Ruben, an undocumented Mexican immigrant from the southern state of Guerrero, believes you only send flowers to people you love. But recently he created a flower arrangement for none other than Donald Trump, the man who has vowed to build a wall and deport millions of undocumented immigrants like him.
Ruben’s gift to Trump, tied in red, white and blue ribbons, was photographed by Lizania Cruz, a New York-based Dominican artist and activist who developed the flower arrangment project as a way for immigrant flower workers to tell their stories.
Cruz says flowers have been used as a symbol of nonviolent protest before, from Gandhi to the Vietnam War. Now she wants to use the same tactic to denounce Trump’s policies by encouraging Mexican immigrants working in New York City’s flower bodegas to create special arrangements for the president-elect.
“Flowers express our vulnerability. We send them for love, for funerals. They’ve become a way to express feelings that we sometimes can’t really explain with words,” Cruz told me. “I got the idea for the project after reading about the 1974 military coup in Portugal, where carnations became a symbol of peaceful resistance as people placed them on soldiers and in gun barrels.”
Cruz, who currently works with Ikebana, the art of Japanese flower arrangement, says flowers also connect humans to nature and their most primitive needs.
“The majority of the flowers we buy here are not grown in the United States. If you think about it, flowers are immigrants as well,” Cruz said.
Cruz said at first many bodega workers seemed reluctant to participate in the project.
“They didn’t know flowers could be a form of protest,” she said.
But after talking about the election and explaining the project, Cruz says some of the immigrants became enthusiastic about making the perfect arrangement, designating a specific meaning to each flower.
“An immigrant named Miguel said he wanted to pick the flowers that were already dying,” she said.
Miguel, born in the central state of Puebla, added a finishing touch with cempazuchitl, Mexico’s bright orange iconic flower used in Day of the Dead altar decorations. “Let him rot,” he told Cruz. “He also picked a stick of peppers. He said: ‘I want him to know this comes from a Mexican, I want him to know we have spice and flavor’.”
Cruz says she doesn’t know yet whether she’ll send the arrangements to the White House. She is currently drying the flowers to frame them in cases with transparent glass known as shadow boxes.
“I’m an immigrant myself. I went through the H-1B visa process and now I’m trying to change my status,” she said. “I’m privileged because I was able to come here legally and companies sponsored me, but it’s been a long and hard process. I’ve invested a lot of money in lawyers and I can’t even imagine how hard it is for people who don’t have the money and the access.”
Cruz says she wants Trump to know that those making the arrangements “are just workers trying to find a better future.”
She added, “Let’s spread flower power instead of hate.”