All posts by becks

“You and your community together are the answer”

This will be my third trip with Beyond Borders, and the pre-trip reflection has only gotten harder. It is emotionally conflicting to leave one season of fieldwork and return to the comfort of my daily routine. To some extent, being halfway across the country from the border crisis allows me to turn off a switch as I focus on accomplishing smaller goals that are more accessible. However, there are multiple distinguishable times throughout the year that I get flashbacks of my most impactful moments with Beyond Borders.

In some ways, every student involved in this project undergoes a similar experience, yet we all encounter unique triggers throughout the year that inflict some emotionally intense memories of our volunteer-work. I feel heartbroken and powerless during those moments, though it sounds exaggerated and unwarranted while others are hungry and dehydrated out there in extreme environmental conditions; many have no idea if they will ever see their family again, or whether they will live to see the sun rise in the morning. I cannot help but think about Tanya, our newest team member whose parents crossed the border, and wonder what personal aspects it will contribute to our understanding of the immigration process

On November 20, 2019, I attended a program hosted by a non-profit organization in Indianapolis, which focused on resilient people in our community and their stories of immigration into the US. Someone read a poem that hit me really hard. Part of that poem read:

I am sorry that everything is still on fire.

Once hate catches, the winds of “not my

problem” blow and the blaze is hard to stop.

But hard is not impossible. Not yet is different

than never… You and your community

together are the answer…

You are here to put out the ravenous flames

and heal the world. Enough is enough.

-Rev. Theresa l. Soto

This really resonates with me because I’ve seen how hard Dr. Latham has worked to develop relationships within the community. Its necessary we work together to help alleviating the load of this crisis at the border. I wish there was more we could do, but I know that even the smallest possible contributions are better than nothing.

Though this will be my third trip, I feel like I am blindly entering into the intensity once again. During my last visit to Falfurrias, I got a very small glimpse of the conditions of Texan ranchlands in which migrants often perish. As the unfamiliarity of this trip approaches, I think I can accurately say that I am excited yet terrified. I watched my good friend and colleague shed tears when she presented on her experience about a very similar volunteer season with Beyond Borders. Although she’d previously been through an exhumation season, physically trekking through the paths that numerous migrants had taken was profoundly eye-opening in a different way. I am nervous for the physical and emotional fatigue, but I am ready to return. I feel extraordinarily privileged to be able to aid in the possible survival of human beings who are enduring one of the riskiest journeys of their lives. I anticipate that I will emerge with a fuller understanding of the horrific journey that these migrants goes through, and I hope this leads me to better serve the community, the deceased, and their families.

Sammi

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I vividly remember the first time I heard a presentation about Beyond Borders. It was a presentation about exhumations in Starr County, and I was engrossed by the idea of exhumation for a greater cause. One of the most captivating aspects of the University of Indianapolis’ program was their involvement with humanitarian applications of anthropology, something I had been longing to become involved with for many years. I heard stories about Falfurrias, TX and Sacred Heart Cemetery, and it soon became an intriguing place I was longing to go to.

Shortly after, I obtained a spot on the team for upcoming an season in 2018. It was in a

Last January during my first season with Beyond Borders
Last January during my first season with Beyond Border

different county, so our experience was vastly different than the teams’ who helped in Brooks and Starr Counties before us. We gained an incredible perspective on the legal system’s complications regarding migrant deaths and what happens when counties are overwhelmed by this crisis. However, we were not immersed in the community in the way that previous seasons had been because this particular cemetery was on private land. Eight months later, I presented on our experience. I gained so many skills that I could never have learned from a textbook or classroom, yet I was still completely blind to the magnitude of impact that this project would eventually have on my heart.

 

This January, a new team accompanied Dr. Latham to Falfurrias: the place where her work had initially started. So many of the townspeople were supportive of our work. One woman brought us oranges from her brother’s tree. img_6154Another brought an entire lunch for almost forty of us while we labored in the field one day. The county judge brought us hot pizza. Peggy and Bill Clark hosted all of us at their household for a home-cooked meal. These were incredibly thoughtful yet completely unnecessary acts of kindness. They spent their time and resources to do something nice for numerous people they had never met. I will never feel as though I fully expressed my gratitude.

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The Humanitarian Respite Center was kind enough to give a small tour of the facility.

Visiting the Humanitarian Respite Center was one of the most powerful parts of this trip. It was so personal and emotional to interact with migrants face-to-face. It was one small community of people who had just barely met each other (migrants, volunteers, full-time staff) and were all contributing to the success of the center. Later in the week when we searched for remains on a local ranch, we saw what it was like to walk the paths that these people had to take in order to get here. The images of families from the Respite Center were engraved in my memory as I stumbled across bones, clothing, identification cards, cell phones, and shoes that once belonged to someone. Whoever it was made it all the way to that point before their body gave in to the hardships of nature. I hope that none of my loved ones will ever go through something so horrifying.

Border policy is a complex topic. I cannot pretend that I know all the right answers for this country. It just doesn’t seem right that we should all be so removed and immune to the pain of others. If every person had the opportunity to spend time with the living migrants and the brave individuals and organizations who live with minimal pay as they fight for migrant lives on a daily basis, then perhaps we could discuss these matters with a different tone of voice. If other people truly witnessed the way the deceased are treated when they are not from this side of the border, I am sure it would leave an emotional impact that they could not get from a newspaper or broadcast. So many people never get to know these people at all, yet hold an opinion as to what kind of people they are.

I am truly grateful to have had the chance to return to Texas with Beyond Borders. It has changed me in ways that I never expected, and I appreciate all of the dedication and work that makes this project possible.

 

I hope to see you again soon, Texas. Best wishes while I’m away.

Sincerely,

Sammi

TBH

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Day 9: Derechos Humanos

Texas State and UIndy students working together to get the job done.
Texas State and UIndy students working together to get the job done.

This morning we entered the Sacred Heart Cemetery full of mixed emotions. It was our last day in the field. Our hands were so sore and swollen we had trouble bending our fingers. Our bodies were aching. Sidney was getting sick. We’d been using icy hot, ibuprofen, ice packs and taping our blisters almost every day, but we knew once we got warmed up and moving that we could push through the pain. The UIndy team was on our third plot of the cemetery which was almost complete. We were all getting loopier by the day and singing songs that had nothing to do with archaeology as we shoveled and trenched endless mounds of dirt and investigated the area for missing individuals. Many of the Texas State students came over and helped us wrap up our final trenches before lunch, which was immensely helpful. We were proud to have met our goals this season and meet some long-term friends and colleagues in the process. This project is truly a team effort and we are all here for the same purpose.

After lunch, we were very fortunate to assist the South Texas Human Rights Center  with their water station refills. These water stations are amazing tools that aid in the survival of human beings who are on their last leg. Each station consists of a 55-gallon barrel, 6 gallon-sized jugs of water, a post to keep them upright, and a flagpole to indicate their presence 1cd886ea-8b3c-48d2-bb6e-32f6ba1878e4from afar. In addition, the Human Rights Center prints instructions on how to contact them and attaches them to each water bottle in case someone is desperate for help. The lids to the water stations also have contact information, and the GPS coordinate of that water station’s location so they can read it to the person they are contacting if they need assistance. Individuals who stumble upon these may have gone incredibly long periods of time without food and water. Many become lost for days in the thick, desert brushlands, but this route is their only option if they want to remain hidden. These water stations save people’s lives who may otherwise have be reduced to bone within days in the Texas heat.

img_6324We were all very grateful to have been given the opportunity to participate in this process on our last day in Falfurrias. According to their website, the South Texas Human Rights Center currently services 144 water stations each and every week. Arden, Emily and I went with Eddie Canales to refill some stations on the nearby ranches. To complicate matters, Texas is almost entirely made up of privately owned ranches that do not allow Eddie to set up water stations on their properties. He informed me that only about 25% of the ranch owners allow him to do this work on their property. In addition, water jugs may spoil and water will leak out rendering them useless. Sometimes he finds them with intentional punctures or damage from people who disagree with helping the migrants.

 

Angela and Sidney helping with water stations.
Angela and Sidney servicing water stations.

Eddie, Arden, Emily and I got to see two ranches with about four water stations each. Eddie Canales is an amazing person and it was so much fun to spend time with him as we did this. It was fascinating to hear about his daily experiences as the founder of the Human Rights Center and year-round resident in the area. We also spent quite a bit of time laughing while we bounced around in the backseat of Eddie’s 20-year-old 4×4 truck while we navigated sandy terrain to reach the water stations we intended to fill. Angela, Sidney and Dr. Latham went with Selina and Arianna (two other members of the South Texas Human Rights Center) to fill water stations on a different route.

In many ways, nine days in the field seems like a long time digging, but it was so much more than that. We do not solely feel passionate about digging in the dirt. We feel passionate about the humanitarian work that is being done here and feel a duty to continue assisting in the identification of the voiceless and deceased. We feel passionate about helping family members find out where their loved ones might be. Anthropology in the U.S. encompasses a multifaceted approach that includes cultural integration, and I feel that this experience has really shown me the importance of that approach. I am grateful to have been able to participate in a mission in which we work closely with people from different walks of life that have a common goal at heart.

 

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Day 9 group photo (featuring Eleanor)

Sammi

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