Times Square is giving a Valentine to all the immigrants of New York City.
A new heart-shaped sculpture called “We Were Strangers Once Too” will be unveiled today on Duffy Square, which won the Times Square Alliance’s ninth annual heart-themed design competition for Valentine’s Day. It’s made up of 33 rods ringed in red and pink bands showing the number of immigrants from over 100 countries who call NYC home — out of a city of 8.25 million, 3.13 million residents were born in another country, according to 2015’s American Community Survey.
The height of each country’s band is proportional to its share of residents; when viewed sideways, you can also see whether that population has risen or fallen since 2010. Step back far enough, and it all melds together into a heart.
“What we wanted to show people is there is incredible richness of cultures that come to New York City, and if Trump wants to build a wall he’s going to have to build a lot of walls because there’s a lot of countries that make this city what it is,” says Jer Thorp, a Canadian immigrant and co-founder of The Office for Creative Research, Brooklyn’s hybrid artist collective and R&D group that created the sculpture.
The idea for “We Were Strangers Once Too” — a phrase taken from a 2014 speech on immigration by former President Barack Obama — came to Creative Researcher Genevieve Hoffman and her team the week after the election. “We were definitely taking into consideration the platform that Trump had campaigned on and how we felt,” she says.
Thorp is quick to point out, however, that the sculpture doesn’t take any sides, presenting its facts without any political context in a world dominated by bias and fake news: “It’s a reminder to everybody that unless you’re Native American or African-American whose ancestors were brought here against their will, you’re an immigrant in some way, and we should remember to sympathize with people because that’s what we were.”
Because the intersection of Broadway and Seventh Avenue is also known as the Crossroads of the World, Thorp knows people from “red states, blue states and all kinds of countries” will be passing by the sculpture. And if all you do is take a pretty Instagram with a giant heart? That’s cool. Want to find the country your family came from? Please do. Find out just how many of the people around you are from somewhere else? Educate away. But Thorp has a personal wish for “We Were Strangers Once Too.”
“One of the things we hope is this piece, to whatever extent it can, acts as another kind of rallying point,” he says. “I don’t think anything would make us happier than seeing a big march being centered around it.”