I’ve been home from Texas for three days now and it’s always a weird transition back into normal life. In Texas, you wake up every morning with a purpose and it’s really hard to come home and wake up without that same purpose. Additionally, it is hard to come back to a city where a great majority of the individuals have no idea of the atrocities occurring at the border. While this disheartens me, it also fuels me. It fuels me to spread awareness about this crisis and educate people about the true events occurring at the border, those that are commonly inaccurately portrayed by current media.
I learned more than I could have ever hoped for on this trip to Texas. Not only did I improve upon field techniques and forensic archeological skills, I also gained experience conducting lab analyses. As this was the first trip I have been involved where skeletal analyses took place, I learned so much regarding each of the aspects I took part in, as well as the intricacies and variation behind each of the traits we looked at. During the Human Osteology course offered at UIndy, I learned about some of these traits and how to correctly analyze them, so it was amazing to apply this education in a new context.
I also learned more about the sociopolitics surrounding this crisis in a town that is situated much closer to the border than Falfurrias is. Because we don’t have the same five year long relationship with Rio Grande City as we do with Falfurrias, I believe we will continue to learn more about the sociopolitics surrounding this crisis as our relationship with this city grows and progresses. I look forward to continuing to learn about the intricacies of this humanitarian crisis, and seeing how location and proximity to the border effects community views. I believe that understanding these aspects of the humanitarian crisis can inform policies, procedures, and viewpoints that accurately address and reflect the mass disaster occurring. Only with this understanding can true change take place.
I always miss the people I have met down in Texas. The new friends I made this field season, as well as friends made last January; Sister Pam, Dr. Spradley, Dr. Gocha, JP… all of these incredible individuals that work so hard for this humanitarian effort. But the aspect of Texas I always miss the most is the purpose, knowing that what I am doing is helping return individuals to their loved ones. Even though I don’t wake up with the same purpose as I do in Texas, I now wake up with a different purpose – spreading awareness, education, and advocacy.
The University of Indianapolis’ motto is “education for service.” For some students, these aspects of service include various volunteer opportunities and community involvement projects coordinated through the Volunteers in Service (VIS) program and the Center for Service-Learning and Community Engagement. For the Beyond Borders team, service means helping a community that is experiencing a mass disaster beyond belief. We take the knowledge and experience we have gained in the classroom and apply it in a real-world setting – identifying individuals who perished crossing the US-Mexico border in order to repatriate them back to their families. Applying my education in this type of setting is very different from merely learning and taking tests in school. In the classroom, I am surrounded by teachers and classmates that are at my beck and call for guidance when I have questions or need clarification. While Dr. Latham and my other team members are more than willing to help when I have questions, everyone is working on different tasks simultaneously which really pushes me to trust my knowledge, experience, and skill-set. It also teaches me to be independent while concurrently working as a member of a team that has a common goal.
At the end of each case, Dr. Latham checks all of the work we have done to make sure that our analyses were conducted properly. This allows for us as students to apply our education in a setting that is more independent than a classroom project, but is still checked and under the guidance of Dr. Latham. While this new-found independence is a little scary at first, it has allowed me to gain invaluable skills and experience that one simply cannot get in a classroom setting. I learn something new every time Dr. Latham checks our work, so this trip is an incredible learning experience for all of us and is morphing us into better scientists and forensic anthropologists in the process. I believe that this project truly exemplifies our school’s motto, and I am so thankful for the opportunity to be involved in this humanitarian effort in South Texas. Not only does it expose us to the crisis occurring at the border, it allows us to apply our education in a way that helps others and allows us to grow as individuals and as advocates for human rights.
In the past three days, we have exhumed three individuals from Area 2. This means that we only have two more days to exhume the remaining two individuals buried in this area before we head back to Indiana on Saturday. With this being said, today’s goal was to find and exhume at least one of the two remaining burials. While this may seem like a simple goal, we were racing against the sun. The forecast today was 97 degrees with zero clouds in the sky, meaning that in order to stay safe, we needed to work quickly and efficiently.
To accomplish our goals, we started by digging a trench from the Northern end of the pit towards the location of burials we removed yesterday. We decided to dig the trench down the middle of the pit to ensure we find the remaining burials if they exist there. Because the morning started out relatively cool, our rotations were 15 minutes long. After a few rotations, we found evidence of another burial so we began to investigate further. As the day drew on and the temperature continued to rise, we decreased our rotations to four minutes long. By lunch time, we had the burial completely exposed and ready to remove. After we removed the burial, we continued the trench Southward to look for the last remaining burial in Area 2.
We ended up leaving the cemetery at around 2pm. Even though today was shorter than our other days, we still worked really hard to meet our goal and find, uncover, and exhume another individual. We made the decision to leave at 2pm because it was getting too hot to safely work outside. Before we left, we strategized about finding and removing our last burial tomorrow morning over some ice-cold Cokes.
After we returned to the hotel and cleaned up a little, we traveled to Roma – a city West of Rio Grande City in Starr County. This city is located along the Rio Grande and has an amazing lookout deck with incredible views of the river and Ciudad Miguel Aleman, Mexico. While we were at the lookout, we met a very nice border patrol agent who talked with us about his job and about the river border in general. It was about 97 degrees while we were there, so we took some pictures but quickly returned to the car so as not to get anymore sun than we already had gotten today at the cemetery. After this visit, we went to the Mezquite Grill in RGC for dinner and the food definitely did not disappoint! We left full and very, very satisfied.
I am looking forward to what tomorrow holds for us. It is bittersweet because tomorrow is our last day at the Rio Grande Cemetery, however, we will leave feeling accomplished and extremely humbled if we are able to exhume all five individuals in our area so they can begin their identification process. As for now, we are all going to get a good night’s sleep so we are well-rested and ready to take on our last day.