Category Archives: Community

Interaction with the community of Falfurrias

Day 5: Tamales and Trenches and Wind, Oh My!

Every drive to our site starts with the gorgeous Texas sunrise
The gorgeous, Texas sunrise we see every morning

Today was our fifth day at the cemetery. Our team, being a hard-working and motivated group of people, was determined to bring high energy to the site and complete our goals for the day. We compiled a plan the night before, in which we decided to confront a new area of our quadrant. The funeral director had given Dr. Kate Spradley, from Texas State University, an idea of where he thought migrants may have been buried, but it was our duty as anthropologists to be sure to check all possible unmarked areas that could have been containing migrant burials. We felt it was important to start a new trench within the cemetery that contained a long stretch of land where no grave markers were present.

Jordan deepening the trench floor
Jordan deepening the trench floor

Even before clearing surface vegetation to better observe the topography of the area, we could still see and feel some possible depressions beneath our feet. It is likely that we are correct, and there are burials far below the surface in this area. However, we have been facing the challenge that some of these burials do not fit the migrant profile due to the circumstances of their burials. Hopefully the funeral director was correct, and we find the final two individuals in this quadrant we are looking for so they can be analyzed and identified.

According to the iPhone weather application, it was supposed to be one of the hottest days during our trip. The temperature was listed as a low of 56 and a high of 76 degrees Fahrenheit. It seemed like the temperature would be practically perfect. Little did we know, strong, gusting winds reaching 27 mph would throw us for a loop, sending our hats and papers flying as the day went on. As Jordan, Jessica and I mattocked and shoveled our new trench, dirt was flying in our faces and eyes (not the best feeling in the world). Meanwhile, Leann and Dr. Latham were chipping away at a massive wall that was covering one of the burials we discovered by the large pit. By lunch time, the team had accomplished removing a decent portion of our new trench, uncovered the deepest burial we have found so far, photographed and removed the body, and added the precise corners of this burial into our maps.

Leann and Dr. Latham uncovering a burial
Leann and Dr. Latham uncovering a burial

Since it was impossible to do anything in peace with the wind, Dr. Latham suggested eating by the van. We rented a stylish, grey minivan for our transportation needs, so we thought that sitting on the North side of the van might block some of the northbound winds. At this point, everyone was getting pretty physically exhausted. During lunchtime, Dr. Latham suggested taking a short-day, which was probably productive for the overall group morale. We went back to work for another hour or so and then called it a day around 2:15 pm.

Restaurant in San Juan where we ate delicious tamales
Restaurant in San Juan where we ate delicious tamales

Back at the hotel, everyone showered and had some down time. We were super excited for dinner tonight at Delia’s, which is a well-known tamale restaurant with an alluring reputation. It honestly wasn’t difficult for the group to agree upon driving 30 minutes from our hotel to get dinner because everyone here is obsessed with tamales. I can truthfully say it lived up to our expectations.

I think the abbreviated workday helped regenerate our bodies and spirits. As frustrating as the wind turned out to be, we all stayed strong, encouraged each other, and maintained optimism. I am incredibly proud at how hard-working everyone has been. There is still much to get done before Thursday, but it is absolutely attainable. No matter what obstacles are thrown our direction, we will not lose steam!

-Sammi

End of day 5 group photo
End of day 5 group photo
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A new year and a new field season

In less than a week (as I’m writing this), our group leaves for another trip down to South Texas to assist in the humanitarian effort of identifying the remains of migrants who perished along the US-Mexico border. The first step in this process is the field season (exhuming the remains) and is sometimes the hardest step. This will be my third trip to Texas and even though I’ve been before, I cannot help but to feel a little anxious. My first trip to Texas, our group was at Sacred Heart Cemetery in Falfurrias, Texas which is place where several field seasons had occurred prior to my visit. In our group, we had members that had been to Falfurrias before which made it less apprehensive because I at least knew what to expect in terms of soil consistency and weather. Although, my very first trip to Texas in January 2017 saw record low temperatures in the 30s which none of us were prepared for. It all plays to our motto of ‘expect the unexpected’ and there was no way to know we would be bringing the cold, Indiana weather with us to Texas.

Jan 2017 - Record low temperatures
Jan 2017 – Record low temperatures

My second trip to Texas brought our group to a whole new city and cemetery. Although our group spent weeks carefully packing and deciding what tools to bring, nothing prepared us for the soil consistency that we found in Rio Grande City Cemetery. The soil consistency was more similar to cement; hard, compact, rocky soil that could only be penetrated by heavy machinery or a mattic. One of the many differences between Falfurrias and Rio Grande City was that in Rio Grande City, the graves were marked and the cemetery employee who actually made the graves years’ prior, was on scene to help us. The cemetery employee, Sylvestre, was a huge help in locating and systematically excavating the dirt until we were close enough to the actual burial that we could proceed with using our hand tools. As it turned out, the burials were closer to 5-6ft deep in Rio Grande City Cemetery versus only being 3-4ft deep in sandy soil like the graves in Falfurrias.

May 2017 - Sylvestre
May 2017 – Sylvestre

For my third trip to Texas, I am not sure what to expect because I feel that the Sacred Heart Cemetery in Falfurrias and the Rio Grande City Cemetery were at opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of soil consistency and knowing the exact places were migrants were buried. What I do know, is that our team has a knack for adapting to our environments and always tackling surprises head on. Expect the unexpected is a motto we work by and it has helped us a great deal. I may be feeling apprehensive and a little anxious right now, but I know once we get to Texas, those feelings with dissipate. I am extremely grateful to have the opportunity to go back to Texas and help in this humanitarian effort. This experience changes you as a person and to be able to go back for a third season gives you a bittersweet feeling. Right now, I am going to spend the holidays with my family and thinking about the adventure that lies ahead in South Texas. I am unbelievably excited to be a part of this humanitarian effort and I am ready to start another field season with our amazing group from UIndy and Texas State University.

Jessica

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Day 4 (field) – An Evening in Roma…

Sun rise at the cemetery
Sun rise at the cemetery

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.

Dr. Latham and Haley digging the trench
Dr. Latham and Haley digging the trench

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.

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Rio Grande overlook in Roma, TX

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.

Erica's nachos at Mezquite
Erica’s nachos at Mezquite

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.

 

Leann

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