Category Archives: Community

Interaction with the community of Falfurrias

sacred-heart

Our “Day Off”

Several days ago, our team took a day off from the physical exertion in the field to volunteer at the Sacred Heart Respite Center in McAllen Texas. We arrived at the center sometime in the morning on a very rainy and cold day (especially for Texas), where we were greeted by our friend Sister Pam. She led us inside and gave us a sort of orientation about the history of the Respite Center, the role the center plays in the migrant crisis, and instructions on how we would be able to help out while we were there. The purpose of the center is to provide migrants who are being released into our country with food, toiletries, clothing, and the first shower that they have likely had in days. These individuals were previously being detained by Border Patrol after crossing the border and seeking asylum and this center is really the first place since arriving where they are shown any type of humanity.

Before setting us off on our volunteer work, Sister Pam conversed with a migrant and his daughter who had recently arrived at the center, asking them questions about where they were from, their family, etc. Without going into too many details, this conversation was very eye-opening on just what these individuals had to go through to get to the US, and the calmness with which they regaled this information highlighted just how typical their situation was for all of the migrants attempting to cross the border – and let me tell you, their situation was far from what anyone would consider ideal.

Surprisingly, out of our group of at least 30 volunteers, there were only a few of us who spoke any Spanish. Jorge, who traveled with our group from Indianapolis, is fluent in Spanish and so he acted as our main translator. Otherwise, Justin and I were the only others who were able to converse in Spanish. Because of this, Sister Pam enlisted us in kind of floating around to help translate for anyone who may need it, as well as to talk to some of the families as they went through the process at the center. We were also asked to walk with Sister Pam and others from the group to greet the migrants being dropped off at the bus station. While there, Sister Pam had Justin and I usher families to the waiting area, explaining to them that we would take them to the center shortly. After explaining this to one family, a young boy, who had previously been quite rambunctious playing with his friend in the station, surprised me by giving me a big hug, which I was not at all prepared for but it was extremely heartwarming and reminded me how relieved these families must be knowing they are finally on their way to their families in the US.

Back at the center, things became very chaotic very quickly, with about 30 migrants being moved through to receive their supplies, clothing, and food, as well as to allow them time to wash up and shower. Acting as a translator, I very quickly became overwhelmed by people asking me for specific clothing items, as well as by other volunteers asking me to help translate. It was a good kind of overwhelming, however. In fact, it was wonderful. I felt like I was really able to help these people and that, even though our communication was limited, I was able to connect with them on some level. These individuals were going through a very tough situation, and probably had not experienced much kindness in the past couple of weeks, so it felt good simply being able to smile and say “Hola, Bienvenidos” to all of them. Even better was being able to ask “¿Qué necesitas?” or “What do you need?” I don’t think they had heard that from many people since entering our country and it was amazing being able to help, even in a small way.

This experience at the center was much more intense and eye-opening than I could have ever imagined it would be. I heard stories from people that were heartbreaking and shocking and seeing their resilience was awe-inspiring. I am so grateful for this opportunity to have been able to be of some small help to these individuals and their families. I only hope that the amazing work that the Sacred Heart Respite Center is doing will continue on until there is no longer a need for it. If you would like to help out as well by donating items or by making a financial donation, check out their webpage here.

Erica

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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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Gracias por Todo

It would be impossible for us to do this work alone.   There are so many people that are essential in making our efforts successful.  I would like to take a moment to thank some of the people who were vital in making this trip so great.

 

From Left to Right - Rachel, Dr O'Daniel, and Sarah
From Left to Right – Rachel, Dr O’Daniel, and Sarah

The Cultural Anthropologists

This year we have had the honor of working with a team of cultural anthropologists from the University of Indianapolis.  Last year, Dr. Alyson O’Daniel joined us for skeletal analyses in San Marcos.  She has joined us again this year and brought along two of her students, Sarah and Rachel.  They have had an amazing influence on our team, bringing  much-needed different perspectives to everything we do.  They also have made our job easier by helping with all of our work such as digging, troweling, moving buckets of sand, and pretty much anything and everything else.  They have far-exceeded all of my expectations, and I am incredibly proud to work by their side.

 

 

El Strando
El Strando

Ryan

Ryan and I have a long bro-mantic history.  He was one of the original members of the UINDY crew and my former roommate.  Since then he has worked with Texas State and at the South Texas Human Rights Center.  He is incredibly informed and hard working.  I can think of very few (if any) people that I would rather have working by my side.

 

 

Sister Pam and the Cultural Crew
Sister Pam and the Cultural Crew

Sister Pam

I first met Sister Pam in 2014.  She is one of the most driven and compassionate people that I have ever met.  She now spends her time helping the people passing through the Sacred Heart Respite Center.  She has an amazing way of changing all of the lives she touches, and I’m proud that I have been able to work with her so closely.

 

 

Jorge and Eleanor
Jorge and Eleanor

Jorge

Only two of our dig team (Erica & I) speak Spanish, but neither of us speak it very well.  This year we have had the luxury of having Jorge with us as a translator.  He was essential to communicating with families at the respite center.  I believe that I have seen him grow from this trip, and that he has seen the issues of the border in a completely new light.  Muchas gracias, Jorge.

 

 

 

At the Lasater Ranch
At the Lasater Ranch

The Lasater’s

Our visit with the Lasater’s is always a highlight of our trip.  Bill and Peggy have been incredibly generous hosts and I am incredibly grateful for the insights they give us into the history of Falfurrias.  This year they invited us (and the people of Texas State) into their home for cheese, crackers, tamales, and to view the hundreds of turkeys that gather in their yard.  I want to thank them, an all of the other people who have made this trip so amazing.

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