Every autumn, monarch butterflies migrate from the central U.S.
To the mountains in Michoacán. In March, their return North
Begins near the town where my father was born
ffffffffAnd ends in the country I was birthed.
Along this route the monarchs rest on oak and pine,
But no individual butterfly ever completes the round trip.
While moving North, the monarchs lay their eggs.
The eggs hatch and they will, perhaps without realizing,
Finish a journey started by the generation before them.
No matter how long my parents have lived in the United States
They never think of themselves as Americans.
And I’m certain Americans don’t think of them that way either.
Americans look at my face and think Mexican—
I don’t think of myself as completely American and yet—
All the Mexicanos would call me Americano.
See that branch full of monarchs—That fluttering flock of orange—
ffffffffffffffffAre they American-born or Mexican?
The monarchs’ movement yields to no country—
Only to rest, milkweed, and a kind climate.
Michoacán has a sanctuary for the butterflies,
Where in February entire trees are covered in orange wings.
—People from over the world come to witness this wonder.
Science still can’t agree on how the migration happens,
But some speculate it’s genetic memory—
An inherited map passed down
From previous generations to find their way back.
Both my parents, like many other folks, say that someday
They’ll return to their hometowns in México to stay.
With each passing year I find this less likely, bound
As they are to us children and the life they’ve made here.
When was the last time you went to México? my parents ask.
It’s been years, I say.
For me, those older homes hold little to return to—
Both sets of grandparents gone—
Family members and a country that are distant to me.
You probably won’t ever go back by yourself, huh? they ask.
Perhaps one day I will go back
If only to meet the migration of the monarchs for the first time.
To witness a sliver of that long journey,
Knowing the butterflies that return to this mountain
Next year won’t be the ones I’m looking at now—
But the ones yet to be born.
Perhaps what I’m returning to isn’t a place,
But a song passed down and buried within me.
Perhaps I have always carried
The words, the melody, the memory—
And have only to unearth it and grasp its music—
ffffffffHere is the way back.
—Wherever I walk, I bring all who came before me.