Monday, March 12, 2012

Migrants: Butterflies to the South and Campesinos to the North

This is a beautiful male butterfly
As I have come to find during my studies here in Mexico, there are a number of reasons for migrating. For some, it is safety from political regimes and violence within the country. For others it is the chance to live, not just survive. After visiting the Piedra Herrada Sanctuary, the winter resting place for over 200,000 monarch butterflies, this past weekend, I have come to find that these migrating butterflies and the poor campesinos of Mexico have a lot in common. The butterflies migrate from the north to mate and provide a safe space for their offspring to flourish. They travel for thousands of miles, in dangerous conditions, to reach their destination. How is this any different from many Mexican families who migrate to the U.S. to provide a better chance of living for their children and wives? Men, women, and children cross the U.S.-Mexican border every day in order to make a life for themselves. It is extremely hot in the day and many die of dehydration. In the evening, it cools off but there are rattlesnakes, scorpions, and other dangerous animals that make sleeping impossible. Not only do they have nature to combat, but they also work with coyotes, experienced guides in crossing the border, who are known for their brutality. Many times women are raped and abused, they stack migrants on top of one another like boards in vehicles, and they demand more and more money from the very people who are migrating to gain some form of capital. It is a dangerous journey, but many continue to make this trip because they feel it is the only way to make any success.

These clumps of "leaves" are actually butterflies crowding
together on trees. There are more than 200,000 in this
sanctuary, so there are easily thousands of butterflies
on a single tree.
We climbed the mountain, at the butterfly sanctuary, using horses from local campesinos. The higher we climbed, the quieter it became; I could practically hear the flapping of wings. At the top of the mountain, the butterflies resided on the trees that have been holding their ancestors for hundreds of years. They appeared as leaves on the trees, all bunched together, becoming one community. Just as these butterflies stayed together, migrants who come to the U.S. find others in their community and stick with them, a survival tactic to help improve their chances of finding jobs, learning the language, and understanding the rules of the land. Often families and people from the same small towns (pueblos) migrate to the same city in the U.S. because they have a connection there and feel safer and more comfortable. The young man who allowed me to ride on his horse told me that after he graduated, he planned on joining his brother in the U.S. His mom was not pleased, but he said, "She knows what to expect. No one can make it here and she knows the best thing for me is to join my brother."

The butterflies were in flight! It sounded like a
 thousand leaves falling from the trees. It was a magical
and powerful moment.
The only similarity I could not find with both of these migrants is that one receives a residing place protected by the country, the other does not. The Mexican migrants continue to be mistreated in the U.S. As a future social worker, this experience opened my eyes to the needs that this particular population has. I know that I must fight for them to have a safe resting place in the U.S. and fight for rights within our country so that they can easily leave when they have done what they need to do, just like the monarch butterflies. They always return to the north. Mexicans do not, not because they don't want to, but because they have no other choice. I hope to change that.

Written by AnnMarie Eliason


  1. Molly,

    I love your similarity with the butterflies, very nice! I have to say, this sounds like such a wonderful experience for you to be over there.

    I think it's a shame that one of them gets a protected place to reside, while the other does not. I can't even imagine being in that situation. The person that has the residence probably feels horrible.

    I have to be honest, a lot of the time I prefer to remain ignorant of the suffering people are faced with. Seeing these things first hand must be very eye opening, and painful. Bravo to you for taking advantage of this opportunity to experience these hardships first hand.

    I am very inspired by your writing, and experiences in Mexico. I do hope you continue to learn and grow in that far away land! May peace be with you.


  2. I like how you could find a similarity by comparing the monarch butterfly to the people of Mexico. It is quite sad how one is being protected as they reside and the other is not. I know I can strongly relate to this story of yours because it has been an experience of mine.
    I know first hand being born from another country outside of the United States it is a lot harder to be appreciated and treated fairly. I know from seeing my mom's experience that she does not always get treated fairly because she doesn't speak english. My mom came to the United States to give us a better future instead of living in the mountains and working from sun up to sun down for food. She wanted us to have an education.
    Just like the young boy who said he will be following his older brother to the United States even though he knows his mom disagrees.
    I am glad that this is a reason you want to pursue a career in social work. This is truley an amaze experience. I hope you are learning great things each day. Best wishes on your trip there.

    -Mai Na V.-

  3. So beautifully written, AnnMarie! Thanks for sharing the sound of all those wings; I would never have imagined how a single butterfly's wings can be heard, but as you point out, when voices are joined, they can be thunderous. I'm interested in hearing about how social workers in Mexico work to combine the voices, i.e., mobilize with people to advocate for what we need. Do they see themselves are doing citizenship social work?


  4. Ann Marie,

    Deep! I soley went to the sanctuary to enjoy the butterflies and never thought to compare them to the migration of Mexican workers to the U.S.
    I have a completely different view on that trip now. I especially enjoyed the comment you made about unlike the migrant workers, the butterfiles are given a safe and protected place to reside. You mention that its unsafe for Mexicans during the crossing and once they reach the US they face many hardships as well. I think its great you plan to work with the immigrant pop in the states but its also important to advocate for changes in Mexico so that less Mexicans have to make the traumatic journey. Although its hard to start with these issues on the US side of the fence, especially with how unaware people in the US are of the harm the US government has caused to Mexican citizens. I hope that all of us can bring back stories and advocate for change in Mexico and not just how Immigrants are treated in the States (thought this is an issue too). As social workers we are trained to work ourselfs out of a job, so to speak and getting rid of the problem at the root of its source is a great way to go about that. Great work AnnMarie, thanks again for a great perspective on what I thought was a leasurly trip!


  5. Loved it Ann Marie! I agree with Grace; I just enjoyed the views and did not relate it to anything like this at all. Never saw it or thought of it during the experience, but you explained the existing similarities perfectly! Thank you so much for sharing your perspective on the trip! Your ability to correlate the butterflies with Mexican immigrates really reveals your passion to help others, your ability to see the bigger picture, and draw towards policy work.

  6. This entry was beautifully written! I love the comparison you made between the two. It is amazing what we can learn from the things around us. It seems you are really learning a lot from this experience which is great! It is nice to hear the side of the story from someone who is actually there. You get to hear the stories first hand and pass it along to us. Now we can learn about what is really going on instead of hearing it through media outlets!

    This was a great piece and was great to read!

    Mikaela Zierden