Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears


Isle of Hope, Isle of Tears


An edible installation, celebrating the cultural diversity of multiple diasporas and immigration experiences who contribute to a collective identity within the United States.

Inspired by Ellis Island, as a symbol of the immigrant experience, and using popular American candy, this installation explores ideas, developed during the time that the Island served as the main entry facility for immigrants entering the US, about race & ethnicity as well as categories of immigrants that shaped America’s collective identity.

The piece invites the viewer into an alternative aesthetic experience, stimulating one’s senses with sweet flavors and aromas, challenging ideas about immigration, while connecting the rituals of eating with our collective identity.


In the context of present times and in spite of the complexity of the contemporary life, man continues to seek the connection with the divine.  In his daily life, man creates and recreates rituals form to make out of the profane something divine, meaning he performs the act of sacrifice in different ways.

The experience of immigrating means to abandon the land and family physically for hope of better opportunities.  It is in this context where immigrating acquires a greater dimension as sacrifice, it’s a paradox where the physical abandonment does not means the total renunciation but the expression of love to it.  The immigrant is sacrificed to offer better opportunities to his beloved ones, to immigrate implies to be in danger and even risk your life, to face solitude in adverse conditions and to carry out heavy works in different contexts that only makes sense to do as a humble and at the same time magnificent expression of love.  On the other hand the act of eating and the rituals around the table universally represents an offering sometimes simple and habitual, and at times sacred and sublime.  Eating is a daily act, where the community gathers to share, celebrate and exercise generosity.

The purpose of this project is to integrate the art making process with food to create edible pieces, with a conceptual and aesthetic value.  Through them the spectator is invited to think about the relation between food and identity.  As an artist I work with the cultural and symbolic meaning of food to create metaphors materialized in an artwork that transcends the aesthetic experience and is capable of stimulating all senses.

This piece is inspired by Ellis Island as a symbol of immigration and its history as the port of entry to the US, using M&M’s, an American popular candy, to challenge ideas about immigration, ethnicity and the “American dream”.

Ellis Island, located in New York Harbor, served from January 1, 1892, until November 12, 1954 as the main entry facility for immigrants entering the United States. More than 12 million immigrants passed through Ellis Island between 1892 and 1954. Today, over 100 million Americans can trace their ancestry to the immigrants who first arrived in America through the island before dispersing to points all over the country.

When immigrants arrived they were asked questions including name, occupation, ethnicity and the amount of money they carried with them.  They were also examined and those with visible health problems or diseases were sent home or held in the island’s hospital facilities for long periods of time.

“The symbols below were chalked on the clothing of potentially sick immigrants following the six-second medical examination. The doctors would look at them as they climbed the stairs from the baggage area up to the Great Hall. Immigrants’ behavior would be studied for difficulties in getting up the staircase. Some only entered the country by surreptitiously wiping the chalk marks off or by turning their clothes inside out.”[1]

B – Back

C – Conjunctivitis

CT – Trachoma

E – Eyes

F – Face

FT – Feet

G – Goiter

H – Heart

K – Hernia

L – Lameness

N – Neck

P – Physical and Lungs

PG – Pregnancy

S – Senility

SC – Scalp (Favus)

SI – Special Inquiry

X – Suspected Mental defect

X (circled) – Definite signs of Mental defect

Construction of the piece

I will create the shape of the Ellis Island (aprox. 20 x 20 ft.) using M&M’s of different colors, representing different ethnicities and labeled with each one of the chalk marks used at facility.  For instance:

The viewer will be invited to eat the candy as a metaphor of sharing and participating in the construction of the collective identity.  Approximately 300 people can participate.


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