“Like countries, trees can be hundreds, even thousands of years old. Cells grow slowly and the pattern of growth influences the shape of the trunk. Just as these cells leave an informational mark in the tree, so too do incoming immigrants contribute to the country’s shape.” This is how Pedro M. Cruz and John Wihbey described this data visualisation of the historic flow of immigrants into the US. Designed in collaboration with fellow members of the Data Storytelling and Exploration Collaborative research team at CAMD Northeastern University in Boston, the visualisation takes the form of the growth rings in a tree trunk. Each tiny dash represents the arrival of 100 immigrants in the US, and every ring a decade. Unsurprisingly, the rings are widest during times of economic prosperity when immigration laws are lax, and narrowest during periods of economic difficulty, conflict and repressive immigration policies. The image of the tree trunk not only serves as a clear and accurate means of charting fluctuations in immigration, but in an era of mounting concern about the impact of the US’s zero tolerance immigration policy, its growth rings remind us that most nations benefit over the long term from influxes of immigrants, whose imagination, resourcefulness and hard work fuels economic growth, while helping their new communities to becoming increasingly diverse, inclusive and cosmopolitan.
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