Category Archives: Community

Interaction with the community of Falfurrias

Day 3: The Kindness of Others

Today was marked by the kindness of others.

We went through the morning finishing our first section. We found no burials or evidence thereof, so we began to move all of the dirt we had removed back into the unit. Sheriff Benny Martinez paid us a visit and offered his assistance in backfilling. He moved and worked just as hard, if not harder, than the rest of us. Sheriff Martinez is one of the main reasons we are able to do our work at Sacred heart, and for him we are incredibly grateful.

In the middle of our backfill, we got a message over the walkie talkie that a local

My lunch provided by a local family.
My lunch provided by a local family.

family had brought all of us lunch; not just our five person team, but all of Texas State’s team as well. More than forty of us ate homemade carne asada, zucchini, rice, and tortillas. They brought us plates, utensils, sodas, and water. Before we ate, the matriarch of the family said a prayer for us. She thanked us, and asked God to protect us both while we were doing this work, and for the rest of our lives. While I am not a religious person, this sentiment from her meant more to me than any amount of food. The support of the community means so much to our team, and assures us that what we are doing is for the greater good.

After we finished our amazing lunch, Beyond Borders alum Ryan joined our team. He drove to Falfurrias to help us today and tomorrow, and will leave tomorrow to be back to work on Monday. Ryan got started right away, carrying buckets and hauling dirt. Day three and four are supposedly the hardest days, so we are beyond thankful that Ryan is able to join us for both of them!

After we finally finished backfilling our first section, Dr. Latham and Dr. Kate Spradley — who is leading this excavation — decided that we would move to a different section than originally planned. We packed up all of our stuff and headed to our new area. We are under a tree still, which provides us shade. However, it also means we are digging through roots, which is incredibly difficult.

I asked Deputy Don White if he had a rake in his truck to help with the surface debris, and before I knew it, he had gone and bought us two brand new rakes. Not only was this an amazing act of kindness, but they came in very handy in trying to deal with the roots. Deputy White has helped us every day with securing the site, fixing anything that is broken, and generally being our go-to guy.

Thanks to everyone’s help, we were able to finish out the day strong.

End of Day 3!
End of day 3!

After a long, long, long day, we were able to show our thanks by taking Sheriff Martinez, Ryan, and Deputy White out to dinner at Taqueria Jalisco.

We are exhausted, but our hearts and stomachs are full.

Everyone at Taqueria Jalisco at the end of a long day.
Everyone at Taqueria Jalisco at the end of a long day.



Day 2: Community Impact

This was our second day searching for migrant burials in Sacred Heart Cemetery, and we truly began to notice how much this volunteer effort means to the Falfurrias community. Word of our presence has surely been spreading since we received many more visitors and curious spectators from the town. We experienced a variety of different reactions to our work. Some people stared as they drove by our site, some waved, some came and offered to bring the team lunch and thanked us for our efforts.

I had the unique opportunity of attending a press conference today that was organized by Eddie Canales at the South Texas Human Rights Center. As a graduate student, it is invaluable to observe professionals in the field as they interact with the public and media. I think it is incredibly important that experts in this topic have the opportunity to speak to the public and provide truthful information about the type of work we are doing and our motivations for doing it. It is so easy to spin things out of context and to politicize the identification of unknown migrant decedents. In reality, the core of this work is that all humans are treated with dignity in life or death and are given an equal chance at identification if we can provide the resources to help
do so.

fullsizerenderDr. Latham sat on a panel with some other forensic experts who play an active role in identifying migrant burials. There was press from at least 4 news stations, and it was nice
that they were able to have a light question and answer session to discuss the roles and techniques employed by the different volunteer organizations.

After we finished the long day of excavating, we stopped at the gas station for some Laredo Tacos. And WOAH, let me tell you: this barbacoa taco I had was one of the best I’ve ever had. While we were there, a few of us were approached by some people in the community who took an interest in our work. They wanted to know what we had found so far and how it was going at the cemetery. Compared to the field season last January, there is already a huge difference being in Falfurrias at a public site. I appreciate the ability to feel how deeply the humanitarian crisis impacts the locals in different ways.




“Bringing Names to Numbers”

Nine. The number of days in the field. Nine days of digging in the hard south Texas dirt. Nine days bringing the remains of the nameless back to the surface; back to the light of day. Nine long, tiring days of body aches and pains.



Day 7Day 8 group photoDay 9

Seventy-two. The number of bodies uncovered by our efforts. The number of persons either too poor to afford what most would consider a ‘proper’ burial, or too poor and downtrodden to afford the ‘proper’ route to United States citizenship and instead paid the ultimate price: their lives.

Thirty-seven. The number of individuals whose bodies and personal effects traveled to Texas State University for forensic anthropological investigation. The number of families who we hope, through our efforts, will one day see closure.

The slogan for Texas State Universities’ Operation Identification is “bringing names to numbers”.  A New York Times article from May 2017  reported that there were 6,023 documented migrant deaths along the U.S.-Mexico border between October 2000 and September 2016 (NYTimes, 2017). It is hard, though, to picture the true magnitude that numbers entail until you see body bag after body bag being removed from the ground and placed in a cargo trailer.

For me, participation in this years Beyond Borders team really drove home the crisis that is occurring in our country. Sure, I have attended lectures on the topic, processed remains of migrants, and read articles reporting the issue, but participating first hand in the recovery of these individuals has placed it all in a new light. I recall a story told by our backhoe driver in which he told us about job-offers from the cartel and how people who mistakenly take these offers are told they will be loading cargo only to arrive and be forced at gunpoint to load semi trailers full of illicit drugs. Working class citizens, who want nothing more than money to put food on the table, roped into a massive international drug ring; not by choice but in fear for their lives. If these things are happening in the US, I can only imagine the atrocities people are facing further south where there is less security and a far lower standard of living.

When viewed in this light, it is easy to see why people will risk literally everything to cross the border by foot. Obviously not every migrant will have had direct contact with the Cartel;  this does not, however negate the fact that our country offers safeties, luxuries and opportunities that many can barely dream of… Things that for many are entirely financially and logistically out of reach by the ‘proper’ methods. Things  that are worth literally dying for.