Amtrak’s National Route System
I grew up with the idea of the American Dream,” explains artist Edel Rodriguez, when talking about his interpretation of Amtrak’s national route map for The National. “My family spoke about it constantly. For me, it’s very real.”
Rodriguez has reason to be preoccupied with one of the founding mythologies of America. As a young boy in Cuba, he and his family, in search of a better life, took advantage of the Mariel boatlift—the six-and-a-half-month period in 1980 when Fidel Castro’s government allowed its citizens to immigrate to the United States.
Rodriguez, now in his mid-40s, nods to that immigration story with his use of cigar boxes. “They’re a little illicit and not from this country, and they represent the coexistence of immigrants within the U.S.,” he says, adding that the boxes also evoke memories of the grandfather he left behind, who was a heavy cigar smoker. The red thread he uses for the route lines is a nod to his mother’s occupation as a seamstress.
In nearly every way, Rodriguez has realized his American dream. After another emigration, this time from Miami to Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute in 1990, he quickly made his name as a singularly conceptual illustrator. In 1996, at age 26, he was named Time magazine’s art director for its Latin American and Canadian publications, the youngest in its history. And in 2016, he was named one of AdAge’s 50 Most Creative People and won the American Society of Magazine Editors’ Cover of the Year.