Intersectional Environmentalist co-founder Diandra Marizet Esparza on identity and the magic of Monarch butterflies 

Diandra Marizet Esparza often felt that she existed between two points: Native and settler. But through her connection to the land—and the annual migration of Monarch butterflies from her ancestral country of Mexico—she claimed a new identity and unfurled her identity as an environmentalist. In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, she shares her story with

Orange dust would gently float around my torn jeans and lightly layer my old YMCA tees, as I watched, mesmerized, by people performing on horseback at charreadas, equestrian events. During my childhood, I spent time on ranches where routinely, I’d go each morning, shit shovel in hand, to the horse stalls before school volleyball practice. Years later when I would learn about the aspirational notion of being an environmentalist, it wouldn’t cross my mind that in many ways, I already was one.

Late-night tacos, menudo (traditional Mexican soup) at Buelie’s every Sunday, and begging mama for paletas (ice pops) from the local taqueria where we’d pick up costillas (pork ribs) for the barbeque were enough to paint my childhood with so much joy and odes of ancestral connection to land. I didn’t have words or stories to describe the grounding feeling these moments provided me, so I often discounted them in the face of who I saw marketed as “true environmentalists.” The icons of my youth were the Kratt brothers from Zoboomafoo, the beloved late Crocodile hunter, Steve Irwin, and an honorable mention for Milo Thatch from the lost City of Atlantis.

Like many Mexican-Americans with Indigenous ancestry, I existed between two points of clarity that I had no language for: Native and settler. “And.” My existence like a semicolon in identity form. As  the late Tejano singer Selena’s father, the American singer, songwriter, and producer H Abraham Isaac Quintanilla Jr., famously said, “We have to be more Mexican than the Mexicans and more American than the Americans, both at the same time! It’s exhausting!”

Gloria Anzaldúa, American scholar of Chicana feminism, cultural theory, and queer theory, expressed similar sentiments, saying, “Sometimes I feel like one cancels out the other, and we are zero, nothing, no one.” With no full claim to an Indigenous experience and no full claim to an American settler’s experience, I didn’t realize what I did have: A full claim to an emergent cross-border cultural identity that serves as a unique consciousness around loss, responsibility and resistance.

Although it isn’t often pointed out, what stands out to me most is that the same butterflies that take flight in northern parts of Canada to begin the migration are not the same butterflies that arrive in Mexico. A butterfly’s life is fleeting, so it takes four generations of butterflies to complete this migration each fall. This means that every year, some butterflies are born ni de aqui, ni de allá (neither here nor there), existing in the ‘and’ between two worlds on a purely instinctive journey to help future generations reach something they will have the opportunity to know: Home.

With monarchs being my favorite, many of the environmental symbols I grew up with express the unique and emerging relationship my community has with the Southwest US and the beautiful ways nature has informed the philosophies my ancestors wove into traditional stories.

So as my community continues to define our own unique sense of belonging, when I see monarchs fluttering about I’ll be reminded that I too am fluttering about to shape a journey home for the souls that will come after me.

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