All posts by Jessica

Looking back and moving forward

It has been almost two weeks since I have been home from Texas; well one week if you count the time that myself and other students spent in Boulder City, NV attending the Mountain, Desert, and Coastal Forensic Anthropology Conference. The thing with staying busy, is that it does not allow you to think or dwell on certain matters which can be both positive and negative. With traveling and then feeling under the weather (I’m highly allergic to Nevada apparently), I am just now able to process what happened down in Texas this field season. Everything was different compared to my first field season at Sacred Heart Cemetery in Falfurrias, TX in January 2017.

Sunrise over RGC Cemetery
Sunrise over RGC Cemetery

After coming home in January, I was flooded with all sorts of emotions stemming from my time in Falfurrias. I attribute most of those emotions to visiting ‘the wall’ and volunteering at the Respite Center. During my trip, I did not allow myself to really process what was happening and the experience I had at the Respite Center. When I got home, I did not even make it through the drive home from the airport before I was so overcome with emotions that I cried most of the ride. I loved every minute that I spent at the Respite Center and I hope that in the future I can volunteer there again. When conducting field investigations at a cemetery, it is easier to remove yourself emotionally from the situation than when dealing with people who are still alive to tell their stories. In previous blog posts (from Jan), I know it was mentioned about the gentleman and his daughter who crossed the border, who came forward to tell us their story of how they got there. There was also another lady, who was traveling with her three daughters, who also shared her story. I’ll never forget those moments, I don’t think anyone in that room that day will ever forget.

When I came home in January, I felt motivated and inspired. I wanted to spread the news of what is happening and to educate those who may not understand completely the hardships people face below the border. This time, I still feel that same motivation and the need to continue volunteering in this effort. I am also amazed at how much more I have learned regarding the situation going on in South Texas as well as what is happening in Mexico.

Overlook of the Rio Grande River into Mexico
Overlook of the Rio Grande River into Mexico

The Mountain, Desert, and Coastal meeting could not have come at a better time. This year, the second day at the conference was a symposium on the ‘Sociopolitics of Migrant Deaths’ which had speakers from UIndy, the Colibri Center, the PCOME, Texas State University, and a journalist who is currently residing in Mexico. This symposium gave a whole new perspective about the humanitarian crisis in South Texas and what is also happening along the US/Mexico border.

Overlook of Lake Mead in Boulder City, NV
Overlook of Lake Mead in Boulder City, NV

Although I am not flooded with as many emotions as I had after being exposed to this humanitarian crisis for the first time, I feel that this trip has further solidified that this on-going effort isn’t about me or the other parties involved; it is about them. Them being those who have died that are still waiting to be identified and their families who are still waiting to find out what happened to their loved ones. After this trip, I have realized that this humanitarian effort isn’t something that will be completed in 1 year. This is an on-going effort and I would not be surprised if 10 years from now- this volunteer work is still be accomplished. I am forever grateful to have been able to be a part of this humanitarian effort and I hope to have the opportunity to continue volunteering in the future. As of right now, there is already another field season planned for January 2018 and again in May 2018. 

Group photo at MD&C Forensic Anthropology Conference
Group photo at MD&C Forensic Anthropology Conference

Jessica

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Just a small town girl

 

This past year, my classmates at UIndy and I have spent countless hours in our osteology lab going over different methodologies including skeletal analysis. During my first field season in Brooks County in January, the majority of the time was spent conducting field work and seeing first hand why this mission was started. Fast forward a whole semester, here I am back in Texas and everything is different. The first half of this trip was spent at Texas State University’s ORPL conducting skeletal analysis. During those three days, our team conducted a total of 9 skeletal analyses as well as taking an interesting tour of their decomposition research facility, FARF. I enjoyed the skeletal analysis half of this trip for many reasons. This was the first time that our group was able to apply what we had learned in the classroom in an actual case setting.

A view of Freeman Ranch while driving to FARF.
A view of Freeman Ranch while driving to FARF.

After spending 3 days at ORPL, our group and a group from Texas State, traveled to Rio Grande City to start excavations of more unidentified individuals at the local cemetery. Although we are still on the same mission, conducting the same type of excavations of individuals who were never identified; there are several differences between the trip in January and this trip. Temperature was a big one- when we came in January, we also brought the cold Indiana weather with us. This time, we have been faced with both rain and sunny skies with temperatures in the 90s-100s.

The UIndy team was stationed at area 2 and we knew ahead of time that there were reportedly five individuals buried in our area. In Falfurrias, everything was haphazard when it came to finding unknown burials. In Rio Grande City, Texas State was given information from one of the funeral homes as to how many individuals to expect in each area. In area 2, we recovered the five individuals and then made sure there were no other burials in that area before calling it quits. The soil consistency in Falfurrias was sandy and much easier to dig; however, that also meant that we had issues with walls caving in as we dug down deeper. In Rio Grande City, the walls were hard, packed clay with large rocks. If it was not for Silvestre and his excavator, I am not sure how we would have excavated down to the level that we needed and survived the heat.

Silvestre and the backhoe.
Silvestre and the backhoe.

This trip was quit the experience and it feels bittersweet to have it end. Although I am incredibly happy to be able to go home and sleep in my own bed, I am going to miss the comradery and awesome team work that was displayed during this trip. Until next time…

End of the day group photo.
End of the day group photo.

Jessica

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Day 2 (field) – We will rock you.

Today we arrived at the cemetery at 6:30 am and were able to start our work under the rising sun. Our first goal this morning, was to create steps leading from the excavated area to the surface for us to be able to work efficiently and safely. As we worked, there would be peaks of sunshine complemented by overcast skies and cool winds.

Creating Steps
Creating Steps.

After completing our steps came our first challenge which was uncovering the first burial. Our group quickly found that a portion of the burial extended under one of the walls, requiring us to cut away a section of the wall and then undercutting the same spot another foot just to reach the end. Our group worked efficiently and tirelessly; taking turns every 4-5 minutes, that way everyone had an opportunity to rest and drink plenty of water.

Group photo on our woman-made steps
Group photo on our woman-made steps.

Tomorrow our goal is to tackle the next two burials. Our area is especially tricky because we must excavate the first three burials in our section (including the one that was excavated today), then rebury the area to excavate the last two burials. All the burials are estimated to be at least 5 ft deep but what we have found thus far in this area is that the burials are closer to 6 feet down. Our entire group is extremely thankful for the assistance of the excavator operator, Silvestre, for his assistance with digging the area. It is slightly terrifying to think about where we would be without him. The next three days are going to be extremely hot with temperatures expected to be in the high 90s to 100s with total sunshine. Even though every evening we have come back exhausted, I have a suspicion that these past two days are going to be considered our ‘easy’ days due to the rising temperatures.

It is hard physical work that we are doing, but it is also hard work emotionally. For me, it always comes back to the reasons why we volunteered on this humanitarian issue. No one should be left unidentified and everyone has a right to know what happened to their loved ones. That is all the motivation we need to continue this mission and that is what is going to help us get through the next couple of days. That and iced cold cokes.

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Jessica

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