I am so incredibly grateful to have been given a second opportunity to go back to Texas. Although our time in Texas is now over, the work in south Texas continues on in our absence. We accomplished a lot in the 11 days that we were there and it was mostly thanks to working efficiently as a team, especially at Texas State University.
At Texas State, we surpassed our quota of 8 skeletal analyses even though we had 2 half days where we worked on other things. I can’t believe how much work we were able got done in such a short amount of time. I enjoyed working with Dr. Spradley and her graduate students and Dr. Gocha. Good things always happen when we get together with the Texas State team. I also enjoyed getting experience in intake and working with personal effects, which was something I didn’t get to do on our last trip to Texas.
I had a great time helping out at the South Texas Human Rights Center. Those couple of days in Falfurrias were a whirlwind of activity. We did something different every day. I enjoyed the hard work of repairing and maintaining water stations. I only wish that we had more time in Falfurrias to help out. It takes so much time and effort to keep up with the stations. I don’t know how they do it. It was also interesting to participate in the cemetery survey project. So many cemeteries with unidentified individuals are being found and mapped out. Progress is being made! Working on this project also gave me a new appreciation for Texas wildlife. Texas is unbearably hot and humid, but beautiful. Finally, I’m happy I got to see so many of our friends again and catch up with them.
This trip was a little less emotionally difficult than our last trip, at least for me. We had less interaction with the Falfurrias community and with the migrants themselves. Not to say that it wasn’t emotionally difficult at all. Missing in Harris County Day was intense with loved ones of missing individuals telling their stories and reporting their cases. I felt like this trip was a little more manageable. I hope that in our short amount of time in south Texas that we were able to make a difference.
For our second day in Falfurrias, we surveyed cemeteries with Dr. Spradley and Dr. Gocha from Texas State University and Eddie Canalas from the South Texas Human Rights Center. The cemetery survey project was created to locate all the cemeteries in south Texas that have graves with unidentified migrant remains. Cemeteries in several counties have already been surveyed and mapped and more will be added to this list. The goal is to eventually excavate the remains in these cemeteries, so that they can be analyzed, identified, and then returned to their loved ones.
Today we assisted in surveying a total of 3 different cemeteries. Dr. Spradley used GPS to create maps of each cemetery and plot each unknown grave. This was also our first full day actually working outside. It was a beautiful sunny day, but it was also really hot and humid. We were sweating after the first few minutes of being outside, but we survived a whole day of this so we should be okay for helping with the water stations tomorrow.
As we were surveying, I noticed how beautiful the Texas wildlife was. There were lots of colorful birds and flowers. In some areas, it felt like we were in a jungle and not in Texas at all. Palm trees weaved with tall branching trees and created canopies for us to drive under. We looked out the windows of our truck in wonder. I captured some of this beauty on a short video for you all to enjoy!
Today was our last full day at Texas State University. We powered through today and finished three whole skeletal analyses. At this point, our team and the Texas State Team have collectively met our goal for the week and tomorrow we will surpass it. We’re feeling pretty accomplished right now. Our success was mostly due to our amazing teamwork. We had a good routine that we had perfected throughout the week. On days when we did not have any other events planned, we were able to do about three cases a day. To give you some perspective, back at the Archeology and Forensics Laboratory, it takes several weeks to finish one forensic case. Of course, the students have classes, TAing and other responsibilities to do in between working on cases. The professors have even more to do on a daily basis, so doing this many cases at once is amazing. Our days here at Texas State have been both exhilarating and tiring.
Tomorrow we only have a half day at the Osteological Research and Processing Laboratory. We will probably be doing another case or two if we can. In the afternoon, we will pack up and head to Houston where we will be participating in Missing Harris County Day on Saturday as volunteers. We will be helping enter information into missing persons databases, taking family reference DNA samples, and possibly helping to collect information from family members with missing loved ones. I am excited to be participating in this event and helping with this effort.
Tonight we went over to Dr. Kate Spradley’s house for a small party. We got a chance to hang out with all our Texas State friends, which was nice. When we’re in the lab, we are focused on our work and don’t have a lot of time to just chit-chat. At the party, we had the most amazing tacos and really great pineapple salsa. I have had so many tacos since I’ve been here. We probably have tacos at least twice a day, but they’ve been a different type every time. Texas is definitely the place for good tacos.
Now that we’re at the end of this leg of our journey, I’m looking forward to Houston and Falfurrias, but I know I’m going to miss Texas State. Everyone at Texas State has been so friendly and welcoming. They are motivated and hard workers and I had a great time collaborating with them. Luckily, Dr. Spradley and Dr. Gocha, will also be volunteering at Missing Harris County Day, so I’ll get to see our friends again. I can’t wait to continue on our adventure tomorrow.