Metal burial Marker reading "Unknown Person May 16 2008"

University of Indianapolis photo by Guy Housewright

Yesterday I said I was broken. My Day 6 post from yesterday was superficial and to the point because I was afraid of completely breaking down.  The physical exhaustion is numbing. Every muscle in my body hurts. My hands throb from holding a shovel or a trowel all day. My legs are so swollen that I don’t have ankles and I am covered in bruises. There are times in the field that I just can’t physically stand up without help. But the emotional exhaustion is worse. I was once told that my passion would be my greatest success and my greatest downfall. My passion is what keeps me going and drives me to succeed. But it wasn’t really until yesterday that I understood the second part. My passion is what naively leads me to believe that everyone loves the way I do and feels the way I do about being fair and being humble. My passion is what drives me to build and mentor the people around me (students) because I am only a successful teacher if they succeed. My passion is what brings me here to try to give a voice to the invisible and the forgotten. But my passion is what makes my heart heavy when I hear the stories and witness the reality of what is happening here.

Previously Cheneta reflected on the sense of accomplishment migrants might feel once they get all the way to Brooks County. Yesterday we met a woman in the cemetery that was visiting her mother’s grave. She asked what we were doing and told us she worked on a ranch. She said she sees people coming through regularly and they are desperate for food and water.  She said she tells them the only thing she can do is call Border Patrol because there’s too many, she can’t help them all. She tells them they will die unless she gets the Border Patrol. Many say they are headed to Houston and want to know how far. She says six hours by car and watches their hearts break as they realize their dream of a better life is likely over. Many ask her to call Border Patrol because they know there is no hope. Others walk into the desert with the passion for a new life burning inside. Those are the ones whose bodies we find.

I am a forensic anthropologist and have worked many crime scenes. Some of them grisly homicides that show the dark side of what one person can do to another.  But here it’s different. These deaths aren’t the result of one bad person, they are the result of a dream. They are the result of being born on the wrong side of an imaginary line drawn in the dirt. They are preventable. At the ranch recovery I was in awe of how beautiful the landscape was. The blue sky and big white clouds. I thought about how nice it would be to lay out a blanket and look up at the big beautiful sky and relax. Then it hit me that this was the last thing that individual saw in their lifetime. To this person the blue sky represented oppressive heat and the green grass represented a thorny and dangerous path toward a new life. Something so beautiful to me is in fact killing people in staggering numbers.

Today I watched as the media that came to talk about the mistreatment of these individuals during life disrespect them during death. They interrupted our work, attempted to put tripods and equipment in the holes we were digging and in effect exploited and sensationalized them. I wondered how they could report on this story without really feeling it. That was almost my breaking point. I had to walk away. I ran into Chief Benny. He deals with this issue everyday. He told me it was OK to cry and that I needed to or I would break. He said there are days that he reaches his breaking point and that it’s natural with what we see here. But he told me I needed to pull it together and lead my team through the day because so many people were relying on me. I have had the utmost respect for Chief Benny since the day I met him. I didn’t think I could respect him any more, but today that level of respect went even higher. He is a smart man and I took his advice. I walked back to the grid and went back to work.

I went back and forth on whether I should post this. If it was too much about me or too heavy. But I decided to do it because I see other people at the cemetery breaking and I want them to know it’s OK. I want to tell them it’s OK to cry. Just like Chief Benny told me.