The monarch butterfly catches the eye first. Seeming about to alight on a sea of pastels, it covers about a third of the garage door in the 1700 block of Crain Street. The words, “Migration Is Beautiful” seem to fit for this time of year, when the monarch butterflies return to their home in Mexico.
The story there is both straightforward and subtle, said Marcelo Ferrer, as he prepared to put finishing touches on the door last week. The monarch butterfly has come to symbolize immigration from Mexico.
“I see the monarch butterfly’s life cycle as a metaphor of people’s migration patterns that we see today,” Mr. Ferrer said.
A notch in the top of one wing indicates the hardship involved in migration. “It is meant to give a subtle reminder of the toll such a journey takes on those who come here,” Mr. Ferrer said.
The butterflies now making their journey to Mexico are not the same ones that arrived here this year, Mr. Ferrer said, but descendants of earlier winged migrants.
“The monarch makes an amazing journey from Mexico north to U.S. and Canada and back to Mexico, which takes four generations. It is the great-grandchildren that make it back to Michoacán, Mexico, to wait for warmer weather up north and then start the whole cycle once again. Many of us who live in this country forget that we are the grandchildren or great grandchildren of people who made a long journey to come here many generations ago. For many Latin-Americans, especially from Mexico, the monarch is a symbol of a long journey that they themselves took, often under difficult circumstances.”
Mr. Ferrer, whose family emigrated to Evanston from Chile now serves as Director of immigration services at the Logan Square Neighborhood Association. He said he hopes his message will help counteract the negative messages about immigrants, especially those from Latin American countries and Mexico, coming from officials in Washington, D.C.
“Evanston embraced and welcomed our family back in 1976 when we came as refugees escaping the Chilean dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. We need to make sure that spirit remains strong for all of our immigrant neighbors,” he said.
“The current anti-immigrant rhetoric coming from Washington and elsewhere has had a very negative effect on immigrant communities throughout this country. People are afraid to go outside, kids don’t want to go to school, it’s devastating. The treatment of people seeking asylum is beyond inhuman. It is incumbent on us to push back on that rhetoric and help grow the circle of defense, support and awareness of immigrant rights,” he added.
Mr. Ferrer’s daughter Emma, home for the summer from Carleton College, helped him with the painting until she returned to complete her senior year there. “Emma gets full credit for choosing all of the colors that we used in the mural,” he said, as well as credit for helping paint more than half of it.
This new mural, completed just before Hispanic Heritage Month, replaces the one he created more than a decade ago after someone sprayed graffiti on the garage door. “Unleashing Peace” was based on a Mayan relief sculpture.
“At that time, I wanted to celebrate the pre-Columbian cultural contributions made by the Mayans using my own take on a message of peace. When I began discussing with my family about doing another mural, it was the consensus that there needs to be a strong socially conscious message tied to whatever I decided to do,” he said.
Beneath the wings of the monarch a pastel shadow is visible to those who look closely. “Asked whether the shadow symbolizes the previous generations that helped the monarch get to this place, Mr. Ferrer agreed that it could represent those previous generations then added, “or it could be the future.”