The death of two young children spurred a Memphis sixth-grader to share his thoughts with a crowd of adults on why immigrants are like butterflies migrating to survive.

Marco Villa, a student at White Station Middle School, recently shared the analogy in a recent tearful gathering of Latino, white, and black Memphians to honor two Guatemalan children who died in December while in U.S. custody at the Mexican border.

The monarch butterflies, which draw visitors to Mexico every year when they leave the harsh winters of Canada, reminded Marco of the great lengths immigrants go through to survive.

Marco and his father, Marcos Villa, at a march for peace in Mexico in 2011.
PHOTO CREDIT: Marcos VIlla

His experience working with his parents to advocate for immigrants meant he has seen the impact of federal immigration raids on Memphis families.

“I couldn’t believe how they were treating them… I can’t imagine the pain they went through,” he said of the immigrants he has met.

Memphis’ largest school district, Shelby County Schools, has a mixed record on serving its growing population of immigrating Latino families. In 2017, the district opened a “newcomer program” for high schoolers and has been more proactive in helping parents navigate the education landscape. Top district leadership has assured families they will not disclose their legal status to federal immigration officials, which is prohibited by federal law.

The district also was under investigation by the U.S. Office for Civil Rights for discouraging unaccompanied minors from Central America from enrolling in its schools and instead telling them to attend an adult learning center.

A local pastor heard of Marco’s reflections on how migrating butterflies and people are similar, and asked him to speak at the service.

Watch the video of Marco’s speech or read it below. The service was hosted by El Redentor United Methodist Church in Hickory Hill.

Good afternoon to everybody and thank you for coming today. My name is Marco Villa. We are all reunited here to commemorate Jakelin Caal Maquin and Felipe Gómez Alonzo, the Guatemalan children who died under ICE care. They wanted a better life for themselves and their family.

When I think about Jakelin and Alfonso, I remember the story of the Monarch butterflies. Monarch butterflies are known for their vast annual migration. These delicate butterflies migrate among those three countries of North America. Monarch butterflies escape the icy winter of southern Canada and realize one of the most spectacular migrations on the planet, heading to the Mexican forests.

Without a compass, without a guide, they fly more than four thousand kilometers to hibernate in pine and oyamel forests, right between Michoacan and the State of Mexico. If they want to survive, they must migrate.

While migrating they also generate a way of living in the communities. In the communities they stop, they provide a unique experience to visitors.

This shows how unique, important, beautiful, and necessary it is for butterflies to migrate and how important it is for life to migrate in order to keep life and to improve. Butterflies migrate to survive. People migrate to survive. Butterflies are beautiful, pretty, magnificent, marvelous, fascinating, delightful, delicate, amazing, astonishing, astounding, spectacular, and admirable and while traveling they share this beauty to everyone.

Jakelin Caal Maquin and Felipe Gómez Alonzo are butterflies. These kids are beautiful, pretty, magnificent, marvelous, fascinating, delightful, delicate, amazing, astonishing, astounding, spectacular, and admirable. Why is Donald Trump detaining children? Why are we trying to build a wall? Butterflies bring peace, diversity, and love. Children bring peace, diversity, and love. Why is Donald Trump detaining children?

Thank you again for coming and have a great afternoon.