A Monarch Butterfly’s Message
Reading Time: 3 minutes

A young woman’s immersion trip to Bolivia
connects her with nature and her grandmother


The monarch butterfly has always captured my attention, not just for its beauty but because it is startling to know how only the fourth generation of the monarch migrates across the continent to survive cold winters. Without migrating, monarchs are not capable of reproducing the following generation. My recent immersion trip to Bolivia with Maryknoll gave me a new awareness of my own connection to the monarch butterfly and God’s hand in all of it.

One day we went to visit indigenous children at Apoyo Escolar, a children’s center in Nueva Veracruz where kids are provided with food and extra help with schoolwork. I wore a shirt with a monarch butterfly printed on it.

As we drove toward the center, we were informed that much of Nueva Veracruz’s population has migrated to Spain in search of a better life. Some migrants send money back to their family members. It was possible, we were told, that some of the children could have family members gone because of economic issues.

When we arrived, one of the teachers said, “The children love it when we have visitors.” It was evident.
The first girl who arrived quickly notified her friends: “The visitors are here!” After we shared a plate of food, conversation, singing and dancing, the children settled at their assigned places.

I sat next to Nely, who had to turn in a drawing for her art class. She asked Father Vito, a priest from our group, what her picture should be. Father Vito looked at my shirt and replied, “You should draw a butterfly.” Immediately the girl tried to copy every single detail of the butterfly onto the paper, as the boy in front of her stared with awe at his friend’s talent.

As I conversed with Nely, my mind went back to my childhood. My grandmother and mom would share stories of extreme poverty in Mexico. Missionary nuns occasionally visited the small ranch where they lived. It brought much joy to the village, they said, despite their daily struggles and sacrifices.

One night, my grandparents had to leave my mom and aunt behind for some time to migrate to the United States to put food on the table. They would work and send money back home. After almost 10 years, my mom and aunt joined my grandparents in the United States. It was not an easy transition because they were now strangers to each other. To this day, there are some open wounds in the family for the absences and sudden changes in their lives. Nevertheless, the migration made by my grandparents and parents was necessary for survival, like that of the monarch butterfly. Without it, only God knows if hunger would have overtaken my family.

I wanted to share the experience of the children at Apoyo Escolar with my grandma because it reminded me of us, our family history and the importance of the Church’s sharing moments with those who suffer.

When I returned to Chicago, I went to visit my grandma. I shared with her the story of the center and the joy of the children, as she carefully listened with amazement. Her voice cracked as she said, “Can you believe it? I was that child filled with joy when missionaries came to visit us. I would have never thought that my grandchild would be able to do the same. Blessed be God!”

My trip to Bolivia was necessary for my spiritual survival. I was able to partake in a moment of joy with Nely and her friends and with my grandma. We formed it together by valuing each other. The monarch butterfly has become a symbol of solidarity for me with Bolivia, where I found God’s presence in my ancestors’ story.

Featured Image: At Apoyo Escolar Nely shows her drawing of a monarch butterfly. (Sarahi Unzueta/Bolivia)


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About the author

Sarahi Unzueta

Sarahi Unzueta is a student at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.