How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Before Banksy, the running family was immigration icon and art

Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images

One of the original signs as seen on I-5 just north of the U.S.-Mexico border in 2006

Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images

One of the original signs as seen on I-5 just north of the U.S.-Mexico border in 2006

Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images

One of the original signs as seen on I-5 just north of the U.S.-Mexico border in 2006

Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images

One of the original signs as seen on I-5 just north of the U.S.-Mexico border in 2006


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.

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