All posts by cantore

The Times, They Are a-Changin’

In just over a week (as I write this), I will be returning to South Texas with the UIndy team for my third humanitarian trip. It’s a crazy time of the year for me with lots of change; I recently started a new job, I will be leaving the job I have worked at for the entire time I have lived in Indianapolis, and I will be graduating from UIndy on Saturday! Amidst all this hectic and drastic change, I am also preparing myself for this upcoming trip to Texas. And once again, I find myself completely unsure of what to expect.

This trip is going to be completely unique from my previous two experiences in South Texas. Instead of our focus being on lab- or fieldwork (or both), we will be concentrating our efforts on a more holistic helping-hands approach, assisting the South Texas Human Rights center with any tasks that may arise. One of our main goals is to help build water stations for migrants crossing the harsh terrain of the Texas desert. This goal brings a whole new aspect to our work: helping the living. I have previously had a small taste of this when we spent a day volunteering at the respite center in McAllen in January 2017, but this time, a significant portion of our time will be spent helping those who are still attempting to cross the desert. I am not sure what to expect about the physical and emotional demands of this kind of work, but if my previous experiences tell me anything, it’s that our UIndy team will be able to handle anything that comes our way.

Another new aspect of this trip is the team itself. Haley and I (and, of course, Dr. Latham) are the only returning team members who have been to South Texas with UIndy. This time, we will have two “rookies,” as we always call them, Rachel and Angela. I am excited to be there to observe as they experience their first humanitarian trip with Beyond Borders and to see how their experiences differ from my own first experience in South Texas back in January 2017, especially as the goals of this trip will differ so greatly. I am also very excited that we will be returning to Brooks County, as I feel that this is “where it all began,” not only for me, but for the entire Beyond Borders project. It will be a really great experience to share Brooks County and the town of Falfurrias with our rookies!!

I am not sure what to expect on this upcoming trip, not only because our goals are so different this time, but also because I know better. As always, I will be expecting the unexpected. No matter how much planning I do, there is no way to predict what we will experience. One thing I do know, is that the experiences that this trip provides will be the perfect way to round out all of my experiences with the Beyond Borders team in South Texas and I couldn’t be more ready.

Erica

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Baby Steps

It has now been just over a week since we returned to Indianapolis from our trip to South Texas. After only two nights back in Indy, some of us returned to the airport to travel to Boulder City, Nevada for the annual Mountain, Desert, and Coastal Forensic

MD&C 2017!
MD&C 2017!

Anthropology meeting, which was a great experience. The theme of this year’s meeting, in fact, was a symposium discussing the many aspects of the humanitarian crisis at the border. In addition to giving a presentation myself, there were many presentations from people involved with several different agencies. After having traveled to South Texas twice now, I consider myself fairly involved with the UIndy team’s role in this humanitarian work but it was amazing to see all the other people who are involved and how their roles differ from ours. It was also amazing to see just how many people are involved; it felt almost like a community of people, many of whom I had never previously met, who are connected by our service to this cause.

Thinking back to our trip to South Texas, I continue to feel proud of the work that we accomplished together as a team. We faced many challenges, especially in the field, but our ability to work together and use our critical thinking to problem

Team Strategy Meeting
Team Strategy Meeting

solve allowed us to overcome those challenges, and relatively easily, I dare say. I don’t think I will ever cease to be impressed by how this team worked together – everyone contributed so much, I didn’t hear a single complaint except for the

Teamwork was even necessary to get in and out of our pit
Teamwork was even necessary to get in and out of the pit

typical light-hearted groans about muscle soreness and “bucket bruises,” and everyone’s strengths complimented each other’s very well. I am proud to have worked with every member of our team and I know that we have formed a bond with each other, and with other individuals working with this crisis, that will last a lifetime.

Accomplishing our goals in South Texas is only one small step towards exhuming and identifying all of the unidentified migrants who have been buried across South Texas. Some may consider it disheartening to think about how much work still needs to be done – not only would we like to return to Brooks and Starr county, but there are likely many many other cemeteries across South Texas that need to be visited. But these small steps are necessary and represent progress, and after this most recent trip, over 10 more individuals are finally beginning the process of identification. The UIndy teamdsc_0125 is just one of many who is slowly chipping away at this problem, and I can only imagine that progress will accelerate as more and more individuals become aware of the crisis situation at the border. I know that I will try and play my part in helping to spread this awareness while I am back in Indianapolis, and hope to be able to return to South Texas in the future to continue to make those small steps to eventually identify all of those that have perished crossing the border.

Erica

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We Are More Powerful Together

So frequently, my fellow cohort and I have reflected on the many amazing aspects of participating in the work taking place in South Texas – the ability to utilize our skills in real-world situations, the opportunities to learn and grow as students and as people, and, of course, being involved in such an important humanitarian project that really makes a difference. One aspect that is not discussed as frequently, however, is the great opportunity we have to work with so many other people from Texas State University and other organizations and to observe and learn from their different perspectives and experiences. It’s impossible to mention all of the awesome people that we get to work with, but there are certainly a few who stand out.

Just a couple of hours into our first day at the cemetery in Rio Grande City, a big silver pickup truck pulled up and one of our favorite people climbed out of it – Sister Pam was here! I wasn’t sure if she was going to be able to join us this time, as she lives about 45 minutes away. But sure enough, she made the drive to be there with us almost every day, helping wherever she could, even helping us to dig and move buckets of heavy dirt in the Texas heat. I will never cease to be amazed by the dedication Sister Pam has to this cause and by her never-ending desire to help. Thanks again, Sister Pam!

Sister Pam hard at work
Sister Pam hard at work

Dr. Kate Spradley, a professor at Texas State University, is the primary leader of the humanitarian work being done in  both Brooks County and now Starr County. She helps to keep this work going and moving forward. Having now worked with her for two field seasons in South Texas, I have gotten to know Dr. Spradley as a very kind and caring person who is devoted to this cause. Oftentimes in the field, she can be hard to find, as she is constantly on the move, helping anywhere she is needed and continuing to do much of the behind-the-scenes work that helps keep this project moving forward.

Dr. Spradley taking notes
Dr. Spradley taking notes

Dr. Nick Herman was also here again during this field season. He was only there for a couple of days, but he of course brought along with him his infamous “magic stick” to take measurements. Additionally, Dr. Herman had visited the cemetery prior to our trip to take GPR readings of each of the areas. It will be interesting to see the results after Dr. Herman processes both the GPR and the “magic stick” data.

Dr. Herman and Leann using the magic stick
Dr. Herman and Leann using the magic stick

I first met Dr. Tim Goche just before he completed his doctorate at The Ohio State University. We met at FLAG, the regional forensic anthropology conference in the Midwest and bonded over our mutual love for the show Scrubs. Since then, it has been awesome to learn about his impressive research and watch him move into his new role at Texas State University, quickly becoming so involved in this humanitarian project. I always enjoy working with Tim in the field and hope that we will continue to have opportunities to work together!

Dr. Goche moving dirt with a smile on his face
Dr. Goche moving dirt with a smile on his face

All of us met Dr. JP Fancher for the first time at the beginning of the lab portion of this most recent Texas trip. He was introduced to us as a dentist who assists in the dental analysis of the migrant remains that are analyzed at Texas State. We quickly learned, however, that JP also participates in the field work and is a military medic, making it even more great to have him by our side. Even more so, JP was very kind to all of us and was always eager to offer help or educational moments whenever he could.

JP always cheerful in the field
JP always cheerful in the field

And, of course, my fellow teammates and I would never have had such a wonderful opportunity to be involved with the humanitarian work in South Texas without the hard work and dedication of Dr. Krista Latham. Thank you, Dr. Latham!

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Erica

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