He propped up the figures on the low wall that supports the black fence and stepped back.
Before long, some tourists asked whether they could move the Latino family to the side so they could get a better angle for a photo of the White House. The wind kept blowing the cardboard figures down.
“Do you have a cause?” asked an Australian with a University of Queensland sweatshirt.
“A lot of it has to do with immigration reform,” Gomez replied.
“We have our own immigration issues,” the Australian said.
Soon, a Secret Service officer said no signs were allowed on the sidewalk. Gomez could either move his painting back onto the Pennsylvania Avenue plaza or be arrested, the officer said.
Somewhat dejected, Gomez moved to another section of the fence. A different officer let him pose and photograph the cutouts for several minutes as the setting sun glinted off the White House. Cheered at this touch of official empathy, Gomez shook the officer’s hand and explained, “I’m an artist.”
By Wednesday morning, he was outside the Capitol with his fruit-pickers.
“You must have skipped your day in woodshop,” joked a Capitol Police officer as Gomez clumsily used a rusty wooden saw to trim the stake that would support one of the figures in the grass. “You’re well within your rights, but you can’t dig anything into the ground.”
Gomez is used to having grass in which to plant his figures. He tried putting the stakes in a ventilation grate. The pickers made a striking image, profiled against the Capitol.
A man on a tour broke from his group and came hurrying across the grass toward the artist. He took a quick look at the figures and said, “Oh, never mind.”
Gomez said he was sure more people would notice if he could leave his fruit-pickers all day. But he couldn’t anchor them properly. The L.A. artist was somewhat unprepared for conditions on the ground in the District. Lesson learned, he said.
He thought of the immigrants who had cheered his project so emotionally the day before and who now were in the hearing room.
“The act itself is powerful,” Gomez said, as he harvested his fruit-pickers.
“When the image gets circulated, people will see it was in front of the Capitol. Then the audience will be the ones who aren’t here.”