The Denouement

This field season in Texas will be my last adventure as a UINDY graduate student.  I have had the honor of working on this project since the beginning, but I will be graduating in May and (hopefully) moving onto a PhD program.  It is impossible to explain how much this project has meant to me, and I am not eloquent, but I can try to distill some of the feelings into a handful of words.

Gratitude  –  I feel privileged to have been selected for this project.  Each field season only allows a few of us Greyhounds the chance to travel to Texas, so I feel honored to have played my part for so long.  I believe that I have represented our University in our motto of “Education for Service”.  I am grateful for all the amazing people I’ve met, the knowledge I’ve gained, and the person I’ve become because of this work.

Pride  –  I am incredibly proud of the work that has been done by EVERYONE involved in this project.  What we have collectively done so far is amazing.  The primary purpose of this work is the identification and repatriation of unidentified border crossers.  Collectively, we have identified ~20 individuals, and we are still in the processes of identifying well over 100 more.  I look forward to every future identification that our efforts will bring.

Community  –  This has been one of the most unexpected outcomes of this project.  I never imagined that our field work would make us honorary members of the Falfurrias community.  This work has given us a chance to work throughout Brooks county.  Besides excavations, we have dined with ranchers and constables, given lectures at border patrol, and built and filled water stations.  Nearly every day we worked this season, people stopped by the cemetery to thank us for our efforts.  It is powerful knowing that the community advocates our work.  Fal has become a sort-of second home, and I cannot think of another community of which I’d rather be a part.

Closure  –  This work never ends.  As long as there are deaths along the border there is still more work to do.  We have nearly completed all excavations at Sacred Heart Burial Park, but that is only one cemetery in one county.  Texas is massive.  There are many more counties holding many more cemeteries.  Without the proper attention, the unidentified people buried in these areas hold no hope of being returned to their families.  This work must continue…

And yet, the end of this season brings me a sense of closure.  I am incredibly proud of the caliber of work that we have done in Falfurrias.  All the people who have worked on this project have started something amazing, and the efforts will continue even after I leave UINDY, and I know that this endeavor is in capable hands.  I leave happy knowing that I have worked to the best of my abilities.  My efforts have helped people be identified and families be reunited.  I will always continue to advocate for human rights in every venue, but I am sated knowing that I have done my part.

Hasta que nos encontremos de nuevo, te dejo mi corazón. Gracias por todo.


Not goodbye, but see you later

This post has been really hard for me to write.  Not because I have a lack of things to say, but because it is hard to put my experience into words.

I learned so incredibly much while down in Texas.  Not only did I gain more experience with forensic archeological techniques, more importantly, I experienced the humanitarian side of this crisis at a deeply personal level.  As I have written in a previous post, growing up in Michigan and now attending school in Indiana, I have been very removed from what’s occurring at the border.  Going to Texas was my first experience with this humanitarian crisis, and it hit me really, really hard.  Meeting individuals and families who survived the journey where so many perish was an extremely powerful and emotional experience for me.  While we always show respect for bones, talking with the individuals who survived the same conditions experienced by those being exhumed in the burial park added a new and unique dimension to understanding the crisis at the border and its relationship to humanitarianism. I am so grateful to have been given the opportunity to volunteer at the Respite Center because experiencing this side of the crisis ignited inside of me a passion for humanitarian work.

Although we accomplished a lot while down in Texas, there is still so much to be done and because of that, it doesn’t feel right to back in Indy.  I wish we could have stayed longer and helped more, but it’s reassuring to know that the efforts down there don’t stop when we leave.  Everyone involved in Sacred Heart Humanitarian Respite  Center, South Texas Human Rights Center, Operation Identification, as well as the various other organizations committed to identification and bringing awareness to the crisis at the border remain hard at work.  I am grateful to have been able to meet some of the individuals involved in these organizations, the work they do is truly amazing.

With the start of a new semester, assignments, projects, papers, and deadlines will begin  to consume my time once again.  No matter how busy I get, I will never forget the experiences I had in Texas.  These experiences have changed me in many ways; they have allowed me to grow as a scientist, as an anthropologist, as an individual, and as an advocate.  I only hope that I am able to return to South Texas once again to volunteer my time to aid in this crisis.  So, Texas, it’s not goodbye, but see you later.

Just the beginning…

I have been back in Indianapolis for just a few days and I already miss Texas so much. As exhausted as I was by the end of our trip, looking back through all of the photos we took, the media coverage, and reflecting bac15972553_10154942432177220_8204301048200247995_ok on my personal experiences, I really do miss it all.

I know for a fact that my experience volunteering in Texas has changed my perspective on and bettered my understanding of the migrant crisis occurring at the border. It had been described to me to some degree before heading down there, but listening to all of the people who are involved with this crisis every day and hearing their stories has taught me so much more. I didn’t fully realize how much I had actually learned until I had an uncomfortable conversation with a friend of a friend just the other day…

Though I typically try to avoid bringing up politics in conversation with acquaintances, I had mentioned that I had just gotten back from Texas, and this person asked me what I was doing there. So I explained it to him. I told him that we were exhuming migrant remains so that they can hopefully be identified and sent back to their families. His reply? “Who cares?”

At first I didn’t even know what to say. I asked for clarification, and his response caught me off guard. I believe that everyone is entitled to their opinion, but my experiences in Texas allow me to better articulate mine.  I explained the details of the crisis and shared what  I had learned during my stay in Texas. I know that many people up north here in Indiana likely do not have a complete understanding of the migrant situation (I know I didn’t prior to traveling to Texas) and I am happy that I am now better able to explain it.  I also understand, however, that my words may not change how they feel.

Another thing I learned in Texas is the importance of considering a person’s background and life experiences when attempting to understand their point of view. But this argument really further solidified my pride in the work that is being done by everyone in South Texas and further highlighted the need for people across the country to be educated about the border crisis. It also made me extremely eager to stay involved with this work in any way that I can.

Thank you to everyone who was involved in providing me this opportunity to help, to everyone who helped us while we were down there, and to everyone who is continuing to work on this crisis situation everyday. dsc_0040