Category Archives: Reflections

Reflections on how we feel and how the mission is changing us

Looking back and moving forward

It has been almost two weeks since I have been home from Texas; well one week if you count the time that myself and other students spent in Boulder City, NV attending the Mountain, Desert, and Coastal Forensic Anthropology Conference. The thing with staying busy, is that it does not allow you to think or dwell on certain matters which can be both positive and negative. With traveling and then feeling under the weather (I’m highly allergic to Nevada apparently), I am just now able to process what happened down in Texas this field season. Everything was different compared to my first field season at Sacred Heart Cemetery in Falfurrias, TX in January 2017.

Sunrise over RGC Cemetery
Sunrise over RGC Cemetery

After coming home in January, I was flooded with all sorts of emotions stemming from my time in Falfurrias. I attribute most of those emotions to visiting ‘the wall’ and volunteering at the Respite Center. During my trip, I did not allow myself to really process what was happening and the experience I had at the Respite Center. When I got home, I did not even make it through the drive home from the airport before I was so overcome with emotions that I cried most of the ride. I loved every minute that I spent at the Respite Center and I hope that in the future I can volunteer there again. When conducting field investigations at a cemetery, it is easier to remove yourself emotionally from the situation than when dealing with people who are still alive to tell their stories. In previous blog posts (from Jan), I know it was mentioned about the gentleman and his daughter who crossed the border, who came forward to tell us their story of how they got there. There was also another lady, who was traveling with her three daughters, who also shared her story. I’ll never forget those moments, I don’t think anyone in that room that day will ever forget.

When I came home in January, I felt motivated and inspired. I wanted to spread the news of what is happening and to educate those who may not understand completely the hardships people face below the border. This time, I still feel that same motivation and the need to continue volunteering in this effort. I am also amazed at how much more I have learned regarding the situation going on in South Texas as well as what is happening in Mexico.

Overlook of the Rio Grande River into Mexico
Overlook of the Rio Grande River into Mexico

The Mountain, Desert, and Coastal meeting could not have come at a better time. This year, the second day at the conference was a symposium on the ‘Sociopolitics of Migrant Deaths’ which had speakers from UIndy, the Colibri Center, the PCOME, Texas State University, and a journalist who is currently residing in Mexico. This symposium gave a whole new perspective about the humanitarian crisis in South Texas and what is also happening along the US/Mexico border.

Overlook of Lake Mead in Boulder City, NV
Overlook of Lake Mead in Boulder City, NV

Although I am not flooded with as many emotions as I had after being exposed to this humanitarian crisis for the first time, I feel that this trip has further solidified that this on-going effort isn’t about me or the other parties involved; it is about them. Them being those who have died that are still waiting to be identified and their families who are still waiting to find out what happened to their loved ones. After this trip, I have realized that this humanitarian effort isn’t something that will be completed in 1 year. This is an on-going effort and I would not be surprised if 10 years from now- this volunteer work is still be accomplished. I am forever grateful to have been able to be a part of this humanitarian effort and I hope to have the opportunity to continue volunteering in the future. As of right now, there is already another field season planned for January 2018 and again in May 2018. 

Group photo at MD&C Forensic Anthropology Conference
Group photo at MD&C Forensic Anthropology Conference

Jessica

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Reflecting on Texas

I have been home from Texas for approximately a week.  In the first three nights, I found myself waking up partially from a restless sleep thinking I was still in Texas digging in the field with my team.  The first night I woke halfway, sat up in my bed and thought I was waiting my turn to mattock.  While I truly do love mattocking, at 2am, I could hardly keep my eyes open while I was “waiting my turn.”  The second night I woke halfway and I again thought I was waiting my turn to dig.  The third night I again awoke thinking that we were digging and this time it was as if there was a pit between me and Erica and I had to get out of the bed and across the pit to help dig.  Each night I have found myself barely able to keep my eyes open and in my stupor, I feel badly because I feel like I am letting my team down as a result of not being able to keep my eyes open.

dsc_0061

While in Texas, the UIndy team worked at ORPL, the Osteology, Research and Processing Lab at Texas State University to analyze the remains of 9 individuals who were recovered by the UIndy team in January.  We also traveled to Rio Grande City, where we recovered the remains of 5 individuals from the Rio Grande City County Cemetery.

I am distinctly aware that the work we did in Texas does not put an end to the crisis at the border, but I feel so incredibly fortunate to have been a part of the work.  It was such an incredible experience and an emotional one indeed.  When we drove from San Marcos to Rio Grande City, we drove for roughly 4 hours on a road where we passed 1 or 2 cars our entire trip.  On either side of our vehicle were ranches where the brush, cacti and reddish-brown sandy dirt were overwhelming to onlookers.  Temperatures ranged from high 90s to low 100s.  We passed a border patrol checkpoint, and we saw water stations and paths where tires have been drug by border patrol so they may see any footprints of individuals trying to cross the border from Mexico into the United States.  During this road trip, it quickly became apparent why individuals often die when attempting to cross the border.  Heat exhaustion sets in quickly and individuals often do not have a clear idea of how long it will take them to cross from Mexico into the United States.  When we were working in the field on our last day in Rio Grande City, it was a heat index of 117 degrees Fahrenheit.  We each worked for 2 minutes mattocking and shoveling, and then we each took an 8 minute break.  To some this will sound absurd.  However, I can assure you that there was no way we could have worked for more than 2 minutes at these tasks without quickly finding ourselves in an emergency room at the nearest hospital.  We each drank incredible amounts of water to keep ourselves hydrated.

Our experience working in the field at the Rio Grande City County Cemetery and driving to Rio Grande City was an incredibly eye opening experience.  On our drive to Rio Grande City, I looked out the window from the back seat of an air conditioned van and my heart was heavy for individuals trying to cross into North America.  The journey seems terrifying from an onlooker perspective.  I feel so incredibly fortunate to have been able to be a part of this work.  Growing up in Michigan, I was not exposed to any happenings at the border.  This trip has grown my awareness tremendously.  I really enjoyed being able to tour the Texas State University facilities and getting to meet the graduate students and some of the faculty of the university.  Overall, this trip has had an incredible impact on me personally.  There isn’t a day that goes by now that I don’t think of those individuals who are lost or trying to cross the border.  I hope this work will continue for years to come to identify individuals lost in this crisis.

Haley

 

 

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Baby Steps

It has now been just over a week since we returned to Indianapolis from our trip to South Texas. After only two nights back in Indy, some of us returned to the airport to travel to Boulder City, Nevada for the annual Mountain, Desert, and Coastal Forensic

MD&C 2017!
MD&C 2017!

Anthropology meeting, which was a great experience. The theme of this year’s meeting, in fact, was a symposium discussing the many aspects of the humanitarian crisis at the border. In addition to giving a presentation myself, there were many presentations from people involved with several different agencies. After having traveled to South Texas twice now, I consider myself fairly involved with the UIndy team’s role in this humanitarian work but it was amazing to see all the other people who are involved and how their roles differ from ours. It was also amazing to see just how many people are involved; it felt almost like a community of people, many of whom I had never previously met, who are connected by our service to this cause.

Thinking back to our trip to South Texas, I continue to feel proud of the work that we accomplished together as a team. We faced many challenges, especially in the field, but our ability to work together and use our critical thinking to problem

Team Strategy Meeting
Team Strategy Meeting

solve allowed us to overcome those challenges, and relatively easily, I dare say. I don’t think I will ever cease to be impressed by how this team worked together – everyone contributed so much, I didn’t hear a single complaint except for the

Teamwork was even necessary to get in and out of our pit
Teamwork was even necessary to get in and out of the pit

typical light-hearted groans about muscle soreness and “bucket bruises,” and everyone’s strengths complimented each other’s very well. I am proud to have worked with every member of our team and I know that we have formed a bond with each other, and with other individuals working with this crisis, that will last a lifetime.

Accomplishing our goals in South Texas is only one small step towards exhuming and identifying all of the unidentified migrants who have been buried across South Texas. Some may consider it disheartening to think about how much work still needs to be done – not only would we like to return to Brooks and Starr county, but there are likely many many other cemeteries across South Texas that need to be visited. But these small steps are necessary and represent progress, and after this most recent trip, over 10 more individuals are finally beginning the process of identification. The UIndy teamdsc_0125 is just one of many who is slowly chipping away at this problem, and I can only imagine that progress will accelerate as more and more individuals become aware of the crisis situation at the border. I know that I will try and play my part in helping to spread this awareness while I am back in Indianapolis, and hope to be able to return to South Texas in the future to continue to make those small steps to eventually identify all of those that have perished crossing the border.

Erica

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