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masa is clay

The Sin Fronteras Monarch Butterfly Project
12 months ago

We invited local artists and writers to interact with and reflect on our Community Arts Space projects. Here, artist and writer janet romero-leiva reflects on the Artists-In-Residence Project: The Sin Fronteras Monarch Butterfly ProjectA Flight Path Without Borders, presented in partnership with Akin and Canada Nos Une Multicultural Organization.

as the days get shorter and cooler            the darkness longer
they prepare for their departure south
back to the place their ancestors have been returning to for generations
knowing they cannot withstand the winter ahead
they have rested and reproduced
soaked in the varieties of milkweed especially planted for them around this city
this summer
a supportive and loving gesture to help them thrive and guarantee their return next spring
a gesture for survival
a gesture for migration

an absent gesture when the butterfly is of the human kind
conveniently forgetting that human is you                        and the monarch is them
you speak of them as those people who come to take your jobs
plug up your city with crime
tainting proper english with dirty tongues
so perfectly living a colonized life you forget
english is not native to turtle island to this land
nor are you
forget where you came from
how dare they try to make a better life for themselves on this land?
unlike the monarchs
you have no recollection of how you got here
unlike the monarchs
you did not fly from mexico to canada taking four generations to return (back)
unlike the monarchs
you do not know the road back to your people
their genetic memory so accurate that is the only map they rely on
oblivious to the reality of your arrival
forget the migrant is you and you are the immigrant

the 18. 39. 72. year old immigrant
taken from her land generations past
transplanted to another continent to be uprooted again and again because
citizenship is not free and she needs to eat
forced to do work she never agreed to but too scared to retaliate because
her children need an education and she does not speak the language
making home where her feet touch land because
memory is in the body and her grand kids were seeds in her uterus before they were called into life
…those grand kids
learning through kokum. abuelita. lola. how to connect to the world
flooded with curiosity about her life back home
a home so far back the only memory she recalls is the masa in her hands
4 years old standing at the kitchen table with her tia
soft and squishy grainy and cool in her tiny hands
pat patting back and forth back and forth
until a perfectly round tortilla appeared
lumpy uneven and filled with tender 4 year old pride
the smile on her tia’s face the highlight of that afternoon
she ensures to assure her grand kids ancestral knowledge is within
even when broken and torn the knowledge cannot be stolen
it resides in the crevices of our bones
the scent of our skin
the longing of our hearts
the looking…

at these glorious monarch butterflies shaped by 1000 pairs of hands
know that boxes of clay were carried and carted across this city from community to community in the hopes of having elders and children share in the pat patting of clay to create each piece
back            and forth    back and             forth
carving the shapes and lines of the wings
mixing exact shades of yellows and oranges delicately brushed on
thumbprints and lumps creases and scratches
the perfection in their imperfections
broken and healing
the perfection in our imperfections
each (of us) an imprint of the masa that is the clay that is the land that is the truth
of the monarchs return south towards the sun in time to harvest the corn
of the monarchs return north to their breeding locations
of our return to ourselves                                                     and what we long for

janet romero-leiva is a queer feminist latinx visual artist and writer whose work explores immigrant bodies, denied aboriginality, queer and of colour existence, and the experience of living in between north and south, between spanish and english.

About The Sin Fronteras Monarch Butterfly Project – A Flight Path Without Borders

Every summer and winter, monarch butterflies migrate across the North American continent. Coinciding with the arrival of monarch butterflies in Canada and their departure to Mexico, the Davenport Perth Community Ministry, alongside Canada Nos Une Multicultural Organization, held a series workshops and events within the Davenport Perth community. These workshops led to the creation of a multitude of ceramic butterflies that highlight Turtle Island’s connection with ancient Indigenous cultures and the monarch, on view at the Gardiner Museum from August 22 – September 4. Learn more

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