A moving bronze sculpture, The Immigrants tells a story. Through this tale of Immigrants, sculptor Luis Sanguino showcases the diversity of New York City. There’s unity in the piece. That’s because it portrays the universal desperation of longing to be free. It’s at the perfect location for the landmark – in Manhattan’s Battery Park with a Statue of Liberty view.
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We can all relate to that. But the sculpture also brings specificity to the narrative. Each figure reveals their own passionate version. We can feel their journey and what it means to finally arrive.
There’s serene power in the priest’s face raised to the sun. Celebration in the man on his knees, surrendering to the experience. We also see pleading need in the outstretched hand of the frontman. All these people reveal aspects of an immigrant’s struggle. The figures are life-size and imposing. Sanguino depicts the immigrants with a raw portrait. His marks remain on the work. He didn’t smooth them. This isn’t a polished portrait. It’s gritty with yearning. We see more gestures with his impressions in the bronze. The artist’s imprints moves us as well as the immigrants’ expressive stances. This combination illuminates emotion and arouses spirit in the sculpture.
Luis Sanguino’s The Immigrants – A Bronze Epiphany
The Immigrants sculpture sits at the south end of the Eisenhower Mall in Battery Park near Castle Clinton. This castle-in-name-only served as processing facility for newly arrived immigrants from 1855 to 1890. That was necessary before construction of nearby Ellis Island. It’s the perfect spot for the artwork. In fact, when viewers stand at the forefront they can spy Lady Liberty in the Hudson River nearby. She’s an iconic symbol. While this sculpture represents the tangible experiences of freedom.
Samuel Rudin, a great New Yorker of yore (1896–1975), commissioned the sculpture in the early 1970s. He built his riches from the ground up and was an avid long distance runner. In fact, his family continues to fund the NYC marathon to this day. Rudin’s intended the sculpture’s installation lie near Castle Clinton as a memorial to his parents. They emigrated to the United States in the late-19th century. He wanted to honor all they represent in the place most suited for an immigrant memorial. Although Rudin died in 1975, his family took up the campaign to install the sculpture where he wanted. Thanks to them, it was finally dedicated on May 4, 1983.
Arms Raised in Need
The statue grips our attention as viewers pass by. That’s because the subjects reach out to us. Their arms out-stretch with yearning. But it’s not toward the Statue of Liberty. She’s behind them in the Hudson River. No. They stretch out their weary arms toward the city. After all, the Battery is Manhattan’s southernmost point. So, everything North represents the NYC bustle and boom. That’s where opportunity lies.
Of course, immigrants come to the United States for freedom. But liberty is only the beginning. It’s the chance to make a better life that keeps an emigre here. This is why the statue reaches North toward the thriving city life. In fact, the city’s Financial District and famous Charging Bull statue of Wall Street notoriety are only a few blocks away.
No matter that some of the sculpture’s subjects are shirtless or in native dress. It doesn’t matter from where they came or in what they’re clad. These immigrants want the same thing we all do – the satisfying security of a full life. That means work as well as freedom. So, New York City holds that promise for them.