Anthropology and Environment Society
Oral Presentation Session
Public discourse on illegal immigration in the contemporary United States often presents the country's southern border as the site of a necessary disenchantment, a place where naive dreams must be laid to rest and met instead with the harsh realities of violence, crime, and exploitation. What does it mean, in the face of such discourse and its exclusionary entailments, to seek out instead, in lives lived across this border, a means of grasping the possibility of an enchanted modern life? This talk considers the monarch butterfly as a persistent migrant across the geopolitical boundaries of North America and one of the most powerful contemporary symbols for immigrant rights activism in the contemporary United States. I draw on conversations with immigrant rights activists in the United States, the work of contemporary immigrant artists who engage the butterfly as motif and muse, and encounters with these diminutive winged migrants themselves in their winter roosts in Mexico. Those who struggle with the hardening of the US-Mexico border often marvel at the passage of butterflies as migrant beings without visas or papers of any kind. I dwell on such instances of interspecies imagination as a way of asking what it would take to reimagine borders as spaces of transformative movement. Such re-enchantment, I argue, can make possible a more expansive ethical relationship with alterity in both natural and human forms.