The days are long, the evenings are short, and the nights are even shorter. This field season is different in many ways but has the same common goal as the past three field seasons I have participated in. The goal of recovering migrants in hopes of getting them identified and returning them home to their families. With our fifth field season in progress, we are still learning how each county and funeral home operates and nothing is the same from one place to the next. Some keep better records than others, but the reality is that these funeral homes and counties are doing the best that they can with an overwhelming situation. It won’t change until there is policy change and increased funding for this mass disaster situation.
Today was a hard day of moving a lot of dirt and digging trenches. Although we may feel tired, we are all still motivated in continuing this humanitarian effort. With each burial that we locate, it is an individual whose family is that much closer to finding out what happened to them. It is easy to get lost in the manual labor but once you find a burial, it is like finding that golden ticket.
In the area that we were working in today, we were told originally there were three possible burials. We located six in that area and the ones we found were not even in the direct area that we were originally pointed to. It is no one’s fault because the funeral home is relying on memory to point them out, so it really is a guessing game and thankfully, we have become pretty good at analyzing it.
After recovering three burials, Joe and Louis were able to come back and help us extend our quadrant outside the original lines. We did this because the group next to us located a burial outside of their quadrant; so, in order for us to do our due diligence, we needed to check our area too. I cannot thank Joe and Louis enough for helping us with this endeavor. Although the dirt is nowhere near as hard as it was in Rio Grande City, it is still extremely difficult to get through by hand. So far, most of the quadrant has been dug by hand so it was nice to have a small break while the back hoe did its job. It is also kind of sad because the amount of work that the backhoe did in 1 hour is more than we could do in a day by hand.
I love being apart of this humanitarian effort and being able to work along side community members and Texas State University. We have had several visitors from when we were in Brooks county and it is nice to see the familiar faces. We only have two more days left in Harlingen and it is a bittersweet feeling. Tomorrow we plan to visit ‘the wall’ which will be a sobering experience and remind us why we are continuing this effort.
We made it! Today was a long day of traveling and trying our best to stay warm. I thought we had left the cold weather behind in Indiana…but it seems that we brought the cold weather along with us! Our group boarded our flight at 8:00 am and proceeded to hang out on the tarmac for over 2 hours until our plane was warm enough to take flight (it was too cold for the engines to start). According to local news back home, it was -11 degrees outside but felt like -29 degrees. After defrosting our plane, our group was able to make the first leg of our trip to the Dallas-Fort Worth airport.
Unfortunately, because our flight was delayed our group had to book it to our next flight in another terminal so we wouldn’t miss it. After arriving in San Antonio and getting our rental van, our first stop was Torchy’s Tacos! I don’t know if it was a long day of traveling or having amazing tex-mex food again but those tacos hit the spot. After a quick lunch, our group made our way to Harlingen, Texas.
The ride to Harlingen was a long one (about 4 hours) but it went by fairly quickly. The drive was a bit unnerving because there is a stretch of highway that maybe had one or two small towns and a ‘no services for 60 miles’ sign posted along the side of the road. Upon arriving in Harlingen and checking into our hotel, we made a quick trip to our favorite grocery store: HEB. For dinner, our group got some tamales and then sat down to start our nightly ritual. As we sit here around the table, I know we are sharing a similar feeling of exhaustion from the long day of traveling. What makes this comical, is that this will be the LEAST tired we will feel during our time in Harlingen. I’m excited for what tomorrow brings and to finally get this field season started.
Texas raised, this cold weather is something I was hoping to leave behind in Indy for a while! Regardless, I’m sure I speak for the whole team when I say that the weather will not get us down. If Texas and Indy have anything in common it is the flakiness of the weather; warm one day, cold the next. According to the forecast, the temperatures during our time here will range between 30 and 75 degrees; luckily my boy scout days taught me to come prepared for anything.
As I type this blog post, our team is being debriefed on the situation here in Willacy county. While I am the rookie, this field season will be new to everyone as we are in a new county, on private property with potentially dramatically different soil than past seasons. The many unknowns that make this trip new and unnerving also make it exciting. Tomorrow morning we get to sleep in a bit as large power equipment prepares our site for us, a nice reprieve before our next eight days of early rising. Even so, only a few hours remain before our team is out in the field working tirelessly in the effort to bring peace to families of those lost to the harsh south Texas environment.
“Peace on Earth and Goodwill to All” is a phrase we hear and see a lot this time of the year. It’s displayed in lights, sung in songs and printed on Christmas cards. But what does that phrase truly mean or in today’s society does it mean anything at all? And who, if anyone truly works towards those lofty goals of world peace and extending goodwill to all?
Rebellious Humanitarianism –As we prepare to leave for the border I am confronted with the stark contrast of the love and joy that come with Christmastime and the thundering call for exclusion of all “others”. On the one hand I was raised to treat others the way I want to be treated, yet extending dignity and basic human rights to the “others” is considered a form of rebellion. At what point did humanitarianism become an act of disobedience? If humanitarianism is the promotion of human welfare, than using the term rebellious humanitarianism suggests that not all deserve health, happiness or freedom in every situation.
Radical Hospitality — I recently read a letter from the Colibri Center for human Rights that talked about giving radical hospitality. About going beyond all expectations to do what is right and not necessarily what is easy. Hospitality refers to the warm reception of guests, visitors, or strangers. Radical means advocating for change in a political or social context. Putting the word radical in front of hospitality sends a clear message that hospitality in certain contexts is not extended to all. That not all are welcome here.
Political Caregiving — In the Forward to the book “Sociopolitics of Migrant Death and Repatriation: Perspectives from Forensic Science“, Dr. Robin Reineke speaks about caring for certain groups of people in a way that makes caregiving political. That advocating for marginalized groups by providing dignity in life and in death is an act of social justice, and can bring to light accountabilities that are being hidden from the masses. To care for someone is to protect them. However, in certain contexts providing care goes against the state and suggests that not all should be cared for.
So – all are not welcome, not all are deemed worthy of health, happiness and freedom, and not all deserve care and protection – unless you are practicing rebellious, radical or politicized acts of kindness. Tomorrow the Beyond Borders Team will embark to the Texas Borderlands to volunteer our time in working towards Peace on Earth and Goodwill to All.
We hope 2018 brings you and your loved ones health, happiness and feelings of safety and freedom.