All posts by becks

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I vividly remember the first time I heard a presentation about Beyond Borders. It was a presentation about exhumations in Starr County, and I was engrossed by the idea of exhumation for a greater cause. One of the most captivating aspects of the University of Indianapolis’ program was their involvement with humanitarian applications of anthropology, something I had been longing to become involved with for many years. I heard stories about Falfurrias, TX and Sacred Heart Cemetery, and it soon became an intriguing place I was longing to go to.

Shortly after, I obtained a spot on the team for upcoming an season in 2018. It was in a

Last January during my first season with Beyond Borders
Last January during my first season with Beyond Border

different county, so our experience was vastly different than the teams’ who helped in Brooks and Starr Counties before us. We gained an incredible perspective on the legal system’s complications regarding migrant deaths and what happens when counties are overwhelmed by this crisis. However, we were not immersed in the community in the way that previous seasons had been because this particular cemetery was on private land. Eight months later, I presented on our experience. I gained so many skills that I could never have learned from a textbook or classroom, yet I was still completely blind to the magnitude of impact that this project would eventually have on my heart.

 

This January, a new team accompanied Dr. Latham to Falfurrias: the place where her work had initially started. So many of the townspeople were supportive of our work. One woman brought us oranges from her brother’s tree. img_6154Another brought an entire lunch for almost forty of us while we labored in the field one day. The county judge brought us hot pizza. Peggy and Bill Clark hosted all of us at their household for a home-cooked meal. These were incredibly thoughtful yet completely unnecessary acts of kindness. They spent their time and resources to do something nice for numerous people they had never met. I will never feel as though I fully expressed my gratitude.

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The Humanitarian Respite Center was kind enough to give a small tour of the facility.

Visiting the Humanitarian Respite Center was one of the most powerful parts of this trip. It was so personal and emotional to interact with migrants face-to-face. It was one small community of people who had just barely met each other (migrants, volunteers, full-time staff) and were all contributing to the success of the center. Later in the week when we searched for remains on a local ranch, we saw what it was like to walk the paths that these people had to take in order to get here. The images of families from the Respite Center were engraved in my memory as I stumbled across bones, clothing, identification cards, cell phones, and shoes that once belonged to someone. Whoever it was made it all the way to that point before their body gave in to the hardships of nature. I hope that none of my loved ones will ever go through something so horrifying.

Border policy is a complex topic. I cannot pretend that I know all the right answers for this country. It just doesn’t seem right that we should all be so removed and immune to the pain of others. If every person had the opportunity to spend time with the living migrants and the brave individuals and organizations who live with minimal pay as they fight for migrant lives on a daily basis, then perhaps we could discuss these matters with a different tone of voice. If other people truly witnessed the way the deceased are treated when they are not from this side of the border, I am sure it would leave an emotional impact that they could not get from a newspaper or broadcast. So many people never get to know these people at all, yet hold an opinion as to what kind of people they are.

I am truly grateful to have had the chance to return to Texas with Beyond Borders. It has changed me in ways that I never expected, and I appreciate all of the dedication and work that makes this project possible.

 

I hope to see you again soon, Texas. Best wishes while I’m away.

Sincerely,

Sammi

TBH

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Day 9: Derechos Humanos

Texas State and UIndy students working together to get the job done.
Texas State and UIndy students working together to get the job done.

This morning we entered the Sacred Heart Cemetery full of mixed emotions. It was our last day in the field. Our hands were so sore and swollen we had trouble bending our fingers. Our bodies were aching. Sidney was getting sick. We’d been using icy hot, ibuprofen, ice packs and taping our blisters almost every day, but we knew once we got warmed up and moving that we could push through the pain. The UIndy team was on our third plot of the cemetery which was almost complete. We were all getting loopier by the day and singing songs that had nothing to do with archaeology as we shoveled and trenched endless mounds of dirt and investigated the area for missing individuals. Many of the Texas State students came over and helped us wrap up our final trenches before lunch, which was immensely helpful. We were proud to have met our goals this season and meet some long-term friends and colleagues in the process. This project is truly a team effort and we are all here for the same purpose.

After lunch, we were very fortunate to assist the South Texas Human Rights Center  with their water station refills. These water stations are amazing tools that aid in the survival of human beings who are on their last leg. Each station consists of a 55-gallon barrel, 6 gallon-sized jugs of water, a post to keep them upright, and a flagpole to indicate their presence 1cd886ea-8b3c-48d2-bb6e-32f6ba1878e4from afar. In addition, the Human Rights Center prints instructions on how to contact them and attaches them to each water bottle in case someone is desperate for help. The lids to the water stations also have contact information, and the GPS coordinate of that water station’s location so they can read it to the person they are contacting if they need assistance. Individuals who stumble upon these may have gone incredibly long periods of time without food and water. Many become lost for days in the thick, desert brushlands, but this route is their only option if they want to remain hidden. These water stations save people’s lives who may otherwise have be reduced to bone within days in the Texas heat.

img_6324We were all very grateful to have been given the opportunity to participate in this process on our last day in Falfurrias. According to their website, the South Texas Human Rights Center currently services 144 water stations each and every week. Arden, Emily and I went with Eddie Canales to refill some stations on the nearby ranches. To complicate matters, Texas is almost entirely made up of privately owned ranches that do not allow Eddie to set up water stations on their properties. He informed me that only about 25% of the ranch owners allow him to do this work on their property. In addition, water jugs may spoil and water will leak out rendering them useless. Sometimes he finds them with intentional punctures or damage from people who disagree with helping the migrants.

 

Angela and Sidney helping with water stations.
Angela and Sidney servicing water stations.

Eddie, Arden, Emily and I got to see two ranches with about four water stations each. Eddie Canales is an amazing person and it was so much fun to spend time with him as we did this. It was fascinating to hear about his daily experiences as the founder of the Human Rights Center and year-round resident in the area. We also spent quite a bit of time laughing while we bounced around in the backseat of Eddie’s 20-year-old 4×4 truck while we navigated sandy terrain to reach the water stations we intended to fill. Angela, Sidney and Dr. Latham went with Selina and Arianna (two other members of the South Texas Human Rights Center) to fill water stations on a different route.

In many ways, nine days in the field seems like a long time digging, but it was so much more than that. We do not solely feel passionate about digging in the dirt. We feel passionate about the humanitarian work that is being done here and feel a duty to continue assisting in the identification of the voiceless and deceased. We feel passionate about helping family members find out where their loved ones might be. Anthropology in the U.S. encompasses a multifaceted approach that includes cultural integration, and I feel that this experience has really shown me the importance of that approach. I am grateful to have been able to participate in a mission in which we work closely with people from different walks of life that have a common goal at heart.

 

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Day 9 group photo (featuring Eleanor)

Sammi

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Day 5: The Other Side

Donating to the Respite Center
Donating to the Humanitarian Respite Center

Today was very different than the last four days we have experienced. We were able to take a day and rest our bodies, so we could be fully recharged to continue searching for the unidentified at Sacred Heart Cemetery tomorrow. However, the true purpose of this day was to take some time to immerse ourselves in the other side of the humanitarian crisis occurring at the US-Mexico border. The side that we are used to includes the sadness of previously voiceless decedents who died in search of a better life, but our experiences today extended beyond that. We found that the side in which you interact with the people living with the consequences of US immigration policy are equally heartbreaking in so many ways. Last night, the UIndy team purchased a few bags full of useful food items and supplies that we wanted to donate to the Humanitarian Respite Center operated by the Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley. Today we were fortunate to be able to bring our donations to the center and receive a brief tour of their facility.

I have never woken up wondering if I would be pulled away from my family and held in a detention center. I have never feared that my family would be deported, that I would lose the progress of my education, that I would never see my home again, or my family, or my friends at school. Today I saw some of the sweetest and happiest children in the middle of some of the most difficult moments of their lives. I saw exhausted parents who had been desperately holding their family together after days in an ICE detention center, hoping to be granted asylum in this country. There were women and children who just wanted a meal and some guidance before heading on their way. They were helpful and grateful for the assistance, not greedy. They were lost in an unfamiliar place. They were non-English speakers. They were in need of bus tickets back to their family members. I tried not to think about it too much in fear that I would start crying. It was deeply heartwarming to see that so many people in the community volunteer their time and resources to help keep this operation running to serve vast numbers of people on a daily basis.

After leaving the Respite Center, we headed over to the border wall. This was my second time seeing it and it still gave me chills. The Rio Grande River marks the official border between countries, but there are tall walls with barbed wire or massive, rusty metal fences on the US side of the land by the river.

Side view of the border gate and wall
Side view of the border gate and wall

Within 90 seconds of walking over to the wall, a Border Patrol truck rolled up on us to interrogate our purpose in the area. He left us alone after hearing that we were white folks from Indiana just interested in seeing the wall, but I know he kept watch from afar. There was a broken ladder, probably from the journey of one traveler as he/she shimmied up and over this 20-foot fence.

Broken ladder on the ground near the wall
Broken ladder on the ground near the wall

We imagined the fear and adrenaline coursing through someone’s blood as they committed to this risky journey knowing they too, may only have 90 seconds before Border Patrol discovered them. Yet, all we could do was gaze at the other side of the fence, never knowing what it would feel like to make a run for our lives that could determine our future or the well being of our families in a faraway home.

The end of our day was marked by the most wonderful dining experience. Peggy and Bill Clark invited the entire team of volunteers to their house for dinner at their beautiful ranch home. We were able to gain some insight into the other side of the Falfurrias community; the thoughts, experiences, and daily lives of those outside our immediate circle of human rights volunteers. We arrived early to help set up and were incredibly thankful to develop relationships with the two of them. Peggy’s grandfather founded the town of Falfurrias, so she shared some incredible stories and family photos with us.  Overall, they were just honest, kind, fascinating people who welcomed us into their homes with open arms and wanted to get to know us. I hope to be able to see them again in the future and value the conversations I was able to share with them.img_6320-2img_9112

There is a quote from Sister Norma Pimentel, the director of Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley. She says, “Helping another human being is never wrong. It is never a wrong thing to do.” That really resonates with me, and I hope that people of all backgrounds can see the good in humanitarian work being done. I know we all learned a lot today, and I look forward to everything else to come.

Day 5 at La Mota Ranch
Day 5 at La Mota Ranch

Sammi

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