During the Dalai Lama’s first visit to Sacramento last month, he was given artwork from Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León. The piece was created by Sacramento-based artist Emilio Soltero and depicts California’s immigration and agricultural life. The gift was a private, intimate moment between the Dalai Lama and de León.
Soltero created the collage of images last year at the request of Capital Public Radio, which used it to illustrate the station’s yearlong reporting initiative exploring undocumented immigration.
It wound up in the Dalai Lama’s hands after de Léon began searching for an art piece to represent California and policy issues related to the Dalai Lama.
“I was contacted by the Senate within the week (of the visit) and I knew it was a dignitary, but that’s it,” Soltero said.
While reading The Sacramento Bee, he found out the special guest’s identity.
“It was a huge shock to find out it was the Dalai Lama,” Soltero said.
Soltero wanted to represent the history of immigrant workers in California by starting with the Japanese internment camp worker in the bottom left, to the Mexican worker above him. The image contains elements of the state Capitol and immigrant experiences across a variety of ethnicities.
“It’s dealing with slices of life from different cultures and countries,” Soltero said. “I believe that immigration most affects women and children, mostly children, but women take care of them. I wanted to use that as the main eye-catcher of the image.”
The original image was created on a computer. Soltero then printed and remarqued the image.
“This piece speaks to our common humanity with its apt representation of the inextricable link between California, her immigrant populations and their contributions to the heritage and wealth of this great state,” said de León via email. “We chose it to honor His Holiness’s message of compassion and the absolute interdependence of all humankind.”