Obituaries of The American Dream

ESTAMOS BIEN: LA TRIENAL 20/21, El Museo del Barrio, NY. 2021

Obituaries of The American Dream is a participatory project that questions the ideal of individualism which is central to the American Dream. Participants were invited to share when and how the American Dream died for them. I designed their responses to take the form of obituaries. Then I placed the obituaries into an original newsprint along with essays, speeches, artists’ interventions, book reviews, and other written contributions that explore the origins and impact of individualism..

The “American dream” is the globally proliferated belief that all individuals, regardless of origin, can achieve upward class mobility through hard work. As coined by James Truslow Adams in The Epic America (1931), “all [individuals] should have access to this opportunity according to ability or achievement.” However, the “American dream” negates the United States’s legacy of chattel enslavement, structural racism, and patriarchy. Obituaries of The American Dream reveals how this belief is harmfully rooted in the prioritization of individual wealth instead of community well-being.

Curators: Rodrigo Moura, Susanna Temkin, and Elia Alba

Website Platform

Newsprint detail view. ESTAMOS BIEN: LA TRIENAL 20/21, El Museo del Barrio, NY. 2021

Mentioned in:

$200 From... To... -With Love

February 14, 2019 – April 6, 2019
Installation at Recess, Brooklyn, NY. 2019 Photos by Kris Graves
Annually, remittances total over $500 billion dollars. In many countries, remittances make up a large portion of their GDP; in 2016 10.5% in the Philippines, 20% in El Salvador, and 32% in Haiti. $200 From... To... -With Love attempts to make visible the impact a dollar could have on  im/migrants’ homelands.

While at Recess, I solicited receipts from visitors, im/migrants and non-im/migrants, for purchases in the US, of $200 and under. These receipts became the basis for a series of 35 collages depicting how that same amount can be spent on a commonly used food item in one of the 15 countries with the highest remittances flow from the US.

Collaborators and Organizations involved:
Angy Abreu, Zain Alan, Zenayda Bonilla, Emmy Catedral, Deva Estin, Laia Garcia, Tatiana Godoy, Agustin Indaco, Cecilia Lim, Sarah L. Lopez, Oscar Nuñez, Alex Rivera, Gabrielle Rucker, Stefan Ruiz, Center for Urban Pedagogy, The Center for Family Life, and Qualitas For Life.

Full view installation, Recess, Brooklyn, NY. 2019

From Receipts
to Collages

Participants were invited to leave their receipt on the “receipt wall,” in a pocket holder, along with their name, amount spent, and description of what they spent it on. As the project developed, collages were posted daily on the wall of the gallery.

Collages examples, 13 x 19 inches. 2019

Volvio Juanita Perfume and Relative Privilege Chart

As part of this installation, in collaboration with perfumer Tatiana Godoy, we created a scent inspired by my memory of the New York suitcase. We used Tide and Bounty detergents, NYC soil, and  laundry drying sheets to replicate the smell. Additionally, I collaborated with Cecilia Lim and Deva Estin, organizers with Queens Hate Free Zone, in creating an ally workshop that used a Relative Privilege Chart to chart participant's privileges and how those privileges may be used to help folks in the im/migrant movement and community.

A simple sentence
in response.

While at Recess, I invited writers Laia Garcia and Gabrielle Rucker to visit the installation and create a simple sentence: the use of Subject + Verb + Adjective in response to the project. They had to collaborate on the sentence without any edits or suggestions from me. Read their conversation to come up with the sentence here ︎︎︎.

Is aid working as we’d hoped?

As an activation for the closing event, I collected receipts from the first 25 people who entered the gallery space in order to calculate and weigh the amount of rice one could buy in Haiti with the total amount of each receipt. I poured the rice into sacks, along with a printed cover with the following question: “Is aid working as we’d hope?” I mailed the sacks to the Washington D.C. office of the Director of USAID in Haiti.

In 2017, global development aid reached a new peak at  $162 billion dollars. This is a fraction compared to the $500 billion dollars im/migrants send home annually, in remittances. In Haiti, remittances alone comprise 32.4% of Haiti’s GDP. With this gesture and through the installation, I questioned the structures behind current models of international aid and generated a dialogue on the impact im/migrants have in alleviating systemic poverty in their home countries.

Recess Critical Writing piece by Danielle Wu
Read it on Recess Website ︎
Recess Critical Writing program commissions emerging writers to pursue the underlying themes and ideas that inform individual Session projects, initiating meaningful exchanges between artists and writers and facilitating the mutual production of new work.

Here & There

October 11, 2018 – Ongoing
Familiar Boundaries. Infinite Possibilities, The August Wilson African American Cultural Center Pittsburg, PA. 2018

In his book Familiar Stranger, Stuart Hall writes “...identity is not a set of fixed attributes, the unchanging essence of the inner self, but constantly shifting the process of positioning. We tend to think of identity as taking us back to our roots, the part of us which remains essentially the same across time. In fact, identity is always a never-completed process of becoming — a process of shifting identifications, rather than a singular, complete, finished state of being.” Here & There is a participatory installation inspired by investigating this statement, the ongoing process of becoming.

Participants are invited to fill in the statement, HERE I (AM//CAN BE) (blank) THERE (I AM/CAN BE)(blank) on an online website as well as using an Ipad at the exhibition.. These responses were then printed onto flags, front and back, and hung throughout the gallery space.

Curators: Kilolo Luckett, Familiar Boundaries. Infinite Possibilities. Larry Ossei-Mensah, Parallels and Peripheries: Migration and Mobility

Website Platform

First week of the installation
Project Silkscreens

Examples of flag designs 24 x 36 inches, 2018

Parallels and Peripheries: Migration and Mobility, VisArt, Rockville, MD, 2019

Mentioned in:

We the News

2016 – 2022
Happening at Word Up Community Book Store, Washington Heights, NY. 2018
A traveling newsstand that documents, publishes, and distributes the stories of Black im/migrants and first-generation Black Americans. Through a series of story circles, participants are able to recount their diasporic experiences and anecdotes, sharing their rituals and traditions. Each story circle is documented, recorded, transcribed, and edited in collaboration with the participants.

The newsstand is activated as a happening that intervenes the public space and reclaims it with these narratives.

Collaborators: Albert Saint Jean and The Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI). Newsstand design Michael Yarinsky

This project was possible thanks to the support of the Laundromat Project.

Happening at Untitled, Art Miami, Miami, FL. 2018


The story circles took place in Brooklyn, Manhattan, the Bronx, and Queens. Each was attended by eight to twelve participants. We collaborated with caribBEING, Hancock Street Community Garden, Word Up Community Book Store, and congress woman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez at the Queens Public Library Langston Hughes, to host the storytelling circles.


So far, 18 zines have been published and more than 500 zines have been distributed in different activations and public interventions. Half of the zines have been translated to Spanish.


The We the News newsstand  traveled to : Queens Museum and Printed Matter Art Book Fair at MoMA PS1  in Queens; Bard College in Hudson River Valley, New York; the corner of Nostrand Avenue and Jefferson Avenue in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Restoration Plaza, and Jenkins Johnson Projects Gallery in Brooklyn; Press Play Fair at Pioneer Works in Brooklyn; “Black Love Fest” at Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art and Storytelling in Harlem; Word Up Community Bookshop/Librería Comunitaria in Washington Heights; Forward Union at Red Bull Art Space in Manhattan; UNTITLED, ART and Little Haiti Cultural Center in Miami; August Wilson Center in Pittsburgh and City of Asylum in Pittsburgh.

Restoration Plaza

This activation highlighted BAJI’s work for the No New Jails NYC. We asked passerbyers to share reflection on this question: how would you spend $11 billion to help your community? After the proposed closure of Rikers,  $11 billion was the state budget to build new jails.  We also hosted Julissa Herrera who read an excerpt of the zine which recounts her story Mapping Our Role: Finding Space in America as well as hosted a panel discussion on Archiving Histories & Blurring the Boundaries of Art with the participation of Nontsikelelo Mutiti, Albert St. Jean, Julissa Herrera and myself, Lizania Cruz. We distributed free We the News zines and played music while serving food.

In the Gallery 

Iterations of We the News have been presented in gallery spaces such as Jenkins Johnson Projects Gallery, Oolite Arts, and as part of the Laundromat Project Soapbox party. Each activation invites the audience  to contribute to the installation by filling out the statement “Immigrants are [Blank], So am I,” or they are invited to take zines with them.

 Block Party, Jenkin Johnson Projects Gallery, 2018
 The Laundromat Project Soapbox party, 2018

Parallels and Peripheries, Oolite Art, 2018


In addition to the newstand, I created a series of workshops which invited participants  to trace and share their migration routes, as well as create collages in responses to the stories shared in the zines. The workshops have taken place at: the TAMA Street Festival in Bedford-Stuyvesant, The Brooklyn Conference: Inspiring Social Change at the Brooklyn Museum in Brooklyn, and Park Armory’s Looking Back | Looking Forward: Culture in a Changing America in Manhattan.

Brooklyn Museum and TAMA Festival, 2017

TAMA Festival, 2017 and Park Armory, 2018

Mentioned in:

Flowers for Immigration

2016 – 2018
You, if no one else Arlington Arts Center, Arlington VA, 2018
Beginning in  2016, just after Trump started campaigning for president, I have been inviting flower workers to participate in making a flower arrangement in response to, what would later be, his immigration policy. As they make the arrangement, I interview them asking why they selected certain flowers and their views on the president. Every day, these workers design flower arrangements for New Yorkers to use as a means of expressing themselves. And I wondered, how can these flower workers have the same opportunity of self-expression? Flowers for Immigration hopes to show the beauty in the resilience and creativity of these undocumented workers.

Curators: Karyn Miller, You, If no one else. Common Interest, Dept. of Non-Binaries for Sharjah Graphic Design Biennale

Photo by Elene Demenia

Sharjah Graphic Design Biennale, Dept. of Non-Binaries, Sharjah, 2018

Flowers Arrangements and Their Testimonials

Nancy, is a native of Hidalgo, México and has lived in the U.S. for 23 years. She was offended by Trump's words, not only as an immigrant, but as a women. She said “No creo que ese señor salió del vientre de una mujer” (I don’t think that man comes from a womxn's womb). Nancy picked a bright blue colored margarita for the center of the arrangement. She said “Una flor azúl porque es un hombre” (A blue flower because he is a man).

Rubén is a native of Guerrero, México and has lived in New York City for over 10 years. He decided to use flowers that were imported from México — white gladiolas and eucalyptus.

Viviana is a native of Puebla, México and has lived in the U.S. for 21 years. I asked Viviana to make an arrangement for Donald Trump and she exclaimed “Para que? Para su Tumba! Claro.” (For what? For his grave! Sure). She asked me how I arrived here. I said by plane, to which she replied, “Que lindo” (How beautiful). Viviana crossed the border by foot to meet some family here. Viviana picked margaritas, roses, baby's breath and lilies; “Las lilas las usan en los funerals” (They use lilies for funerals), she said.

Silvio is  a native of Guerrero, México; he  crossed the border 17 years ago. Silvio picked all margaritas because they are his favorite flowers.

R.I.P., The Maine Mall Food Court, Portland, ME  2019 photo by Joel Tsui

For the #womensmarch in 2017, one group of 10-12 womxn carried pieces of four bouquets from undocumented bodega flower workers in Manhattan. One of those arrangements was Silvio’s, a native of Guerrero, México who crossed the border 17 years ago. Silvio picked all margaritas because they were his favorite flowers.

I invited marchers to carry flowers in solidarity with immigrant rights. A group of over 15 womxn carried sections of arrangements I previously collected from undocumented flower workers. Two of them, Tanya and Eva, marched in Washington with flowers. The rest of us marched in NYC.

Thank you to all the marchers: Marissa Adele, Emilia Gonzalez, Arleene Correa, Lee-Ann Asha, Monica Nelson, Ian Hanesworth, Jen Vasquez, Jeanette Abbink, Tanya Quick, Eva Mayha,, Elene Damenia, Lucia Fainzilber, and Paula Lombardi.

Photo by Elene Demenia

© 2024 Lizania Cruz