Making it Personal

A few days ago I returned home from Texas. The return from any trip is always hard for me because I’m exhausted and reluctant to leave, but this trip had the added layer of being emotional and mentally draining as well. This particular return was a full day of travel, the last step of my very first research trip; my first time as a participant observer in the field. Not only was I physically exhausted from long days in the field, I was mentally exhausted from analytical conversations and hours of field notes each night, and emotionally exhausted from coming to grips with the tragedy of mass death at the border. But the most worthwhile pursuits are those that CAN exhaust us. I loved being completely immersed and focused on this trip. I loved the full days, hard work, and surprises.
The dedication and hard work of the UIndy Forensic Anthropology team made the mission of recovery and identification personal for all involved. They were incredibly patient with the Cultural team and happy to answer our many questions and explain exactly what they were doing at each step. I was also thrilled to be able to try my hand at digging and troweling in the pit. Being in the field as a cultural anthropologist is an amazing experience because of the unique placement it provides within a population. I loved being an extra hand on deck and helping when I could, but also being able to ask questions and learn so much about a field of work outside my own studies. We also got to take advantage of unique opportunities; such as attending a press conference at the South Texas Human Right Center, attending a panel discussion about immigration law, and visiting the Respite Center at Sacred Heart Church in McAllen. Each of these experiences and many others uncovered more and more layers of the migrant crisis. After 8 days, I felt that I had only gotten a glimpse into this complex situation.
The most memorial experience for me was being able to talk with a man and his son at the Respite Center. Being able to talk face to face and hear his story was a moving and heartbreaking experience. I am so thankful for him taking the time to open up to us and share his account of the many hardships he has faced and the motivation for pursuing a life in the US. Personal encounters such as these force us to see the humanity of what has become a national political discussion.
I’m excited to keep up with the heroic efforts being made at our border to bring justice and humanitarian aid to those seeking to enter our country. We are immensely privileged to be citizens of this country, and we must accept our duty to advocate for and assist those who want the same opportunities we have always known. It’s time that more of us come to realize the important responsibility each of us has in upholding the human rights and freedoms of all people. Although we can easily separate ourselves from an issue that does not directly affect us, people’s lives are at stake and that demands our attention. I’m honored to have been a small part in the effort of advocacy and I plan to continue bringing awareness to the situation.

Rachel

Until next time…

It has been two days since I have been home and talk about a temperature difference! Our first official day back and just in time for an ice storm. The temperature isn’t the only thing that has changed, coming home to Indiana and it feels ‘different’. I can’t quite put my finger on it, things just don’t feel the same anymore. My experience in South Texas was intense and incredible. The high points were working long, intense hours in the heat shoveling dirt and then coming back to the hotel for dinner and a quick dip in the hot tub. For some reason, those meals tasted AMAZING- I have no idea if the food was actually that good or I was so famished from working all day; either way, it tasted great. The Respite Center and visiting ‘the wall’ was also a high point- very insightful and I learned many life lessons. Some of the low points, was that we would not be doing this work if those individuals had not died. Bringing this whole experience full circle, it is incredibly heart breaking that these individuals have been waiting for so long for the opportunity to be identified. That no one attempted to do this sooner.

Last day at Sacred Heart
Last day at Sacred Heart

I loved how well our UIndy group worked and communicated together. And then to come back and share a hotel room for 10 days, with no arguments or issues? Simply amazing, I could not have asked for a better group.

The cultural anthropologists that were with us were equally amazing. The cultural anthropologists, which consisted of two undergrads (Sarah and Rachel) and one professor (Dr. O’Daniel), were very hardworking and always willing to lend a hand. I am certain that we would not have been able to accomplish as much as we did without them. They left two days before our group departed and it was quite noticeable how much they helped us. It was also very insightful to hear what they learned at the end of the day; they brought an interesting perspective to the group.

The UIndy team
The UIndy team

Our fearless leader, Dr. Latham, who guided us through this 10 day mission. Thank you for the opportunity to be apart of this, this experience has changed me as a person and has impacted my life in ways that I didn’t expect. Texas State as well, thank you for being so inviting and welcoming- I was a complete stranger to everyone but I never once felt like a stranger. The night we were able to come to La Copa and have dinner with everyone, was lots of fun and a great night of relaxation that we all needed. Our last day, being able to finally work together was a great experience and I wish it could have happened more often. While in Texas, I also had the opportunity to meet Sister Pam. Sister Pam will hold a special place in my heart and I will always admire her strength and endurance. I can only hope we have the opportunity to meet again. Until next time, cheers.

Group photo
Group photo

Jessica

Who Rests

Although I have returned from Texas to rest at my home in Indiana, I have realize I still have a lot of thinking to do about all I had participated in during my time in South Texas. I recount all the forces who continue to work to prevent migrant deaths on and around the border as well as the those who will help bring closure to families

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I think about the UIndy and Texas State teams who are still finishing up their work tonight at Sacred Heart cemetery and who must still take notes, organize photos, and finish their maps. All of these wonderful volunteers have spent so much time, effort, and money in order to have the chance to donate their skills to locate and recover the remains of those who have gone nameless for so long. No DNA work could be done without the teams on the ground at Sacred Heart.

I consider all of the people hard at work collecting DNA from the deceased and those encouraging families to give reference samples to databases. These people give an identity to those who have lost theirs through space and time. Those who encourage families to provide reference samples give the families hope that one day they will be able to know what became of their loved ones during their perilous journeys across the border.

I  reflect upon the tireless work that must be done at the South Texas Human Rights Center and those who donate their time and resources to keep it running. The Center is not just about water stations which provide clean water to those trying to find their way in the hot Texas brush. It is the embodiment of dedication to providing educational outreach to local communities about the rights of migrants, the complex network of organizations dedicated to bringing humanity to migrants at the Texas/Mexico Border.

Finally, I remember all of the migrants who died while making the journey to the United States. I remember those buried at Sacred Heart who died nameless. I remember those still making their journeys now and those planning to do so. I remember those who work for years to have a chance to make it to Texas only to be mistreated and suffering as they trek though harsh conditions.

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I remember all of those who will not rest until migrants are given humanity in life and dignity in death. I remember the migrants who cannot rest as they journey to and within Texas.

Sarah