They Carry Their Land with Them (+video)

They Carry Their Land with Them

Sol Castañeda


People and animals are constantly on the move. Sometimes they must leave their home to start a new life in another land. Migrating is not easy, but perhaps we can learn from the journey that the monarch butterfly makes.


I arrived in Canada in the spring of 2019, embarking on my whole new life with just a couple of suitcases. I was moving from south to north, just like the monarch butterflies that take flight every year. They travel light, so did I.

My entry to Canada was catastrophic; it was a sign that nothing in this country would be easy. The migration officer at the Hamilton airport greeted us like a hunter looking for prey. Another officer opened our bags. Twenty-four hours earlier Jared (my Canadian boyfriend) and I had worked miracles to put our lives into two backpacks that were transported to a destination where one must learn about the seasons of the year. In a matter of seconds, the officer was throwing underwear, books, and shoes into the air, until the place looked like a bazaar with all our belongings rolling on the floor. It was the first time that I felt treated like a criminal.

As the officer tried to send me back to my country, I tried to put all our clothes back into the backpacks. Among my valuable belongings were a pair of navy-blue Nike running shoes, the last pair of sneakers my father gave me before I left Puebla, my hometown. From that day on, those tennis shoes became a medium for movement as I traveled from my hometown to the Caribbean and from there to Canada. With our hearts beating fast, my partner and I emerged victorious from the migration office. It was the first battle of many that I would have to experience in a country to which I had decided to migrate for love.

I was unaware then, that it is in Spring when hundreds of varieties of birds return to the north.  Monarch butterflies return from Mexican lands to breed in Canada. At least the monarchs do not have to stop to account at the borders. Although they know that at some point they must return and fly for a long time to hibernate in warm lands. Unlike them, I have not returned to my roots, but I have reproduced. Perhaps my young daughter will one day fly to warmer lands.

When Autumn was approaching, the intense reddish colors were blurred in the sky. I dusted off those sneakers that had traveled with me and I went out to run. Through my running I saw how the birds were getting ready to fly south. Mexico was awaiting the return of the monarch butterflies. Those insects are lucky to be loved in two countries. Wouldn’t it be amazing if, just as people get excited to receive such tiny beings, they could also be happy at the arrival of those who must leave their home to build a new one in a different country and culture.

During my first months in Canada, I felt like a butterfly egg deposited in a distant land. I longed for my homeland, I wanted to feel rooted again.  In those moments everything reminded me of home. I felt so out of place here. My identity was deconstructed.  Losing my voice was a tragedy.      

I thought a lot about an exhibition by the Chilean artist Enrique Ramirez, especially this phrase: “People are from the places, and they carry their land with them.” 

I envied the monarchs. Their language is so different that they do not have to check their level of English or education. They adapt to changes, to climates, they carry their home with them, they inhabit two lands with ease. Because as Mexican artist Francisco Toledo says, “one is where one feels part of.”

Sol Castañeda was born and raised in Mexico. She is a Cultural Manager who has transited between the city, the Caribbean jungle, and all the way to Prince Edward County. In 2021 she and her husband Jared moved to the Skeleton Park neighborhood of Kingston, Ontario, where they are raising their daughter Leonora.

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