Undocumented Immigration In California

Capital Public Radio’s News Department is devoting a whole year to examining one of the most important and polarizing issues of our time. Our goal is to create a body of work that will enlighten and advance the conversation in California and beyond.

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Sacramento Artist Emilio Soltero Illustrates CapRadio’s Undocumented Immigration Initiative

Emilio Soltero / Illustration For Capital Public Radio

Emilio Soltero / Illustration For Capital Public Radio

Capital Public Radio’s year-long initiative exploring undocumented immigration in California (#undocumentedCA) has so far produced more than 30 stories ranging from policy pieces to historical interviews, first-person arrival stories and the first segment of a documentary featuring undocumented immigrants. The initiative continues into 2016 with coverage of the economy, the healthcare system and immigration reform.

How then to visualize this wide-ranging reporting initiative?  

Sacramento-based artist and arts educator, Emilio Soltero accepted the challenge. Soltero works as a painter and digital artist and much of his work centers around his cultural identity as a Latino American.

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Soltero shared this collage he made as an example of his work prior to undertaking the initiative illustration. 

“I thought it was challenging because usually you get one or two ideas to work on - but there were quite a few things,” says Soltero. “I thought, ‘that’s too much,’ but I wanted to include all of it.”

Soltero conducted research to determine what images and figures to include. He teaches Hmong students and he talked to them about their culture in order to represent the diversity of immigrants in California.

“Right away there’s a strong background in California for agriculture, so I wanted to put in farm workers,” he says. “I thought about what’s in the forefront of history, it’s Mexican Americans and agriculture, but I knew it started back with Filipino farm workers,”

The resulting illustration features a central image of a woman farmworker, her head wrapped in a scarf, socks pulled up over her pants to protect her as she works. She’s holding a child as she stands in a field.

She’s surrounded by a collage of images representing many facets of the historical and contemporary immigrant experience in California. There’s a Japanese farmer picking lettuce, a graduate tossing a mortarboard cap in the air, a swatch of traditional Hmong embroidery. Soltero includes the figures of a man, woman and child running as depicted on signs posted on roadways near the Mexican border. The border fence stretches into the distance. The state Capitol points to the sky. A stylized American flag wraps around the entire image. Soltero frames the figures with California golden poppies and traditional cacti.

Soltero carefully chose where to place the figures in the visual hierarchy of each theme.

“It could be a touchy topic, and it’s delicate so I wanted to incorporate facets to make it vibrant and eye-catching at the same time you get it in an instant.”

Soltero said he was drawn to the project because the topic is close to his heart.

“It strikes a chord. My dad’s dad came from Mexico. My dad was born here. My mom came from Mexico,” Soltero says.

As Capital Public Radio continue to explore the many  issues surrounding undocumented immigration, this image represents the range of our journalistic exploration and the stories we hope to tell.

Emilio Soltero’s Artist’s Statement below provides more details about his background, the research and artistic choices for this illustration, and his family’s immigrant history.

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Another collage by Soltero.

Artist’s Statement:


"This illustration was challenging in production, though not in terms of execution, but in conception. It incorporates many sensitive issues and core beliefs. Like education, everyone seems to have a strong opinion about immigration. Unlike many other editorial illustrations this one dealt with many main concepts, e.g., education, housing, capital politics, economics, and international borders.

I believe everyone is affected by immigration, specifically women and children who are most challenged currently and historically. I used a woman and child as the central figures and though I often use a more semi-realistic method I chose a looser style to represent the central figures.

I incorporated cultural and sociopolitical aspects as well. In terms of floriculture, I added cactus and the California golden poppy, both native to California.

Immigration most certainly attains a national level platform with presidential cycles, as well as in International cycles. I therefore added a circular and serpentine motif around the entire image to denote an evolving and dynamic cycle regarding immigration within California, with allusions to national and international regard. I included figures of Asian and Latino ancestry as they are dominant within the immigration population in California. Historically, Mexicans were the majority, but during the most recent years there has been much growth in migrant populations from Asia, specifically from China and India. I included motifs from the Hmong culture, a group with strong ties in the Sacramento region with the use of the abstract symbolism on the bottom left. I also included a Japanese American farmer, and Chicana/o and Mexican farmers on the left.

Housing, economics, legislation, and education are represented symbolically in the background with currency, houses, and the capital. Education is recognized not just with a book for learning but with a graduation cap which alludes to completion, stability, and retention. I would like to thank my editor on the piece, Melody Stone, for her collaborative input."

~Emilio Soltero

P.S. I want to add, my mother was a migrant from Mexico who learned English on her own, raised five children, and became a naturalized citizen. Her five children attended higher education, with all of them becoming educators, counselors, and social workers. I dedicate this image to her memory."


Melody Stone

Former Interactive Producer

After working in newspapers and doing print journalism for years, Melody transitioned into digital marketing and design. With a healthy blend of journalistic and digital media skills she builds out interactive web stories for Capradio.org.  Read Full Bio 

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