If you don't live in California, you might not be familiar with the road sign that has become synonymous with illegal immigration and immigration in general, and that has spawned countless interpretations over the years. But you may have seen the image itself, or a version of it.
It's the black silhouette of a family of three set against a bright yellow background, the characters leaning forward as they run. There's a man, a woman and a little girl, her pigtails flying. Even without faces, the characters convey a sense of desperation.
The running family was a familiar sight to motorists driving between Los Angeles and San Diego for close to 20 years, emblazoned on signs along Interstate 5. Several of the signs went up in the San Diego area in the early 1990s as a warning to motorists at a time when smugglers were forcing their charges to run across the freeway to evade immigration authorities, often with tragic results.
A post yesterday on a pre-Banksy artistic rendering of the running migrant family freeway sign - one of innumerable pre-Banksy versions, actually - is now in turn inspiring art submissions.
I received this YouTube video of an early-morning guerilla art sprint involving the running family last May 1, shot by a USC film student. Multiple prints of the running characters were installed around the city, dangled over freeway overpasses in the hazy, subdued golden light that dawn brings to a smoggy town. Shaky camera, great footage.
As mentioned in previous posts, the familiar image started life as a caution sign along San Diego-area freeways in the early 1990s, a warning for motorists to watch for pedestrians at a time when smugglers were leading their charges across lanes to evade immigration authorities. Many migrants were hit and killed. Long before British street artist Banksy's much-covered "Caution" stencil went up (and went down) in Los Angeles recently, a number of mostly Latino artists in the U.S. had been claiming the image as protest art. The characters have been reinterpreted as everything from Pilgrims to college graduates, even as the Holy Family.
Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC
Another interpretation of the freeway sign, this one by artist Luis Genaro Garcia, photographed January 2011
Street artist Banksy was only the latest to take on the iconic running migrant family freeway sign. Here is the sign as reinterpreted by Southern California artist Luis Genaro Garcia, who has made a few versions of the image. In this one, the parents carry the tools of manual labor - a wrench and pliers, a feather duster - while the child wears a cap and gown.
I photographed the piece on a wall at the offices of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles while reporting on an event there last January.
The culture blog Remezcla has launched a "Fill in the Blank-sy" art contest asking readers, "What would you put in this spot’s space now that Banksy’s work has been stolen?"
A Multi-American post yesterday explored the brief life of a stencil by the elusive British artist, in town for the Oscars as a best-documentary nominee, which depicted the familiar freeway sign showing a running family of three. Only in this case, the characters against the yellow background were depicted flying a kite.
The stencil at First and Soto Streets in Boyle Heights was defaced and later removed on Friday; at least two nearly identical stencils were documented around town, including one on a Boyle Heights bridge (also gone), although those weren't claimed officially on Banksy's website.
This morning I went in search of what I'd hoped might be a remaining version of British guerilla street artist Banksy's stencil nicknamed "Caution," a parody of the famous migrant family freeway sign that for years was a fixture of the drive between Los Angeles and San Diego on Interstate 5. But no luck. Like the better-known stencil at First and Soto streets, the image that was briefly captured on the bridge at Cesar Chavez Boulevard and Pleasant Avenue - and which may or may not have been Banksy's - is also gone.
Banksy art began popping up throughout L.A. in the days leading up to yesterday's Academy Awards ceremony as the elusive artist, a best-documentary nominee for his film "Exit Through the Gift Shop," made the rounds of the town. The "Caution" stencil portrayed the familiar running migrant family, only flying a kite instead of making a harrowing sprint across the freeway.