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For a radical new perspective on immigration, picture the US as an ancient tree

With the overheated rhetoric around immigration dominating the political sphere, an imaginative, historically rooted perspective can be something of a tonic. This short video from Pedro M Cruz, a data-visualisation designer and assistant professor at Northeastern University in Boston, uses nearly two centuries of United States census data (1830-2015) to convey the country’s population growth through immigration. Cruz depicts these accumulating figures as an ageing tree trunk, with each new ring accounting for a decade of population growth, and each coloured cell representing 100 immigrants from a cultural-geographical region. According to Cruz, the tree metaphor ‘carries the idea that these marks in the past are immutable’ and it ‘embodies the concept that all cells contributed to the organism’s growth’. As with so many renderings of US history, indigenous populations are conspicuously absent from the tableau. Still, Cruz’s skilfully deployed data doubles as a resonant work of cultural commentary, offering a rich and often surprising look at the ever-evolving makeup of the country.

Art and Design: Pedro M Cruz, Steve Costa

Research: John Wihbey, Avni Ghael, Felipe Shibuya

Website: IPUMS USA

1 August 2019

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