Hundreds of bricks once used as anti-immigrant messages are finding a new artistic purpose in one of the borough’s most diverse communities.
Artist Hatuey Ramos-Fermín is creating a two-part art installation piece called “Conversing Bricks” at Hostos Community College in Mott Haven.
The installation uses bricks that anti-immigrant groups sent to Capitol Hill in 2006 as Congress debated building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border to deter illegal immmigrants.
“I hope this project becomes a symbolic place for gathering, for conversations and a place for reflection,” said Ramos-Fermín, 33, of Mott Haven. “I want people to be able to reflect on how important immigrants are in this country, and in the Bronx.”
Thousands of bricks with slogans like “No to illegals” and “Secure our border” were sent to members of Congress who opposed the wall.
Congressman José E. Serrano collected 273 bricks and brought them back to the Bronx where they sat outside a local church.
“These bricks had nasty comments on them,” Serrano recalled. “So I came up with the idea to say ‘Why don’t I take these bricks and do just the opposite, and make them a tribute to all immigrants.’”
He partnered with Bill Aguado , now artistic director of the Bronx Heritage Music Center, who spearheaded the effort to create an art piece and find an artist.
“It’s a very genuine and respectful project,” Aguado said. “It speaks to our heritage, whether you’re from the islands or the South, it doesn’t matter. We are all immigrants and we need to learn to respect each other.”
Since the bricks were kept outside, the weather stripped away most of the messages. Only 30 of them remain in tact.
Ramos-Fermín held a series of workshops last month and asked local immigrants to include their own messages on the bricks.
“I saw it as a way to connect the history of the bricks,” Ramos-Fermín said. “You can see the past and the present side by side.”
Last Saturday, Ramos-Fermín, Serrano and Aguado joined others to dedicate the first phase of “Conversing Bricks,” a 4-foot tall wall in Hostos’ Memorial Plaza.
“Now we have a wall of hope rather than a wall of division,” Serrano said.
The second phase, to be dedicated this summer, will feature a roundtable using the remaining bricks.
“With a roundtable, there’s no head or foot. No one can claim more importance than another person,” Ramos-Fermín said. “So no matter your immigration status, you are all the same.”