All posts by cantore

Just the beginning…

I have been back in Indianapolis for just a few days and I already miss Texas so much. As exhausted as I was by the end of our trip, looking back through all of the photos we took, the media coverage, and reflecting bac15972553_10154942432177220_8204301048200247995_ok on my personal experiences, I really do miss it all.

I know for a fact that my experience volunteering in Texas has changed my perspective on and bettered my understanding of the migrant crisis occurring at the border. It had been described to me to some degree before heading down there, but listening to all of the people who are involved with this crisis every day and hearing their stories has taught me so much more. I didn’t fully realize how much I had actually learned until I had an uncomfortable conversation with a friend of a friend just the other day…

Though I typically try to avoid bringing up politics in conversation with acquaintances, I had mentioned that I had just gotten back from Texas, and this person asked me what I was doing there. So I explained it to him. I told him that we were exhuming migrant remains so that they can hopefully be identified and sent back to their families. His reply? “Who cares?”

At first I didn’t even know what to say. I asked for clarification, and his response caught me off guard. I believe that everyone is entitled to their opinion, but my experiences in Texas allow me to better articulate mine.  I explained the details of the crisis and shared what  I had learned during my stay in Texas. I know that many people up north here in Indiana likely do not have a complete understanding of the migrant situation (I know I didn’t prior to traveling to Texas) and I am happy that I am now better able to explain it.  I also understand, however, that my words may not change how they feel.

Another thing I learned in Texas is the importance of considering a person’s background and life experiences when attempting to understand their point of view. But this argument really further solidified my pride in the work that is being done by everyone in South Texas and further highlighted the need for people across the country to be educated about the border crisis. It also made me extremely eager to stay involved with this work in any way that I can.

Thank you to everyone who was involved in providing me this opportunity to help, to everyone who helped us while we were down there, and to everyone who is continuing to work on this crisis situation everyday. dsc_0040



Our “Day Off”

Several days ago, our team took a day off from the physical exertion in the field to volunteer at the Sacred Heart Respite Center in McAllen Texas. We arrived at the center sometime in the morning on a very rainy and cold day (especially for Texas), where we were greeted by our friend Sister Pam. She led us inside and gave us a sort of orientation about the history of the Respite Center, the role the center plays in the migrant crisis, and instructions on how we would be able to help out while we were there. The purpose of the center is to provide migrants who are being released into our country with food, toiletries, clothing, and the first shower that they have likely had in days. These individuals were previously being detained by Border Patrol after crossing the border and seeking asylum and this center is really the first place since arriving where they are shown any type of humanity.

Before setting us off on our volunteer work, Sister Pam conversed with a migrant and his daughter who had recently arrived at the center, asking them questions about where they were from, their family, etc. Without going into too many details, this conversation was very eye-opening on just what these individuals had to go through to get to the US, and the calmness with which they regaled this information highlighted just how typical their situation was for all of the migrants attempting to cross the border – and let me tell you, their situation was far from what anyone would consider ideal.

Surprisingly, out of our group of at least 30 volunteers, there were only a few of us who spoke any Spanish. Jorge, who traveled with our group from Indianapolis, is fluent in Spanish and so he acted as our main translator. Otherwise, Justin and I were the only others who were able to converse in Spanish. Because of this, Sister Pam enlisted us in kind of floating around to help translate for anyone who may need it, as well as to talk to some of the families as they went through the process at the center. We were also asked to walk with Sister Pam and others from the group to greet the migrants being dropped off at the bus station. While there, Sister Pam had Justin and I usher families to the waiting area, explaining to them that we would take them to the center shortly. After explaining this to one family, a young boy, who had previously been quite rambunctious playing with his friend in the station, surprised me by giving me a big hug, which I was not at all prepared for but it was extremely heartwarming and reminded me how relieved these families must be knowing they are finally on their way to their families in the US.

Back at the center, things became very chaotic very quickly, with about 30 migrants being moved through to receive their supplies, clothing, and food, as well as to allow them time to wash up and shower. Acting as a translator, I very quickly became overwhelmed by people asking me for specific clothing items, as well as by other volunteers asking me to help translate. It was a good kind of overwhelming, however. In fact, it was wonderful. I felt like I was really able to help these people and that, even though our communication was limited, I was able to connect with them on some level. These individuals were going through a very tough situation, and probably had not experienced much kindness in the past couple of weeks, so it felt good simply being able to smile and say “Hola, Bienvenidos” to all of them. Even better was being able to ask “¿Qué necesitas?” or “What do you need?” I don’t think they had heard that from many people since entering our country and it was amazing being able to help, even in a small way.

This experience at the center was much more intense and eye-opening than I could have ever imagined it would be. I heard stories from people that were heartbreaking and shocking and seeing their resilience was awe-inspiring. I am so grateful for this opportunity to have been able to be of some small help to these individuals and their families. I only hope that the amazing work that the Sacred Heart Respite Center is doing will continue on until there is no longer a need for it. If you would like to help out as well by donating items or by making a financial donation, check out their webpage here.



Breaking Ground

These first few days of working out in the field have certainly been eventful and have held true to our team’s mantra of “expect the unexpected.” Not an hour into our first day at the cemetery, I found myself holding a very expensive and fancy piece of equipment, a GPS with base station and rover, or as we call it “The Magic Stick.” I have heard of equipment such as this but have never seen it in action, nonetheless been able to operate it myself. I was simply inquiring about how the equipment worked when Dr. Nick Herman, a professor of anthropology at Texas State University, thrust it into my hands and set me out mapping the scene using the GPS technology. So quickly into our work here in Texas I was given such a great opportunity to work with a tool that I may have never otherwise gotten an opportunity to experience, and it felt pretty cool.

dsc_0124The next day, we broke ground and began the exhumation process (you can read more about it here). It was a day filled with excitement for many reasons. It was exciting to be a part of a team that worked so well together and adapted quickly to new and challenging situations. Additionally, the exhumation process itself was incredibly exciting and rewarding to be able to participate in. Another excitement factor, however, was somewhat expected but not quite to the degree to which we experienced it – the media. We were all told to be prepared for possible media presence at the cemetery but I don’t think any of us expected there to be such a significant amount of personnel following our every move. I know I certainly did not expect to be interacting with the media so closely myself. Through working on forensic cases back in Indianapolis, my instinct is to have tunnel vision when it comes to the media and so I tend to pretend that they aren’t even there. This was nearly impossible to do yesterday – they were everywhere and all around us, often getting very close into our personal space. I have to say, I was not always comfortable with the situation. Never did I feel pressured or unsafe, though some of the media personnel behaved better than others, but it was just something that I was not used to and did not expect. It was definitely a unique experience.

Today was unexpected in the sense that it lasted several hours longer than we had dsc_0057anticipated. We were out in the cemetery from sunup to sundown, just about 10 hours, and we were busy for all of it. Today was the day where I think we all fully realized the importance of being prepared for anything. The first half of the day went pretty much as we had planned, and we thought we had just about completed the excavation of our area. However, some of the officials who have been involved with this human rights work for some time assured us that there may be more work to be done before we move on to a different area. We attempted to probe the ground with steel T-probes to detect any disturbances or objects in the soil; what we dsc_0184found was areas where the soil was so soft we could probe right through and other areas where we had to use our entire body weight just to move down a few inches at a time. We were not confident enough in these results to draw any major conclusions about whether there may be more remains in the area or not so we decided that the best way to proceed would be to dig a trench throughout the entire section in order to be sure. Unfortunately, at this point the sun was already setting and so we were going to have to resume this on our next day in the field.

I think all of us are feeling quite tired and sore tonight as we finish up our work at the hotel. Tomorrow, however, we have a break from the physical work in the field as we take a trip to volunteer at the Sacred Heart Respite Center. Though we will not be shovelingdsc_0138 massive piles of dirt and moving buckets upon buckets of soil, we will be challenged both mentally and emotionally as we immerse ourselves even further in this crisis situation at the border. I am both nervous and excited for whatis to come tomorrow, and as much as I have been told about what our volunteer work will entail, after today I am reminded to expect the unexpected and to be prepared for anything.