Butterfly Effect Migration

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ThiPaper Butterfliess blog post was written and submitted by two activists Lily and Kaia. They are 10 and 11 years old respectively but they are making their voices heard in a big and beautiful way. They founded Butterfly Effect to stand in solidarity with the 15,000 migrant children who have been or are currently being held in U.S. detention centers.


Imagine you’re 5 years old and you’re leaving all your friends and all your family behind to go to a new place with new people who don’t speak the same language as you, and who you don’t even know. How would you feel? Scared, lonely, or maybe even confused?

Now imagine that when you got to that new strange place instead of being welcomed with open arms,  you were taken away from your family, your parents, the only people you know in this new place. And you’re put into a cage where you don’t get enough to eat, you’re cold and sick and you can’t even brush your teeth. You’re always hungry, and surrounded by other kids who are cold and hungry and scared and lonely just like you.

That doesn’t sound like the American dream – that sounds like a nightmare. And that’s what’s happening to kids when they come to America seeking safety.

Butterfly Wheel on Display at Wood Middle School, Alameda

Butterfly Wheel on Display at Wood Middle School, Alameda

That’s why we started the Butterfly Effect. The Butterfly Effect: Migration is Beautiful art project is led by youth activists in the Bay Area. We started out with a goal to make 15,000 butterflies to represent the 15,000 migrant children in detention.

We are doing this because we are trying to get people to realize just how many children are being held in the detention centers. We chose butterflies because they are symbols of migration, and because they are all different and beautiful in their own way, just like people. Every kid matters, and we kids want the kids in detention centers to know that we care about each one of them. Butterflies also symbolize freedom, and we imagine a day when all kids are free and with their families.

We have been working with our community towards the goal of 15,000 butterflies. Butterflies are being displayed in public institutions (like libraries, schools, city halls). We are partnering with the Alphabet Rockers, Amnesty International, Destiny Arts Center, The Center for Cultural Power, and Tsuru for Solidarity. We now have over 20,000 butterflies created by our community. People all over the country – and all over the world – are making butterflies. We also have gotten to know each so much better because of our activist work together. We realized a few months ago that we are Acti-Buddies! It always feels good to know there are kids who will stand up for others.

Even though we have reached our goal, we have decided to keep making butterflies, and we won’t stop until the kids are free. We are hoping to take butterflies to detention centers. We also want to take butterflies to Washington DC to let people who make decisions know that the children in detention are kids just like us, and they should be free.

The statue of liberty says on it: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. ” That means that we as a country are supposed to be kind and welcoming. We are not doing a good job of that. The tired, the poor, the huddled masses are all people in need of help and so we must help them. We must lift our lamps and welcome them. Instead of welcoming them, we are putting kids who need help in detention centers.

America was built by people who came here seeking a better life. We are better than this.

Lily and Kaia, the founders of Butterfly Effect

Lily and Kaia, the founders of Butterfly Effect

Kids just like us are suffering. We need the people we elected to stand up and do something. Right now, it seems like adults aren’t getting the job done, so we kids decided we wanted to help. We hope that by making butterflies and showing people just how many kids are in detention, we will inspire our community to take action to end child detention. To those under 18, we agree with 9-year-old Ivy from the book Strong is the New Pretty –  “We may be small, but we have a big voice and we know how to use it.”


Questions for Extended Dialogue:

  • What stood out the most to you in this article?
  • Why are butterflies symbolic?
  • How can symbols add to the effectiveness of activist movements?
  • How can art help to further a youth-led cause?