All posts by gravensr

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.


Embracing the Unknown

Before embarking on this trip to South Texas I’ve been asked countless times why I’m going and what I’ll be doing. While I have prepared answers for these inquiries, I’m also acutely aware that they do not truly reflect the variety and depth of work and emotions I will be facing. It’s simple to tell people I will be assisting the UIndy forensics team at Sacred Heart Cemetery in the exhumation of unidentified migrants, it will be quite another thing when I’m there experiencing the heat, smells, sore muscles, and high emotions. I can tell people I will be helping at the South Texas Humans Right Center, but once I’m there in the thick of the crisis and tensions I will have a new perspective of and connection to the situation at our border. If I’m talking to families who have missing loved ones or those who may soon be reunited, I cannot imagine the flood of emotions I will experience. I believe this is not a trip I can truly prepare for, because the actuality will be far different than any expectations I can form. For me, this is both incredibly exciting and terrifying. I look forward to the flexible, anything-can-happen nature of this work but also worry about my in-the-moment reactions. For these reasons I have focused on the practicalities of making sure I have what I need and not worrying about all the things I cannot control.

I am traveling with the team as an undergraduate cultural anthropology student. Although I have traveled abroad and been immersed in other cultures before, it has never been in the context of field work and active participant observation. Nor have I ever been involved with crisis response. This is a unique opportunity that I am so thankful to have been offered. It will be interesting to see how everything plays out and what people and situations we encounter. Taking jottings through the day and typing up field notes in the evening will also be a new experience that I will have to learn to balance with our demanding schedule. However, I look forward to the reflection and insight I can gain through an observant, focused directive.

Amidst all the emotion and trials I will face I am thankful to be apart of such an amazing, dedicated, and experienced team. It’s exciting to be apart of an important effort and have the chance to offer whatever assistance and insight I may be able to. I can only go in with an open heart and mind to embrace whatever happens, offer help when I can, and observe and record my experiences in the hope that my effort can make some small difference.