We are back home now and everything feels surreal. It feels like just yesterday I was stressing about what to pack. Now I find myself trying to process a slew of emotions that are entirely new to me. It was disheartening to see so little care demonstrated for these individuals. It’s strange to come home, knowing that because I was born on the other side of a made-up line that neither I nor anyone I know will likely be treated that way.
I find myself continually thinking back to our fifth day at the cemetery when a visitor came to see where their family member had been buried. I had no concept of what they were feeling but I still found myself hating the global circumstances that allowed it to happen. No one should have to go through what this family is dealing with. Hearing their story and getting to witness them grieve puts all of our work in a new perspective. For me, it reemphasized the importance of what we are doing but it also made it feel like a tiny thread in a tangle of large and complex issues that we could never hope to untangle.
I am in awe of those we met who have made human rights efforts their lives work. These are incredible, selfless people who have dedicated their time and sometimes risk their well-being because they care deeply for all people. There is a lot there that I hope to emulate in my own life. I thought on this trip what I learned would be equal parts archeology and personal growth. Now I find that my transformed mindset and emotional growth far outweigh the former. I have learned so much and hope to continue learning even though I am home again.
I once again started the day with some Tai Chi exercises. I find it helpful to get up early to prepare my mind and body for the work ahead of us that day. I have offered to teach the rest of the team but I think they’d all rather have the extra sleep. We had another early morning breakfast at Whataburger before heading to the cemetery.
We hit the ground running by taking more measurements for the site map. We finished excavating the burial that we started the previous day. Getting it out was a little tricky due to the positioning. We always want to act with as much care as possible out of respect for the individual. We worked effectively when it came to figuring out a plan and communicated well as a team. Our communication and teamwork skills are constantly improving. We have been working very well together.
Izzy then went to the intake tent to assist the Texas State team with two individuals. The rest of our team used the mattock to create an exploratory trench. The trench allows us to find the exact location of the burial before doing a full excavation of the area. The consistency of the soil is very wet and clay-like, making any digging difficult. We had a system where each person only worked for 3-5 minutes. This kept us from overworking and it kept us efficient. The temperature was a little hotter than the previous days so we kept a close eye on each other making sure we all drank water and took breaks when needed. Deputy Don White was very diligent in checking everyone’s heart rates to see who needed to rest. We made a lot of progress in the afternoon on the second burial. We weren’t able to remove the individual today but plan to continue working on it tomorrow.
Earlier in the day we got some South Texas Human Rights Center swag from Eddie and wore our new t-shirts to HEB so we all matched. We all wanted something a little healthier so we got salads and sandwiches from HEB for dinner. But then we ate a bunch of ice cream and cake afterward so I’m not sure we succeeded. After dinner we had our nightly debrief where we discussed our plan for the next day and how we can work even better as a team for the last two days. Jordan updated the map with all the measurements we took and Olivia added the new photos to our log. Overall, I am proud of what we have accomplished as a team today and think we will be able to do a lot more before we head back home on Wednesday.
We made it! Our air travel shockingly went off without a hitch. Planes left and arrived on time. We made our connecting flight with ease. Some of us even managed to get some sleep on the planes. It was a little bit of a rush trying to make it to our very first meeting at the cemetery but we still managed to find the time to grab lunch at Whataburger. I had never been to one before so I was ready to see what all the hype was about. I’d say it met all my expectations. Overall our travel seemed to go so fast. It’s almost like I only blinked and we went from the airport in Indy to landing in San Antonio.
After stopping at Whataburger near San Antonio we drove straight to the cemetery in Eagle Pass where we will be working for the next week. I got to meet Deputy Don White for the first time. I have heard so many amazing things from the rest of the team and I’m excited to get to speak to him more as the week goes on. I also got to meet Dr. Spradley as she showed us the cemetery and talked about the situation we will face this week. Being the rookie on the team is a little bit overwhelming. I prepared myself beforehand to focus on listening and learning because I am very aware of how little I know. I’m eager to learn more from my fellow team members. I have already learned so much and we haven’t even begun the excavation yet!
Getting to see the cemetery was informative but also incredibly sobering. This is another first for me, I’ve never experienced death at this scale before outside of the news or lectures in a classroom. It’s hard to describe how it felt to stand in the middle of it all but the task ahead of us does feel slightly more daunting than it did before. Even though it’s, mentally difficult, I think it is essential to embrace strong emotions rather than push them aside. It is a powerful reminder of the human cost of the border crisis. If we forget that, a vital perspective is lost.
At the end of the day, we had the opportunity to discuss and plan for tomorrow, the first day of excavation. As we were talking, I couldn’t help but reflect upon how grateful I am for the team I have surrounding me. Despite some general uncertainty, they haven’t failed to find opportunities to laugh (whether it be about the long neck ducks aka “gooses” outside our hotel or just some lighthearted teasing). I’m still nervous but I feel ready to get started. I know it’s still early but my resolve is solid because I feel confident in our ability to do some good while we are here.