Where I come from, things like U-turns and window markers are staples in every teenager’s life. It means driving around town with a newly minted license and a car full of friends, getting lost with no destination in mind – just because you can. It means boys in trucks showing off for girls by doing donuts in the parking lot after school. It means cheering on your high school soccer team by decorating all the cars, or leaving notes for your friends during free periods. In South Texas, U-turns and Window Markers mean different things.
Yesterday we spent our first full day in Falfurrias working with the South Texas Human Rights Center, starting the morning by catching up on everything that’s happened in the past few months and discussing a game plan for the rest of the week.
We began with washing out some water station barrels destined for redistribution before eating lunch and heading out to check one of the routes. I had the pleasure of accompanying Eddie in his truck and being the record keeper for the stations we checked. The rest of the team took the minivan, and between the two vehicles we were able to divide and conquer the route.
Having the opportunity to talk with Eddie a bit more gave me the chance to ask a few questions – about him, his past, his experiences here and his knowledge. We chatted about my childhood growing up on a farm, finding similarities and (many) differences with how the ranches are set up here. Ironically enough, it was a short remark he made during one of the longer legs that stuck with me and inspired this post.
As we were driving, we saw tire tracks in the sand of one of the driveways. Eddie asked if I had seen them, telling me they were probably either from a drop off for migrants starting their journey on foot, or from a Border Patrol vehicle making a U-turn in response to a call or sighting. This got me started thinking about how drastically different my experience with U-turns are to what he had just described. For me, they bring back fond memories of adventures chasing storms and meteor showers in the summer, but in this context they mean something much less light-hearted.
In South Texas, a U-turn in a driveway can mean the end of a portion of a migrant’s journey. Whether it’s followed by the hazardous trip on foot through the thorny brush, or getting picked up by Border Patrol and an unknown future, it marks a checkpoint of sorts. However long it took, and whatever they went through to get there, they made it at least this far. But they’ve still got a long ways to go.
Watching the brush pass by as we drove, I tried to imagine how I would feel standing there and looking at the terrain ahead of me, knowing I had to cross it on foot in this heat, with the sun beating down relentlessly. Would I feel dejected? afraid? renewed determination? I guarantee above all, I would be weary. I can’t imagine the strength it takes to continue.
As we were filling one of the water stations, we realized someone had added to the writing on the side of the barrel: “Help Build The Wall – Donate Here”. It seemed to be written in some sort of window paint or chalk that didn’t want to come off easily. The phrase was so contradictory to the point of the water station that for a minute, my brain had trouble processing it. I don’t know if it was written as a prank or out of malice, but seeing those words next to the AGUA painted on the barrel brought the conflict of attitudes about migrants into stark relief.
I thought about someone pulling up to the station and grabbing a window marker out of their vehicle to leave the message. Flashing back to doing the same thing to decorate my friend’s car for prom reminded me just how lucky I am to have had a happy, relatively uncomplicated life that meant I never had to go through the kind of prejudice and stressful experiences that others do. It reminded me that I am here because I am fortunate to have resources, and want to do whatever I can to help.
As an Anthropologist, I strive to understand things through my own experiences as well as putting myself in others’ shoes to get a glimpse of their perspective. Sometimes, it’s little things like U-turns and window paint that really make the breakthrough for me.