Photo/Carlos Rene Castro

“Children in Cages” mural by artist Lalo Garcia.

Lalo Garcia is clear in saying that he isn’t a “political artist.”

His long career began with paintings of traditional Mexican art depicting a vibrant culture familiar to him. But, evolving over the  years, his work began to express his personal faith and transitioned to religious art with a unique reverence and muted palette that many would call “sacred.”

Much of his current commissioned work is displayed on the walls of major churches and hospital chapels as focal points for prayer.  

So, while Garcia resists labeling himself or his art as “political,” his latest work — an eight-foot by eight-foot mural “No Mas Family Separation”  — could accurately be described as his “moral calling.”

 It illustrates Latino  “Children in Cages” — very alone in a barren room. Adding to the realism, in front of the mural, a physical chain-link fence has been installed providing a 3D life like locked in barrier.  

It ominously conveys the small enclosed, trapped existence that thousands of children have been forced to endure under the Trump administration. Children including toddlers separated from their families attempting to migrate at the border apprehended and forced to live in US for profit detention centers.  

The mural is currently on display at its first location in the City of San Fernando’s Civic Center parking lot — at the corner of First Street and Maclay Avenue — facing the city’s bike path and in view of the passing Metrolink traveling through the small town.

Mayor Sylvia Ballin selected the location and pushed for Garcia’s mural, which is the first mural and the beginning of the city’s  new mural pilot program.

“It’s important to bring awareness and bring this issue to local communities so that it’s not hidden,” she said. “This federal policy has kept immigrant children in cages and shouldn’t be ignored.” 

Garcia produced the mural on panels that would allow the artwork to be installed and removed to travel to other locations. He has outreached to other artists living in other cities to produce murals of the same theme with an aim to raise awareness and force those that have turned a blind eye over the last four years to take action now that Trump is exiting the White House.   

In his first public appearance since the Trump supporters stormed the Capitol, Trump visited the border wall in Alamo, Texas, a city in the Rio Grande Valley near the U.S.-Mexican border — the site of the 450th mile of the border wall his administration was set on building to keep out those he described as “rapists, those bringing in drugs and crime.”

Rhetoric that built a base of racist supporters and helped him to win office.

While in Texas on Tuesday, Jan 12, he repeated similar immigration rhetoric to emphasize his administration’s efforts to build a “big, beautiful wall” across the length of the southern border. Trump had wanted the wall to be painted black to burn the hands of those who touched it under a hot desert sun.

He also wanted it adorned with deadly spikes and even surrounded with a moat of alligators, but all of those modifications on Trump’s wish list were rejected.  

What has not been lost is the rhetoric to target the poorest and most vulnerable people south of the border, many who are fleeing dangerous conditions in their home countries traveling from as far as Honduras and El Salvador in treacherous conditions, oftentimes with their children. The trip to Texas for Trump was a return to the success he had during his campaign as he faced the real prospect of a second impeachment.  

Garcia and many others who’ve attempted to advocate for immigrants will be watching what the Biden administration aims to do about the wall and for the children locked up in what are really modern day concentration camps.

With the U.S Government’s lost records, scores of children are in limbo and have no proof of their parents. As photos of Garcia’s mural is shared online and on various media outlets, he is feeling dismayed that the public’s comments seem focused on going back and forth to point fingers at the Obama or Trump adminstrations rather than having any real concern or empathy for the children.

“When I see those children, I see my own children in their faces — why can’t others, regardless of the color of their skin?” asks Garcia.  

“The simple fact is this isn’t about a Red or Blue party. If Pope Frances would have put kids in cages or separate families, it would still be wrong. The blame doesn’t matter, it’s the action that’s wrong. That’s all I’m trying to do is create awareness and give them a voice. They are in a cage locked up. I’m advocating for them with this mural. The simple fact is that the kids are there and no one is helping them,” he said. 

“These people are fighting over Obama and Trump – give me a break. This is wrong, it is just humanly wrong, period. I would denounce it coming from anyone. A child shouldn’t be paying for the mistakes of politics, a child is innocent.” 

Garcia illustrated some of the children wearing masks and others without masks to consider how badly the pandemic has spread among the children noting some reports that there have been outbreaks.

But much of what goes on has been shielded from public view. In this mural, Garcia placed what is part of his signature — an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe to stress the need for the children to have comfort and protection and hope that while they are in this cold environment, someone is spiritually looking after them.

 “Children should never pay the price for the mistakes of their parents, their situations in their home countries and certainly not have to pay the price for being caught in a political debate. They are innocent. And they are suffering,” he said.