When I asked Mishelle Trejo what she was “In Pursuit of,” she answered, “Immigration reform.”

The 17-year-old from Chicago created a poster that combined an archival image of immigrant workers and a caption honoring her parents, who are immigrants from Mexico.

Trejo was one of 33 winners of the Amplifier and J. Paul Getty Museum “In Pursuit of____,” a call for artworks from students ages 13 to 19. Teenagers were asked to reflect on their own lives, consider the state of the world, and inspire others through their unique artistic visions.

The winning artworks, including Trejo’s, were displayed as large-scale projections on city landmarks in Los Angeles, Seattle, Washington, D.C., and Anchorage.

Poster of farm workers, titled Immigration Built This Nation
I recently talked with Mishelle about what it was like having her artwork shared across the United States and why she came to create this image.

Val Tate: What are you in pursuit of?

Mishelle Trejo: I am in pursuit of a nation that recognizes the vital work of immigrants to build this country.

My topic brings awareness to xenophobia and immigration detention centers. It’s important to me because I come from a family of immigrants. Knowing my family has a history of being essential workers makes me proud and also mad when trump says we’re rapists. I created this image by reviewing national archive images of the Bracero Program, [a guest worker program brokered between the U.S. and Mexico from 1942–1964.]

VT: How did you get involved in the Amplifier/Getty Open Call?

MT: My teacher made it an assignment in my Geography class.

History was always my least favorite subject because I never felt connected to a specific story. As I got older and learned my family history I became more engaged. Both of my parents are immigrants from Mexico. My mom recently told me that my great-grandpa was part of the Bracero program, which gave permission to Mexicans to work legally in the United States, and would come from Mexico to Chicago to build railroads, and I realized my family has a long history here in Chicago.

black and white image of a group of men posing with farm tools

Mishelle Trejo’s grandfather and other workers pose during the Bracero Program. Photo courtesy of Mishelle Trejo

VT: What did you like about this assignment?

MT: I liked that it gave students from all across the country a chance to spread a strong message through art. I was so impressed when I saw the other winners and it made me proud to be a part of it.

VT: It looks like this project was a personal one for you, could you tell me more about that?

MT: As soon as my teacher told me about the project, I instantly knew I wanted immigration to be my topic seeing as I have two hard-working immigrant parents. I was a bit torn on the picture I would use because originally I was going to use a picture of the statue of liberty with “It does not say RSVP on the statue of liberty. “ A quote from Clueless (lol) that I didn’t understand until I got older. But when my teacher showed us the Unshuttered: “In Pursuit of. . . “ Video Lesson Plan Aaron Huey, Amplifier’s founder and creative director, mentioned the national archive website, I thought that an old picture would spread the message better. I thought since my great-grandfather was a part of building Chicago I should pay tribute to him and the rest of the Raza that worked through the Bracero Program.

Poster of Immigration Built This Nation is projected on a multi-storied building exterior

VT: How did you feel when you found out you won?

MT: So surprised! I turned in the assignment and forgot about it, when I got the email I was so happy! My mom was very excited too, she didn’t know I was doing the assignment and it meant a lot to her that I shared such a personal story. I ended up finding out that my mom had photographs of my great-grandpa in the program.

VT: What was it like knowing that your image was displayed across the country?

MT: It’s one of those things that you don’t really believe until you see. It’s cool to think that hundreds of people saw a piece of art that was very personal to me and I’m sure personal to a lot of other people as well. My poster wasn’t to point out the hard work of just Mexicans, but all immigrants who don’t get the credit they deserve.

VT: Do you have plans/ want to continue sharing your voice on Immigration Reform?

MT: In the future, I am thinking about becoming an immigration lawyer.

See more artworks from all the winners here.