz.
We the People Defend Dignity has become a leading political graphic around the world and has been adopted as paintings, murals, tattoos, re-interpreted photographs, and more. At the heart, Defend Dignity is a symbol action and justice. Often compared to Rosie the Riveter for her national impact, she is for anyone that is pushed into marginalization and silencing for the benefit of the ruling class and nation state.
A collaboration with Shepard Fairey/Obey Giant and Amplifier Art, 2017