All posts by maiersj

On the Road Again

I have had the honor and pleasure of being a member of this project since the beginning.  It has been one of the most amazing experiences of my life; both physically and emotionally exhausting, yet somehow indescribably rewarding.   As one of the original actors in this performance, I thought I’d take a moment to bring everyone up-to-date.

Previously, in South Texas…

The project started with an invitation.  Dr. Baker and the fine people of Baylor asked if we would like to help excavate Sacred Heart Burial Park in Falfurrias, Texas.  Unidentified border crossers had been interred in the cemetery.  Without proper skeletal analyses and DNA samples, there was no hope for these individuals to be repatriated to their families.  The ultimate goal is identification so that loved ones can begin the processes of healing and closure.

Teamwork
Teamwork

The first season of excavations felt like a fever dream.  It was blisteringly hot, and proceeded at a dizzying pace.  Our team operated autonomously, as a small team embedded in the framework of the larger project.  This project was a summer course for the Baylor team.   They were there to learn how to do field work, how to properly grid and document, and how to do forensic excavations.  Eventually we were asked if we could help teach their students some of the tips and tricks we use while excavating, which we happily agreed to.  Dr. Latham’s philosophy is that life is full of “teachable moments”.  We travel to Texas to help in any way we can, and teaching has become one of our strongest contributions.

Season 2 Excavation Team
Season 2 Excavation Team

The second season of excavations started with us in a teaching role.  The first few days were spent demonstrating proper excavation techniques to the new and eager Baylor students.  It also gave us a chance to work with all of the students more closely.  Instead of being a separate team from UIndy, we were now one big team trying to collectively meet our goal – repatriation.  My words cannot do justice to the amazing people of Baylor.  It was an honor to work with them.

Serious lab work
Serious lab work

The third and fourth field seasons focused on skeletal analyses at Texas State.  Excavating the remains is only step 1, the next steps are to analyze the remains, identify the individual, then return them to their loved ones.  This portion of our work does not make for the most exciting readings, but it the most critically important part of the process.  These field seasons also found us contributing in different ways, such as creating and filling water stations, volunteering at the Sacred Heart Respite Center in McAllen, and collecting family data from loved ones at Missing in Harris County Day.

This year we will be excavating with a team from Texas State.  I do not know exactly what this adventure will hold but I am excited to do my part.  Cheers to another year of awesome people and amazing work!

Justin

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What We Leave, and What We Take

Travelling to Texas over the past few summers is always challenging.  We usually try and pack in as much as humanly possible.  This applies not only to our luggage, but also our time in the Lone Star state.  Every day is crammed full of experiences to ensure that no second of time is wasted.  This year we completed 17 skeletal analyses (alongside the fine people of Texas State University), participated in “Missing in Harris County Day”, and even managed to have a little extra time to construct and fill water stations in Brooks County.

Jess
My beautiful wife, Jessica.

Every time I travel I cannot help but think about what I’m taking and what I’m leaving behind.  Leaving Indianapolis, my first instinct is to pour over the trivial things… like did I bring underwear? or how much deodorant do I need for 10 days?  Those thoughts soon give way to the more meaningful.  The first and most important thing I leave behind every time I visit Texas is my beautiful wife.  Everyone who knows me will tell you that I’m not always the easiest person to get along with.  Jessica and I have been married for nearly 9 years now, which places her level of patience and understanding on par with saints.  It may seem silly, but I always feel like part of her is with me on my journey.  She understands that the work we do is meaningful and important, and I could not do it without her support.

Watson is on the case.
Watson is on the case.

I left something new at home this year… This 3-year-old basset hound mix Jessica and I adopted from the Indianapolis Humane Society.  We changed his name to Watson, a fitting name for an intelligent and loyal side kick.  He has already become a member of our family, and I look forward to our future lives together.

The last thing I left in Indianapolis was my case knife.  I forgot that it was in my jacket pocket before the TSA security checkpoint.  It may sound trivial, but I loved that knife.  I am also glad that the TSA is doing their job so well.  I hope you enjoy my knife (although I suggest you clean it before using it).

The things that I take and leave from Texas are much more ephemeral.  If I had to choose one material thing to take back to Indy, it would be HEB grocery stores (sorry, everything else, its’s HEB!).  Alas, like most of the wonderful people and places in Texas, I am forced to leave them all behind.  I leave behind friends who treated us like family.  I leave behind families still searching for loved ones.  I also leave behind an amazing group of individuals that continue to fight for human rights, and aid in the identification of the missing.  People like the wonderful faculty and students of Texas State, and Eddie Canalez and Ryan Strand of the South Texas Human Rights Center show us what we can accomplish if our hearts and minds are in the right place.

I hope that I have taken part of that fight with me.  Although it seems that we are thousands of miles away from issues on the border, these issues permeate our entire country.  Even with this perceived separation, it is how we act now that that will that will continue to shape our great country.  Our country was founded on the magnanimous ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  I believe that everyone should have access, after all, todos somos inmigrantes (we are all immigrants).

Justin

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Day 9: How to Build a Water Station

One of the many ways that the South Texas Human Rights Center contributes positively to this humanitarian crisis is by constructing and refilling water stations to help prevent migrant deaths.  Every year, countless people die while crossing the harsh desert scrub land of Brooks County.  The water stations prevent more deaths by providing a waystation of relief in an otherwise unforgiving environment.  Building and replenishing the water stations is full-time endeavor that requires the aid of multiple volunteers.  Please check out this short video that demonstrates how much work goes into the creation of one of these stations.

To check out the South Texas Human Rights Center, please click here.

Justin and Helen

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