All posts by rizorl

Not goodbye, but see you later

This post has been really hard for me to write.  Not because I have a lack of things to say, but because it is hard to put my experience into words.

I learned so incredibly much while down in Texas.  Not only did I gain more experience with forensic archeological techniques, more importantly, I experienced the humanitarian side of this crisis at a deeply personal level.  As I have written in a previous post, growing up in Michigan and now attending school in Indiana, I have been very removed from what’s occurring at the border.  Going to Texas was my first experience with this humanitarian crisis, and it hit me really, really hard.  Meeting individuals and families who survived the journey where so many perish was an extremely powerful and emotional experience for me.  While we always show respect for bones, talking with the individuals who survived the same conditions experienced by those being exhumed in the burial park added a new and unique dimension to understanding the crisis at the border and its relationship to humanitarianism. I am so grateful to have been given the opportunity to volunteer at the Respite Center because experiencing this side of the crisis ignited inside of me a passion for humanitarian work.

Although we accomplished a lot while down in Texas, there is still so much to be done and because of that, it doesn’t feel right to back in Indy.  I wish we could have stayed longer and helped more, but it’s reassuring to know that the efforts down there don’t stop when we leave.  Everyone involved in Sacred Heart Humanitarian Respite  Center, South Texas Human Rights Center, Operation Identification, as well as the various other organizations committed to identification and bringing awareness to the crisis at the border remain hard at work.  I am grateful to have been able to meet some of the individuals involved in these organizations, the work they do is truly amazing.

With the start of a new semester, assignments, projects, papers, and deadlines will begin  to consume my time once again.  No matter how busy I get, I will never forget the experiences I had in Texas.  These experiences have changed me in many ways; they have allowed me to grow as a scientist, as an anthropologist, as an individual, and as an advocate.  I only hope that I am able to return to South Texas once again to volunteer my time to aid in this crisis.  So, Texas, it’s not goodbye, but see you later.
Leann

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Mapping

My role down in South Texas is mapping expert.   This means that I am responsible for constructing to-scale maps of Area 3, Area 1, and tying in Areas 2 South and 2 West to the original 2014 map of Area 2.  Before coming to Texas, I met with the former mapping expert, Erica, to go over the best ways to collect data and construct the maps.  She gave me many great pointers that I have found very helpful while down in Texas. One of the most important tips she gave me was to make clear to all teams that measurements should originate from the baseline and not the gridlines.  I have found this piece of advice particularly helpful because it makes clear where the measurements originate from even when I am not familiar with the particular excavation area.

Justing taking measurements
Justing taking depth measurements

Before this trip, I was told that we would be excavating Area 3 and that I would be constructing the maps for this area. However, because this area was finished in three days, both UIndy and Texas State moved to new areas within the cemetery.  UIndy revisted Area 1 to re-check the quadrants now that it’s better understood that there are no patterns to how and where these burials were placed.  Texas State moved to two new areas, Area 2 West and Area 2 South, to investigate land marked with Unknown Remains burial markers.  These additional areas mean that I have gone from constructing maps of one area to constructing maps of three different areas.

There are a number of challenges that I have faced when constructing my maps.  Because so much dirt is being moved in Area 1, the pile is growing too large and is covering the baseline I am supposed to be taking measurements from.  Because of this, I have to use different points of reference and quadrant boundaries to map in the burials and trenches.  Despite taking measurements from different points of reference, in the final map, I need to convert these measurements to as if they are coming from the baseline itself in order to standardize my data.  Math is not my strong suit, so doing the calculations and converting the numbers is challenging for me.  Thankfully, the other members of my team are there for moral support and mathematical help.

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Jessica taking measurements for the map

Another challenge I have faced while mapping is that I am only present for the collection of measurements from the areas being excavated by UIndy.  Because I am familiar with the orientation of the burials, determine what points to take, and am present during the collection of all data, it is easy to recognize mistakes and construct accurate maps.  Because we are so busy and are working in different areas of the cemetery, I do not have the chance to see all of the areas that Texas State is excavating, the orientation of their burials, or the way in which they are collecting their data points.  This has proven very difficult for me, as I do not have a mental image to match the measurements to which makes it difficult to recognize mistakes.  Thankfully, I have started to catch on to the methods they are using and am better able to quickly check for and correct mistakes.

Despite these challenges, I am so glad that I am able to fill the role of mapping expert for this field season in South Texas.  I believe that I am emerging a stronger mapper, which will continue to help me during forensic cases when mapping a scene is necessary.  The problem solving and mistake-catching associated with mapping, although frustrating at times, is teaching me how to think critically about what I am doing and how to look at data and recognize discrepancies right off the bat.  I am so grateful for this opportunity and am excited to finish the final products!

Leann

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Day 10: Honor the History

Today was a bittersweet day, as it marked not only our last day in the field but also our last full day in Texas.  Our job today was to finish Area 1, which meant digging trenches and probing through the remaining three quadrants.  Thankfully, we set ourselves up for a productive day yesterday, identifying where the remaining trenches would go and strategizing the most effective ways to accomplish our goals.  This morning, we hit the ground running.  We divided, conquered, and somehow finished everything by lunch time.  We owe a big thanks to three Texas State students who assisted us in both digging and refilling the trenches. Although we didn’t move as much dirt as we did yesterday, we worked really hard and maintained focus despite the soreness that has slowly accumulated throughout the trip.

Texas State and UIndy filling in a trench
Texas State and UIndy filling in a trench
The last bucket!
The last bucket!

After we ate lunch, we went to the area where Texas State was working to see if they needed any help.  They were still in the process of exploring some areas of their section, so they gladly accepted our assistance.  While our duties consisted largely of moving dirt, we also helped extend and clean up the excavation area, while Justin assisted in probing the floor and walls of their pit.  Once they felt confident that no other burials were present, we started the long process of refilling.

UIndy and Texas State
UIndy and Texas State

The highlight of my day today was a really great conversation with Sister Pam.  We talked about everything.  We started talking about what each of us have learned throughout this process, and ended with what we wish we knew more about.  This conversation really got me thinking about everything going on down in South Texas and how with new experiences comes new knowledge and new ways of thinking.  Sister Pam said something that I think really hits the mark when it comes to the crisis at the border: “honor the history.”  Each party involved in this crisis believes that they are doing the right thing, whether it be border patrol, land owners, county officials, the forensics teams, etc. The forensic teams believe they are doing the right thing by exhuming these individuals to begin their process of identification.  However, there are individuals that do not agree with what we are doing.  Despite differences in opinion, neither side is wrong – we must acknowledge and accept different viewpoints, and honor the history of each party’s stance on the issue.  I think that this is important to remember, as it is easy to get caught up in one side of the issue and fail to recognize differing opinions and viewpoints.  I would like to say thank you to Sister Pam for reminding me of this and leaving me with advice that will inform not only how I view this humanitarian crisis, but also how I view the world around me.

Leann

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