All posts by Jessica

Until next time…

It has been two days since I have been home and talk about a temperature difference! Our first official day back and just in time for an ice storm. The temperature isn’t the only thing that has changed, coming home to Indiana and it feels ‘different’. I can’t quite put my finger on it, things just don’t feel the same anymore. My experience in South Texas was intense and incredible. The high points were working long, intense hours in the heat shoveling dirt and then coming back to the hotel for dinner and a quick dip in the hot tub. For some reason, those meals tasted AMAZING- I have no idea if the food was actually that good or I was so famished from working all day; either way, it tasted great. The Respite Center and visiting ‘the wall’ was also a high point- very insightful and I learned many life lessons. Some of the low points, was that we would not be doing this work if those individuals had not died. Bringing this whole experience full circle, it is incredibly heart breaking that these individuals have been waiting for so long for the opportunity to be identified. That no one attempted to do this sooner.

Last day at Sacred Heart
Last day at Sacred Heart

I loved how well our UIndy group worked and communicated together. And then to come back and share a hotel room for 10 days, with no arguments or issues? Simply amazing, I could not have asked for a better group.

The cultural anthropologists that were with us were equally amazing. The cultural anthropologists, which consisted of two undergrads (Sarah and Rachel) and one professor (Dr. O’Daniel), were very hardworking and always willing to lend a hand. I am certain that we would not have been able to accomplish as much as we did without them. They left two days before our group departed and it was quite noticeable how much they helped us. It was also very insightful to hear what they learned at the end of the day; they brought an interesting perspective to the group.

The UIndy team
The UIndy team

Our fearless leader, Dr. Latham, who guided us through this 10 day mission. Thank you for the opportunity to be apart of this, this experience has changed me as a person and has impacted my life in ways that I didn’t expect. Texas State as well, thank you for being so inviting and welcoming- I was a complete stranger to everyone but I never once felt like a stranger. The night we were able to come to La Copa and have dinner with everyone, was lots of fun and a great night of relaxation that we all needed. Our last day, being able to finally work together was a great experience and I wish it could have happened more often. While in Texas, I also had the opportunity to meet Sister Pam. Sister Pam will hold a special place in my heart and I will always admire her strength and endurance. I can only hope we have the opportunity to meet again. Until next time, cheers.

Group photo
Group photo

Jessica

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A day in McAllen, Texas

Today was not a field day; instead, today was spent volunteering at the Respite Center in McAllen, Texas. The Respite Center is a place where people seeking asylum can visit and obtain a shower, food, and clean clothes prior to hopping a bus that will take them to the place they will stay until their court hearing. The Respite Center was started by a nun at a local catholic church that observed migrants waiting at a bus station typically without food and wearing the same clothes they had been traveling in.

This is where the Respite Center comes into the picture. At the bus station, volunteers are waiting to take the migrants that are dropped off, back to the Respite Center to await their departure. Arriving at the Respite Center, migrants are greeted with a round of applause and a joyous greeting of ‘Bien Venitos’! This welcoming is a small part of trying to make these people feel human again, to feel ‘welcomed’. After arriving at the center, migrants are checked in and given clean clothes, a shower, tooth brush, and food. After this is completed, migrants are helped with making phone calls and are given a place to stay and relax.

Prior to arriving at the Center, our group was given a brief introduction as to how the Center functions and what to expect. After arriving at the center, I was incredibly grateful for the introduction, but I am not entirely sure if anything could have really prepared me for what I actually saw and experienced. Upon arriving at the center, we met with Sister Pam and we were taken into a large room where different areas are divided up to form an assembly line type process. Our group sat down and we were given a quick tour by Sister Pam of the different sections and where we would be able to assist. Afterwards, we were very fortunate to have two people who wanted to tell us their story. Sister Pam was able to interpret the stories for us and needless to say, it was incredibly emotional to hear first hand the incredibly tough journey they had to endure. 

My task was ‘shower duty’ meaning I assisted with making sure there were clean towels and the showers were stocked with shampoo and soap. Once the migrants arrived at the center, my task quickly changed. I had walked back from the showers into the main room for a reason I cannot remember, when a woman and her two children approached me. She clearly needed assistance with helping to find clothes for herself and her children. Everything seemed to happen so fast; the next thing I know, I’m holding her 8month old son and going through racks of clothing ‘guesstimating’ sizes for the woman and her 5-6 year old daughter and son. I should also mention that there was a huge language barrier between us, so we communicated through hand motions and lots of head nodding/smiles.

On the surface, it appeared that I spent the entire time holding an adorable baby boy and watched an especially well behaved little girl. What I actually did was so much more; for once, this woman was able to relax knowing her children were safe. They were warm, had clean clothes, full bellies, and were safe. I am still amazed at how accepting the baby boy was; I will always remember cuddling him until he fell asleep, exhausted from his long journey. I will never forget helping this woman whom I don’t even know her name. All I know is that she traveled with her son and daughter all the way from Honduras. Just thinking about this experience makes me very emotional. I cannot fathom what this woman had to go through up until we met and I will never know. This unknown woman is one of the strongest women I have ever met and her driving force is wanting a better life for her and her children. This experience, this trip has changed my perspective on everything and moving forward, it makes me want to advocate for these people and volunteer my time as much possible. This was a life changing moment and I am forever grateful to have experienced it.

Jessica

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Day 6: Cold day in Texas

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Digging a test trench

Apparently when we arrived in Texas, we also brought the weather from Indiana with us. Today we were back in the field and although we started later (9am), it was still 28 degrees with a windchill that made it feel 19 degrees. Always prepared for changing weather conditions, our group packed on the layers and headed out to the cemetery.

Upon arriving at the cemetery, we unpacked our gear and went to two new areas to map. Prior to leaving on Thursday, the cemetery grounds keeper pointed out two more areas that had unidentified migrants buried. One area did have two markers that stated ‘unidentified’ while the other area was void of markers due to them being damaged previously. After mapping the areas, Texas State arrived, split into two groups and started excavating the two areas. Our group, went back to our original section and dug two trench pits on either side of the previously excavated burials. Both trench pits did not reveal any anomalies and were back filled. After finishing that area, we relocated to the section where UIndy and Baylor University had excavated in a previous field season.

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Excavating a burial

The previous field season took place in 2013 and sometime between now and then, another unidentified migrant was buried in the same area. Our group focused our efforts on excavating this burial, which  has already turned out to be quite different than the first three and we have not even finished the excavation. The soil is more dense than the other site (the other site consisted of mostly sand) so our walls are not collapsing as easily as they did compared to the first site.

warm-meal
Warm Meal on a Cold day

Our field day was cut short today because an extremely gracious lady from Falfurrias brought us a hot dinner (rice, beans, brisket and pizza).  She even brought warm socks for everyone in the group. This act of kindness shows the magnitude of generosity that majority of the visitors that we get at the cemetery have towards our group. The food was absolutely amazing and was greatly appreciated by all, it was a lovely end to a hardworking day. Tomorrow our plan is to head out to the cemetery at 7am and to immediately start on our quadrant in hopes of making signifiant progress. However, if we have learned anything this far; it is to expect the unexpected, so who really knows what tomorrow will bring.

group-photo
Group Photo

 

Jessica

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