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

A New Purpose

I’ve been home from Texas for three days now and it’s always a weird transition back into normal life. In Texas, you wake up every morning with a purpose and it’s really hard to come home and wake up without that same purpose.  Additionally, it is hard to come back to a city where a great majority of the individuals have no idea of the atrocities occurring at the border.  While this disheartens me, it also fuels me.  It fuels me to spread awareness about this crisis and educate people about the true events occurring at the border, those that are commonly inaccurately portrayed by current media.

My amazing team
My amazing team

I learned more than I could have ever hoped for on this trip to Texas.  Not only did I improve upon field techniques and forensic archeological skills, I also gained experience conducting lab analyses.  As this was the first trip I have been involved where skeletal analyses took place, I learned so much regarding each of the aspects I took part in, as well as the intricacies and variation behind each of the traits we looked at.  During the Human Osteology course offered at UIndy, I learned about some of these traits and how to correctly analyze them, so it was amazing to apply this education in a new context.

On the plane and homeward bound
On the plane and homeward bound

I also learned more about the sociopolitics surrounding this crisis in a town that is situated much closer to the border than Falfurrias is.  Because we don’t have the same five year long relationship with Rio Grande City as we do with Falfurrias, I believe we will continue to learn more about the sociopolitics surrounding this crisis as our relationship with this city grows and progresses.  I look forward to continuing to learn about the intricacies of this humanitarian crisis, and seeing how location and proximity to the border effects community views.  I believe that understanding these aspects of the humanitarian crisis can inform policies, procedures, and viewpoints that accurately address  and reflect the mass disaster occurring.  Only with this understanding can true change take place.

Goodbye Texas
Goodbye Texas

I always miss the people I have met down in Texas.  The new friends I made this field season, as well as friends made last January; Sister Pam, Dr. Spradley, Dr. Gocha, JP… all of these incredible individuals that work so hard for this humanitarian effort. But the aspect of Texas I always miss the most is the purpose, knowing that what I am doing is helping return individuals to their loved ones.  Even though I don’t wake up with the same purpose as I do in Texas, I now wake up with a different purpose – spreading awareness, education, and advocacy.

Until next time, TX…

 

Leann

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