Category Archives: Human Rights, Migrant Death

Talking about the project itself

We Are More Powerful Together

So frequently, my fellow cohort and I have reflected on the many amazing aspects of participating in the work taking place in South Texas – the ability to utilize our skills in real-world situations, the opportunities to learn and grow as students and as people, and, of course, being involved in such an important humanitarian project that really makes a difference. One aspect that is not discussed as frequently, however, is the great opportunity we have to work with so many other people from Texas State University and other organizations and to observe and learn from their different perspectives and experiences. It’s impossible to mention all of the awesome people that we get to work with, but there are certainly a few who stand out.

Just a couple of hours into our first day at the cemetery in Rio Grande City, a big silver pickup truck pulled up and one of our favorite people climbed out of it – Sister Pam was here! I wasn’t sure if she was going to be able to join us this time, as she lives about 45 minutes away. But sure enough, she made the drive to be there with us almost every day, helping wherever she could, even helping us to dig and move buckets of heavy dirt in the Texas heat. I will never cease to be amazed by the dedication Sister Pam has to this cause and by her never-ending desire to help. Thanks again, Sister Pam!

Sister Pam hard at work
Sister Pam hard at work

Dr. Kate Spradley, a professor at Texas State University, is the primary leader of the humanitarian work being done in  both Brooks County and now Starr County. She helps to keep this work going and moving forward. Having now worked with her for two field seasons in South Texas, I have gotten to know Dr. Spradley as a very kind and caring person who is devoted to this cause. Oftentimes in the field, she can be hard to find, as she is constantly on the move, helping anywhere she is needed and continuing to do much of the behind-the-scenes work that helps keep this project moving forward.

Dr. Spradley taking notes
Dr. Spradley taking notes

Dr. Nick Herman was also here again during this field season. He was only there for a couple of days, but he of course brought along with him his infamous “magic stick” to take measurements. Additionally, Dr. Herman had visited the cemetery prior to our trip to take GPR readings of each of the areas. It will be interesting to see the results after Dr. Herman processes both the GPR and the “magic stick” data.

Dr. Herman and Leann using the magic stick
Dr. Herman and Leann using the magic stick

I first met Dr. Tim Goche just before he completed his doctorate at The Ohio State University. We met at FLAG, the regional forensic anthropology conference in the Midwest and bonded over our mutual love for the show Scrubs. Since then, it has been awesome to learn about his impressive research and watch him move into his new role at Texas State University, quickly becoming so involved in this humanitarian project. I always enjoy working with Tim in the field and hope that we will continue to have opportunities to work together!

Dr. Goche moving dirt with a smile on his face
Dr. Goche moving dirt with a smile on his face

All of us met Dr. JP Fancher for the first time at the beginning of the lab portion of this most recent Texas trip. He was introduced to us as a dentist who assists in the dental analysis of the migrant remains that are analyzed at Texas State. We quickly learned, however, that JP also participates in the field work and is a military medic, making it even more great to have him by our side. Even more so, JP was very kind to all of us and was always eager to offer help or educational moments whenever he could.

JP always cheerful in the field
JP always cheerful in the field

And, of course, my fellow teammates and I would never have had such a wonderful opportunity to be involved with the humanitarian work in South Texas without the hard work and dedication of Dr. Krista Latham. Thank you, Dr. Latham!

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Erica

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Day 5 (Field): The Heat is On

And with that, another field season in the books! And it wouldn’t be a Texas trip if we didn’t end it on the hottest and most humid day of the week! Today’s high was a mild 103 degrees with a heat index that reached 112 degrees right around noon. Thankfully, we did have some cloud cover today that made the temperature a little more bearable but we knew that we had to hit the ground running this morning before it got too warm. Fortunately, for a team like ours, this was no problem.

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The beginning of the day involved moving a lot of dirt. A LOT of dirt. We had at least a couple of feet of hard, rocky clay to remove in order to uncover and remove the last burial in the area. Additionally, we had to remove a lot of the extra loose dirt around the burial so that it wouldn’t all just fall back on top and recover it. In our normal, and now very practiced fashion, we were able to efficiently complete this arduous task by utilizing our rotation system so that no one was getting to wiped out early on in the day. By 10:30 am, we had uncovered the final burial in area 2 of the Rio Grande Cemetery.

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By this point, our pit had taken on quite a weird shape. In order to get in and out we had to create a large step in the back of the pit for us to climb up and down. This made removing the remains quite an interesting task. We all got together to come up with a plan for how we were going to go about this. Because of our preparedness, and critical and creative thinking, however, we were able to remove the remains from the pit very smoothly, completing the fifth and last burial in our area.

In order to be thorough, however, it was decided that we should dig a trench in the back wall of our pit in order to ensure that there were no other burials in this area. This was no small task, as the back wall was approximately 5-6 feet high.

Haley fitting perfectly within our test trench
Haley fitting perfectly within our test trench

We decided to rebuild our ramp (more like a slide) and start the trench with the step we had built into the back wall. We resumed our rotation system and each took turns using the mattock (see: awesome pickaxe tool) to dig our trench. After digging to almost six feet again in the heat we felt confident that there were no other burials in this area. And with that, area 2 was closed!

We finished off the day cheers-ing our Mexican cokes and ate our lunch in the air conditioned hotel. Tonight, we will be heading down the road to join our Texas State comrades for a pool party at their hotel! It’s been another great trip here in Texas, and it will be bittersweet to be leaving tomorrow. But I know that all of us are proud of what we have accomplished these last ten days and I am excited to see what the future holds in South Texas. Hasta luego!

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Erica

STAY TUNED FOR MORE POSTS OVER THE NEXT WEEK!

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Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much

There are so many dedicated and hardworking volunteers working in the RGC Cemetery this week on the excavations. There are five of us from UIndy and a large group from Texas State University.  We have already talked extensively about the challenges we face: the high temperatures, the difficulty digging in the ground here, and the depth of the burials (among other things). But, unlike what we faced in Sacred Heart Burial Park, each area of the cemetery where unidentified migrants are buried brings its own unique challenges.

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The area that needs to be searched here is very large. While that might not be an issue in the sandy soil of Brooks County, here our normal search strategies are difficult or impossible. Probing the ground has proven impossible and the act of digging test pits or trenches is difficult and time consuming. Yet, they are still making progress and doing an incredible job facing the challenges of this particular site.

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The area here is located on low ground. We had had several big overnight storms throughout the week that has left this area completely underwater.  Yet, this group came up with strategies to remove the water from the pit and continue to work without much delay.

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This group is digging their excavation area completely by hand. This burial is expected to be 5-6 feet below ground surface and is located in a place that the backhoe cannot reach.   So they are using shovels to excavate the entire pit by hand. In this environment that is quite a task!

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In this area of the cemetery the burials are deep! This has required a lot of digging to locate and remove each burial. Yet, this team has powered through it each day.

Every volunteer is facing the same collective challenges in addition to the unique challenges of their team’s particular excavation spot. It takes a lot of dedication, determination and strength to continue to make progress each day and we wanted to make sure all these hard workers are recognized!

~KEL

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