Category Archives: Reflections

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

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We Can Work It Out

We are nearing the end of Day 2 of our trip and my-oh-my has this experience been so unique from my previous experiences in South Texas! Because our goals are so different than a normal field or lab season, we have had the wonderful opportunity to converse and work closely with some of the individuals who live, work, and breathe the immigration crisis every day. Through this work and all of these conversations, I have already learned an incredible amount about some of the nuances of what it is like to live and work in Brooks County from multiple perspectives in just the last two days, and I can’t imagine what the rest of the week has in store for us.

Preparing new water stations at the STHRC
Preparing new water stations at the STHRC

Yesterday began at the South Texas Human Rights Center (STHRC)where Eddie led a conversation about the work that he does every day and the obstacles he faces along the way. What really struck me during this conversation was how complex the social and political environment is in South Texas and just how many different organizations are involved in the humanitarian crisis here. Each of these organizations, such as Border Patrol, the Sheriff’s Department, and the STHRC, has their own goals and, therefore, their own perspective, complicating their ability to coordinate their efforts. Furthermore, each organization also has their own experience and areas of expertise, which can make it difficult to understand each other and work together. This point was made clear as I listened to Dr. Latham explain to Eddie the reasons behind the amount of time it takes to obtain DNA results from bone samples, as DNA is one of Dr. Latham’s areas of expertise and is something that Eddie likely has not had direct experience with. Until having this conversation with Eddie, I had not fully realized just how political the relationships between organizations can be and how difficult it can be to navigate those relationships. While listening to his words, I reminded myself that, although the UIndy team is here to volunteer for a week, Eddie’s passion for helping migrants drove him to come out of retirement to volunteer all of his time to this cause through the creation of the STHRC, and that he lives this crisis every day.

Eddie checking one of his water stations
Eddie checking one of his water stations

Our team has also had the opportunity to spend time and converse with “Deputy Don,” a local sheriff department Deputy who has been accompanying us. Yesterday, Don rode in the mini-van with some of us (and with his big gun) as we checked the water stations on various ranches in Brooks County, and filled the time in between each stop with stories of some of the experiences he has had searching for, rescuing, and recovering the remains of migrants in and around Falfurrias. As we drove along, Don pointed out very specific locations where he had discovered both living and deceased migrants, often associating each location with a detailed memory of the circumstances that surrounded each recovery. Some stories had a happy ending, where an individual was found on the brink of death and was saved; other stories were much more difficult to hear. Listening to his stories, I realized that Don could recall details about each and every recovery, an indication that this is not just a job for him. Similar to Eddie, Don lives with this humanitarian crisis every day and is working within his organization to not only do his job, but to help save the lives of those in peril and to help give a name back to those who have already perished.

"Deputy Don" and his big gun
“Deputy Don” and his big gun

As we were driving through the ranches both yesterday and today, I also happened to notice that Don knew the location of all of the water stations that Eddie had set up on these ranches, a fact that surprised me. This was obviously not Don’s first time visiting the water stations. To me, this was a great example of two very different organizations with different goals working together; the Sheriff’s department, run by law enforcement employees, and the STHRC, run by a very dedicated volunteer. Though their immediate goals, personal experience, and areas of expertise may differ greatly, and though those differences may sometimes cause friction, there was an obvious respect and a mutual understanding of the nature of the humanitarian crisis and the work that needs to be done to help solve it. I feel that I am only beginning to scratch the surface of understanding the complexity of the political and social environment that surrounds this humanitarian crisis, and hope that our continued work with both Don and Eddie this week will bring more insight into life as a humanitarian in Brooks County.

Checking water stations with Don
Checking water stations with Don

Erica

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Day 1: U-turns and Window Markers

Where I come from, things like U-turns and window markers are staples in every teenager’s life.  It means driving around town with a newly minted license and a car full of friends, getting lost with no destination in mind – just because you can.  It means boys in trucks showing off for girls by doing donuts in the parking lot after school.  It means cheering on your high school soccer team by decorating all the cars, or leaving notes for your friends during free periods. In South Texas, U-turns and Window Markers mean different things.

Yesterday we spent our first full day in Falfurrias working with the South Texas Human Rights Center, starting the morning by catching up on everything that’s happened in the past few months and discussing a game plan for the rest of the week.

Cleaning barrels for redistribution
Cleaning barrels for redistribution

We began with washing out some water station barrels destined for redistribution before eating lunch and heading out to check one of the routes.  I had the pleasure of accompanying Eddie in his truck and being the record keeper for the stations we checked.  The rest of the team took the minivan, and between the two vehicles we were able to divide and conquer the route.

 

Having the opportunity to talk with Eddie a bit more gave me the chance to ask a few questions – about him, his past, his experiences here and his knowledge.  We chatted about my childhood growing up on a farm, finding similarities and (many) differences with how the ranches are set up here.  Ironically enough, it was a short remark he made during one of the longer legs that stuck with me and inspired this post.

On the route
On the route

As we were driving, we saw tire tracks in the sand of one of the driveways. Eddie asked if I had seen them, telling me they were probably either from a drop off for migrants starting their journey on foot, or from a Border Patrol vehicle making a U-turn in response to a call or sighting.  This got me started thinking about how drastically different my experience with U-turns are to what he had just described.  For me, they bring back fond memories of adventures chasing storms and meteor showers in the summer, but in this context they mean something much less light-hearted.

In South Texas, a U-turn in a driveway can mean the end of a portion of a migrant’s journey.  Whether it’s followed by the hazardous trip on foot through the thorny brush, or getting picked up by Border Patrol and an unknown future, it marks a checkpoint of sorts.  However long it took, and whatever they went through to get there, they made it at least this far. But they’ve still got a long ways to go.

Watching the brush pass by as we drove, I tried to imagine how I would feel standing there and looking at the terrain ahead of me, knowing I had to cross it on foot in this heat, with the sun beating down relentlessly.  Would I feel dejected? afraid? renewed determination?  I guarantee above all, I would be weary.  I can’t imagine the strength it takes to continue.

 

STHRC Water Station
STHRC Water Station

As we were filling one of the water stations, we realized someone had added to the writing on the side of the barrel: “Help Build The Wall – Donate Here”.  It seemed to be written in some sort of window paint or chalk that didn’t want to come off easily.  The phrase was so contradictory to the point of the water station that for a minute, my brain had trouble processing it.  I don’t know if it was written as a prank or out of malice, but seeing those words next to the AGUA painted on the barrel brought the conflict of attitudes about migrants into stark relief.

I thought about someone pulling up to the station and grabbing a window marker out of their vehicle to leave the message.  Flashing back to doing the same thing to decorate my friend’s car for prom reminded me just how lucky I am to have had a happy, relatively uncomplicated life that meant I never had to go through the kind of prejudice and stressful experiences that others do.  It reminded me that I am here because I am fortunate to have resources, and want to do whatever I can to help.

As an Anthropologist, I strive to understand things through my own experiences as well as putting myself in others’ shoes to get a glimpse of their perspective.  Sometimes, it’s little things like U-turns and window paint that really make the breakthrough for me.

End of Day 1 at the STHRC
End of Day 1 at the STHRC

Rachel

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humanrights

Human rights?

Article 1 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states:  “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” If you look up the definition of Human Rights it reads: “Human rights are moral principles or norms that describe certain standards of human behavior, and are regularly protected as natural and legal rights in municipal and international law. They are commonly understood as inalienable fundamental rights “to which a person is inherently entitled simply because she or he is a human being”, and which are “inherent in all human beings” regardless of their nation, location, language, religion, ethnic origin or any other status.”  Therefore it is our moral and legal obligation to treat all people with dignity and respect.

Social Justice is based on the concepts of human rights and equality, and can be defined as “the way in which human rights are manifested in the everyday lives of people at every level of society”. While this term and practice is quite old, it gained momentum in the early to mid-1800s with religious groups. The concept has morphed over time, however, modern practice still embodies: the protection of human dignity, actions to promote equal opportunities for everyone and holding the State accountable for the distribution of vital means.

For five years the Beyond Borders Team has operated to promote these concepts and has argued that these dignities extend beyond the life of an individual. That humans should be treated with dignity in life and dignity in death.  We will continue to hold strong to these values, even at a time when those who work to protect Human Rights and fight for Social Justice are characterized as weak, annoying, offensive and unpatriotic, among many other  derogatory words.

I am very proud of all the students who have volunteered to participate in this humanitarian mission over the last five years. They are some of the strongest and most compassionate people I know. They embody the words of Lady Liberty, treat others the way they would want to be treated and are part of the generation that will make this world a better place. They are facing their own fears and volunteering to put themselves in the middle of a harsh environment that has claimed the lives of so many others. And while I know these missions are not about them, I do know what they experience in the Texas Borderlands changes them in ways they never imagined.  To me that is progress.  Change requires compassion, empathy and a drive to do what is right for all people regardless of their biology, cultural beliefs or economic circumstances.

~KEL

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