“Say it with flowers,” the expression goes. So, to communicate the thoughts that immigrants harbor about President Trump, artist Lizania Cruz decided to invite some of them to create bouquets for him. Her ongoing photo series Flowers for Immigration documents the resulting arrangements — quiet, beautiful manifestations of opinions that are often unspoken or silenced.
All are the creations of undocumented immigrant bodega workers who spend their days helping New Yorkers express themselves through flowers. Cruz, wanting to see the florists do the same for their own feelings, launched the project last November. Since then, she’s recruited 11 flower sellers to participate in the project. Not everyone she approached took her up on the offer, with some disagreeing with her objective and others refusing out of concern for their status. But providing a platform for those whose lives are at the center of current debates over immigration is precisely the goal of Cruz, who herself came to the city after being born and raised in the Dominican Republic.
“I hope viewers will be able to connect with the beauty and humanity of these undocumented workers and that their voices are amplified,” she told Hyperallergic. “Undocumented workers can’t go out and protest because of fear of facing legal actions. So I hope this project allowed them to have an opinion.” The participants, whom she paid for their involvement, are identified only by first names.
Each of their creations is preserved in photos twice: with the flowers carefully laid out like surgical tools, so you can identify each one, and then bundled together and wrapped. The two formats are intended to nod to and celebrate diversity within a single community. Unlike most bouquets, however, these don’t generally carry messages of love. Viviana, who’s originally from Puebla but has lived in the US for 21 years, made an arrangement intended for Trump’s grave consisting of margaritas, roses, baby’s breath, and lilies — the blossom most widely associated with funerals. Miguel, who’s also from Puebla and crossed the border nine years ago, initially wanted to send wilting flowers (“Let him rot!” he told Cruz), but settled on marigolds — which are commonly used in Day of the Dead celebrations — and red peppers, as a proud declaration of his origins. Arturo arranged an all white bouquet of blossoms to emphasize his presence in the country as one of peace, that he’s here only to do honest work.
None of the bouquets were actually sent to the White House, but Flowers for Immigration is meant more as a series of messages for the public. Attached to each arrangement is a story (posted on the project’s website) that brings us a little closer to the creator’s reality. The project is also a reminder of the role flowers have played as symbols of civil resistance throughout history: Cruz cites the Flower Power movement of the 1960s and ’70s and Portugal’s 1974 Carnation Revolution as inspirational precedents to her gesture.
As a way to further immortalize the bouquets, she has dried the flowers and is now planning to create resin sculptures with them. Her ongoing process keeps the dialogue alive around immigration reform while continuously reimagining what resistance can look like.