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Wow. You’ve got to read this story from today’s LA Times. Reporter Scott Gold spent some time with John Hood, a Caltrans graphic designer here in San Diego who designed the unmistakable roadside sign depicting an immigrant family running.

In the story, Hood, a Navajo who grew up on a reservation in a corner of New Mexico, grows philosophical about his legacy, and the debate surrounding the icon he created, the design behind the family, with the mom dragging a little girl, her pigtails flying behind:

There is a father, leading the way with a clear sense of urgency, bent at the waist. A mother, running behind him, despite the prim dress that hugs her knees. A little girl, holding her mother’s hand, unable to keep pace, her feet barely touching the ground, her pigtails — everyone knows the pigtails — flowing behind.

In 1990, the image would be projected onto black vinyl, traced with a knife blade, glued onto yellow signs, topped with one word — CAUTION — and placed on the shoulders of freeways, mostly along Interstate 5 north of the Mexican border.

The sign served as a warning that drivers could encounter people racing across the interstate — most of them trying to get from Mexico into the United States. It would become one of the most iconic and enduring images associated with the nation’s war over illegal immigration. And it would leave John Hood, now 59 years old and preparing to retire, conflicted and ambivalent about his strange legacy.

“What does it mean,” he asked the other day, after sifting through his work, “to live a meaningful life?”

KELLY BENNETT

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