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‘In Plain Sight’: 80 Artists Take Over the Skies in Support of Immigrant Rights

"STOP CRIMMIGRATION NOW" written in in the sky, contributed by Bamby Salcedo over the ICE L.A. Field Office | David McNew, In Plain Sight
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Just after 2 p.m. on Friday, Beatriz Cortez, Douglas Carranza and Freya Rojo walked across MacArthur Park, seeking a patch of sky not obstructed by trees. They stopped in a shaded spot on a hillside overlooking the park’s lake with the downtown Los Angeles skyline spread out behind it. They waited, heads tilted toward up.

Earlier that day, Cortez, an L.A.-based artist and a professor in the Department of Central American Studies (CAS) at CSU Northridge, had led an art event on the other side of the park, between Levitt Pavilion and event venue The MacArthur. Inspired by the syncretic Catholic and indigenous Mayan tradition of the alfombra, a group of artists and a coalition of Central American community organizations had written in chalk across the ground, “DEFUND ICE.” Now, she and her colleagues waited for the next part of the event: another set of messages — this time written in the sky instead of pavement.

She heard a rumble. “Is that it?” she asked the others. “It doesn’t sound like a helicopter.” A false alarm, followed by others: a bus, a commercial airplane. The group raised their phones, ready to take photos and lowered them again.

MacArthur Park is an important site for Central Americans in L.A., explained Carranza, the department chair of CAS. Although the city has not officially designated a historic Central American neighborhood, the Westlake and Pico-Union neighborhoods surrounding the park have one of the largest concentrations of Central American immigrants and their descendants. In the park, a statue and plaza commemorate Saint Óscar Romero, a Salvadoran archbishop known for his human rights advocacy.

"NO CAGES, NO JAULAS" written in in the sky, contributed by Beatriz Cortez, over the Immigration Court on Olive Street | Dee Gonzalez, In Plain Sight
"NO CAGES, NO JAULAS" written in in the sky, contributed by Beatriz Cortez, over the Immigration Court on Olive Street | Dee Gonzalez, In Plain Sight
Drone photo with the words "DEFUND ICE" written in chalk during the Immigrant Detention Day of Action (Alfombra Centroamericana) organized by the coalition of Central American organizations | Josue Guajan, In Plain Sight
Drone photo with the words "DEFUND ICE" written in chalk during the Immigrant Detention Day of Action (Alfombra Centroamericana) organized by the coalition of Central American organizations | Josue Guajan, In Plain Sight

Suddenly, Rojo, a lecturer in the CAS department, who had wandered toward the lake, shouted up at Cortez and Carranza and pointed behind them. They turned around and saw the words in white against the blue sky: “NO CAGES NO JAULAS,” the message Cortez had contributed, one of 80 written across the country throughout the three-day weekend. The words wrapped around the sky, as if exposing the curve of the earth. From the ground, the planes looked as small as gnats, five of them flying parallel, letting out individual puffs of steam that formed capital letters. Other messages contributed by other artists formed soon after. “STOP CRIMMIGRATION,” contributed by Latina trans activist Bamby Salcedo, read the next message, then “CHINGA TU MIGRA” from poet Yosimar Reyes. The last message closed a loop encircling the sky: “CARE NOT CAGES #XMAP.”

Cortez’s action alongside the Central American groups is part of “In Plain Sight,” an artist-led effort to make visible the vast and invisible network of detention centers that are keeping immigrants locked up and families apart at the cost of taxpayer dollars. As the rest of the country celebrated independence, 80 artists — including the likes of Emory Douglas (former Minister of Culture for the Black Panther Party) and Mary Kelly (a pioneer figure in feminist art), Patrice Cullors (co-founder of Black Lives Matter)  —  took over the skies around the country, typing up messages such as ”FREE THEM ALL,” “ICE WILL MELT,” “NOSOTRAS TE VEMOS” (“WE SEE YOU”) and “956-701-0149” (a phone number you can use to hear English translations of letters written by those incarcerated at U.S. detention centers and letters written to people in response), all tagged with #XMAP. These messages written in the sky remind us that while most of us enjoy freedom, some are locked up for the sheer audacity of trying to find a better life in a new country.

Protestors holding the phone number to call and hear recordings from those detained. The protest was held at the Santa Anita Assembly Center | William Camargo, In Plain Sight
Protestors holding the phone number to call and hear recordings from those detained. The protest was held at the Santa Anita Assembly Center | William Camargo, In Plain Sight

Click right and left to see more of the messages across the country.

"STOP CRIMMIGRATION NOW" written in in the sky, contributed by Bamby Salcedo over the ICE L.A. Field Office | David McNew, In Plain Sight
1/26 "STOP CRIMMIGRATION NOW" written in in the sky, contributed by Bamby Salcedo over the ICE L.A. Field Office | David McNew, In Plain Sight
"SHAME #DEFUNDHATE #XMAP" written in in the sky, contributed by Cassils over the Geo Group Headquarters. The company is one of the largest operators of adult detention centers for ICE.| William Camargo, In Plain Sight
2/26 "SHAME #DEFUNDHATE #XMAP" written in in the sky, contributed by Cassils over the Geo Group Headquarters. The company is one of the largest operators of adult detention centers for ICE. | William Camargo, In Plain Sight
"NO CAGES, NO JAULAS" written in in the sky, contributed by Beatriz Cortez, over the Immigration Court on Olive Street | Dee Gonzalez, In Plain Sight
3/26 "NO CAGES, NO JAULAS" written in in the sky, contributed by Beatriz Cortez, over the Immigration Court on Olive Street | Dee Gonzalez, In Plain Sight
"NO CAGES, NO JAULAS" written in in the sky, contributed by Beatriz Cortez, over the Immigration Court on Olive Street | Ken Gonzalez-Day, In Plain Sight
4/26 "NO CAGES, NO JAULAS" written in in the sky, contributed by Beatriz Cortez, over the Immigration Court on Olive Street | Ken Gonzalez-Day, In Plain Sight
"NOT SKIN OR COLOR #XMAP" written in in the sky, contributed by Bruce Yonemoto over the Pomona Assembly Center | Hiroshi Clark, In Plain Sight
5/26 "NOT SKIN OR COLOR #XMAP" written in in the sky, contributed by Bruce Yonemoto over the Pomona Assembly Center | Hiroshi Clark, In Plain Sight
"SOY PAZ SOY MAS #XMAP" written in in the sky, contributed by Maria Gaspar over Coastal Bend Detention Center | Ronald L. Jones, In Plain Sight
6/26 "SOY PAZ SOY MAS #XMAP" written in in the sky, contributed by Maria Gaspar over Coastal Bend Detention Center | Ronald L. Jones, In Plain Sight
"PROTECT IMMIGRANTS" written in in the sky, contributed by Karen Y. Martinez over ICE Houston Field Office | Brenda Edith Franco, In Plain Sight
7/26 "PROTECT IMMIGRANTS" written in in the sky, contributed by Karen Y. Martinez over ICE Houston Field Office | Brenda Edith Franco, In Plain Sight
"NO MORE CAMPS #XMAP" written in in the sky, contributed by Tsuru for Solidarity and Karen L. Ishizuka over the Santa Anita Assembly Center | William Camargo, In Plain Sight
8/26 "NO MORE CAMPS #XMAP" written in in the sky, contributed by Tsuru for Solidarity and Karen L. Ishizuka over the Santa Anita Assembly Center | William Camargo, In Plain Sight
Protestors holding the phone number to call and hear recordings from those detained. The protest was held at the Santa Anita Assembly Center | William Camargo, In Plain Sight
9/26 Protestors holding the phone number to call and hear recordings from those detained. The protest was held at the Santa Anita Assembly Center | William Camargo, In Plain Sight
Two women in protest at the Santa Anita Assembly Center | William Camargo, In Plain Sight