A large, colorful monarch butterfly mural now decorates an outside wall of the Havana Sandwich Shop on Buford Highway in Brookhaven for motorists and pedestrians to view and admire.
The mural is just one of about 10 murals, most located in Northeast Plaza, that are part of the BuHi Walk, a collaboration between We Love BuHi and Living Walls, to bring public art to the corridor known for its diversity while also raising awareness about the stories of the immigrants who live and work there.
The artist of the monarch mural, Yehimi Adriana Cambron, grew up on Buford Highway just down the street from Havana Sandwich Shop. Her mother once worked at the renowned restaurant known for its Cuban specialties.
She attended Woodward Elementary, Sequoyah Middle School and Cross Keys High School. She was a Reporter Newspaper Standout Student years ago.
When she was a sophomore at Cross Keys, she entered an art contest about the Holocaust. She placed third place, which meant a $50 prize and a trip to the state Capitol where her art along with other winners’ art was exhibited.
She never got that $50 prize, however. Her parents had brought her to the U.S. when she was very young from Michoacán, Mexico, and Cambron did not have a Social Security number needed for organizers to present her the check for her third-place finish.
“They couldn’t give me my prize because I was undocumented,” she said taking a break from painting early in the evening of Thursday, Sept. 14.
“So I had to walk away. This was a huge eye-opening realization to me, that, oh this is what it means to be undocumented,” she said.
“I had put in all these hours to create this piece and someone said I was worthy of third place, but I don’t get the reward, I don’t get what I really deserve.”
Through guidance and encouragement from teachers and mentors, including the Cross Keys Foundation, Cambron applied for a scholarship eligible to students that did not require U.S. residency. After a national search, Cambron won the full scholarship and excelled at the liberal arts school, receiving her BA degree in Studio Art in 2014.
“This was the first time I thought of my art work as a platform for change,” she said.
Thanks to the 2012 implementation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, that allowed DACA recipients, known as Dreamers, to gain employment without fear of deportation. Cambron registered with DACA and her dream to be an artist was fulfilled.
“I knew my degree wasn’t just going to be a diploma on the wall,” she said.
After teaching two years in Clayton County with Teach for America, Cambron recently returned to Cross Keys High School where she is a popular art teacher and also vice president of the Cross Keys Foundation, a nonprofit organization that raises funds to provide scholarships to Cross Keys graduates.
“It’s Incredibly meaningful to me to go back and teach,” she said. “Teaching is my service to my country, to my community and to my home.”
Some of her students have helped her paint the monarch butterfly mural. The large butterfly at the center of the mural is known as the Education is Liberation Monarch, with one of its wings fluttering like the pages of a book.
“My message with this mural is we are all immigrants and I want people to think of the history of this country. Everybody who is here came from somewhere else,” she said. “I want people to recognize we are you and you are us.”
With DACA now threatened by President Donald Trump’s administration, Cambron said she is simply enjoying every day she can with her students, many of whom are also undocumented.
“I think about them with this mural. We share our uncertainty and fear,” she said. “They are amazing students, and very resilient. They don’t realize it sometimes. And their stories, they’ve impacted me in a really big way.”
The monarch also has special meaning to Cambron. Millions of the butterflies migrate each winter from Canada to the warmer temperatures of the U.S. and Mexico, with the vast majority settling at the Monarch Butterfly Reserve in Michoacán, Mexico, during the summer.
“The symbolism of the monarch … is that migration [is] a natural process, to survive, to give better opportunities for their children,” she said.
“The monarchs cross borders. They are symbols of immigrants,” she said.
When President Donald Trump tweeted on Sept. 5 that “Congress now has 6 months to legalize DACA (something the Obama Administration was unable to do). If they can‘t, I will revisit this issue!”, Cambron said her mother apologized to her.
“I was taken aback. She feels guilty for having brought us here,” Cambron said. “That broke my heart. Her guilt is the result of the messaging … us being Dreamers and our parents being criminals because they brought us here through no fault of our own.”
Cambron said she told her mother she was thankful every day for what she and her father had done for their family. The left the harsh condition of their home to make a better life for their children, she said.
“I’m thankful for their sacrifices,” she added. “I dedicate this piece to my community and to my parents, for being the original dreamers.”
The BuHi Walk continues Saturday, Sept. 16, with a block party and open-air night market celebrating the diversity of Buford Highway at Northeast Plaza, 3307 Buford Highway in Brookhaven.
There will be numerous other murals on display there as food, crafts, and small goods from local vendors. Live entertainment will be part of the party as well as a PARK(ing) Day installation, similar to PARK(ing) Day in Buckhead.