All posts by mowera

From one side of the border

It is my first day back in Indiana. Physically, I am here. I slept in my own bed last night, I visited my family today, and now I am sitting in my apartment writing this blog.  But my mind is still in Texas. My thoughts and feelings are back in Falfurrias, with the migrant communities. I am a person who takes things to heart, and it is not easy foDense treesr me to let things go. This is how I feel about the ongoing project in Texas and the situation as a whole, that is happening at the border. I can’t just ignore it now. Not that I have ever ignored it – but now I have seen it. Now I have been exposed, shoulders deep in the dirt, searching for unidentified migrants. Unidentified migrants who have families somewhere, looking for them. Looking for closure. Looking for any definitive answer about what has happened to them. Even receiving the worst news to a family member of an unidentified individual would be better than receiving no news. How can I throw myself into humanitarian work for a week and a half and allow that to be it? I could never allow this to be the end of what I can do to help.

This trip has added to the list of experiences in my life that have made me feel extremely lucky for what I have. I have a secure immigration status in the US. I have a permanent home. I do not have to fear deportation or being sent back to my home country on a whim. I do not have to worry about a wall separating me from my family. I do not have to worry about dangerous journeys to freedom. I am a middle class girl getting my Master’s degree. I am never hungry. I am never dehydrated. I never go without.

I wonder why. Why do I have all of these things and others do not. Because my parents had enough money and stability to comfortably raise two kids? Because of the color of my skin? Because I happened to be born in one place, a first world country, on the right side of an ocean or border instead of the wrong one.

Team member in a trenchWhat defines a human being? We are all the same species, no matter what race or nationality. It breaks my heart that some do not see it this way. Whether that be because of money or politics, in my opinion there should be no reason why one human life should be valued more than another. In the scope of human history, we have survived and thrived due to companionship and community. Wars and divides have only set us back. Why can’t there be the amount of compassion that we saw in the South Texas Human Rights Center or the Humanitarian Respite Center in every individual in this world? There would not be divides, there would not be boundaries and borders, but only love and compassion.

I want to emphasize that migrants are moving iLadder against a fence on a ranchnto the United States to seek ASYLUM. Because where they happen to be in this earth is not safe for their families, their women cannot receive an education, they cannot go to work without fearing that they may not come home, they cannot afford to feed their families. If someone you loved were in this situation, and came to you asking for help, why would you not allow them into your home?

As a forensic science graduate and a human biology student, to me, humanitarian work is the best application of my skills. Using my knowledge of science, archaeology, and skeletal analysis to help people who are less fortunate and who need help that my skills could provide. This trip has enforced this drive in me. Whether it be in Texas or anywhere else in this world, I feel a calling and a need to do this work. To bring closure to families who are in this position is the best outcome I could imagine for my education and training.

I would like to thank the Beyond Borders team, the University of Indianapolis, everyone who donated to our cause, and Dr. Latham for granting me the opportunity to experience this. I have learned so muTeam Photoch practically in my field and socially, too. I feel as though I have more of a purpose than I did 13 days ago. Thank you to everyone who followed our blog along this journey – and I hope you continue to follow in future field seasons.


Day 8: Some pretty awesome ladies!

Today was day eight. I cannot believe that we only have one day left. It has gone by so fast, and I am very thankful that we write these blogs in order to reflect and remember everything that we have done from day to day. It is hard for it not to all blur together when we have done so much in the few days that we have been here.


We continued trenching our site today and were really shocked at how much progress we made. With two hours left we made it our goal to complete two more trenches, yet we finished those and began 4 more trenches before the end of the day. I think that I say this in every blog but I am very proud of how much dirt we have moved, how much area we have cleared, and the positive attitude that remains within our team. We are some pretty awesome ladies if I say so myself!

Today I had a unique experience of helping the Texas State team leads with intake. This is where we open up the body bag, coffin, patient belonging bag, etc. that exhumed, unidentified remains were found in and record how many and which bones were accounted for. If there is any writing on the bags or identifying features/belongings, that is recorded as well. Photographs are taken, and the bags are sealed up ready to be sent to the Texas State Labs for analysis. It was interesting to be a part of, as our team has not yet exhumed anyone or participated in this process so far this season.

Sister Pam
Sister Pam

Sister Pam came to the cemetery today – she is a catholic Nun who has helped in previous field seasons and is a huge supporter of our project. She drove 23 hours all the way here from Ohio to be able to see us this season, which we could not believe. She greeted us all with warm hugs and a kiss on the cheek before proceeding to put gloves on and help us move dirt. After all of the stories I have heard before meeting her today, I was not at all surprised. She was hauling buckets better than I could. She is exactly the type of woman that I would like to be later in life – stubborn, determined, and strong. It was nice to hear her talk to Dr. Latham about previous students she has met while helping with exhumations. Asking what they are doing now and so forth. Most of them have moved onto PhD’s or highly regarded jobs, many on the basis of what these exhumations have taught them and what experiences they have gained from them. It made me feel very lucky to be where I am, getting into the dirt with Sister Pam just like others have done before me. She is one cool lady, let me tell you!

Dr. Cate Bird was on site today. She is a forensic specialist working for the International Committee of the Red Cross. Which for many of us here – is a dream job. She is a supporter of our project and is going to report back to Washington D.C. on the work that we are doing here in Falfurrias. She has been with us for a few days and has been kind enough to make the rounds to all of our teams to chat and see what progress we are making. She was so kind to buy everyone popsicles on site today. It was such a kind gesture in the peak heat of the afternoon, to get us all together for a refreshing treat. Thank you, Dr. Bird, for being yet another example of what we can aspire to be in our field!

I’d like to end this post today with some things which have been on my mind the last few days. Right now, there is a government shutdown on behalf of President Trump due to concerns with border security. It is a bit surreal that we are here… at the border, exhuming unidentified migrants, visiting the border “wall”, participating in search and recovery with Border Patrol, donating to the Humanitarian Respite Center, meeting very nice people who are here to seek asylum, and working with people who are so passionate about this side of immigration that you do not see on the news. We are seeing a humanitarian crisis that is different from what many may know. It is humbling, and it is important. We are here to do what we can to promote social justice and I am very proud of that.

Thank you for reading along! We will be seeing you again tomorrow, where you can read about our last day of digging. Bittersweet!

Day 8
Day 8


Day 4: Roots

Day four group photo
Day 4 with our amazing team!

Day 4 is in the books. After moving to a second site and hacking our way through what felt like a MILLION tree roots, we feel just as motivated as day one. We have almost cleared our second site after today with only a little bit of trenching to go.

South Texas Human Rights Center T-shirt design
T-shirts we bought from the South Texas Human Rights Center today

I had two pretty unique experiences today which I would like to share with you. While we were digging away at our site, Ryan introduced us to two young ladies who work for the South Texas Human Rights Center (STHRC). We said hello and asked about what they did and they began to tell us a side to the human rights work that we are not exposed to as scientists. These ladies are responsible for manning the Missing Migrant Hotline. Families can call this hotline to report their loved ones as missing and give any information that may be helpful for the STHRC. This includes what clothes they were wearing, what personal effects they may have had, if they have dental records available, where they may have crossed the border, who they were with, etc. The STHRC then cross references this with any information on individuals that the county may have found deceased, to aim to make identifications of unknown persons and return their remains to their families. They spoke of a few other organizations in Texas and Arizona which map migrant trails, fill water stations, and provide medical attention for people in need. There are many obstacles they face with Border Patrol, rough terrain, and funding, yet these people are mostly volunteers assisting out of the kindness of their hearts. I was very impassioned to hear the ladies talk with such dedication about what they are doing. It was very inspiring and motivated us more in our work the second part of the day.

Later in the day a car drove up to us, which has been a regular occurrence. People usually ask what we are doing or if we have found anything – as it is a very small community and word has spread fast about our project. But this time a man said that the woman next to him (his wife) wanted to tell us something. So Angela and I went up to the car, and the woman said that her father was buried in the cemetery a few years ago. She said that she had tried to buy the plot of land next to him to be buried in when she passes, but the funeral home had told her that there were “unidentifieds” buried there and she could not buy it. I asked her if she could show me which plot she was talking about, so her husband parked the carSacred Heart Cemetery Sign, and they led me over to her father’s grave. There was a patch of grass between his grave and another family plot just adjacent where she said that they had buried two “unidentifieds”. She said that her husband did not want her to tell us about it – as many people would rather just keep to themselves. She was wearing scrubs and I imagined her being taken to the cemetery by her husband on her lunch break, driving around and deciding whether or not to inform us with what they knew. I thanked her greatly for coming to us with the information. As I looked down the row next to her father, I could see that many members of her family were buried alongside him. I knew that being buried with her family meant a lot to her and if we exhumed anyone from the land next to him, hopefully she could acquire the land to be buried in. I told Dr. Latham about what the woman said, and a group from Texas State began surveying and excavating the area. We have had a lot of tips on where people may or may not be buried, but a lot of them are conflicting. There was no reliable GPR reading from that area of land, and apparently Texas State were just deciding whether to excavate the area or to move onto another with a more promising GPR reading, when the new information came forward. Sure enough, two unidentified remains were uncovered.

Although the UIndy team has not uncovered any remains yet, I felt satisfied to have played a role in that discovery. I hope that the woman who had the courage to inform us of the unidentified individuals buried there, can be laid to rest next to her family. That was a result of our excavations that I had not yet considered. When we clear an area, that plot then becomes available again for local burials. It is reuniting people with their loved ones – not just through the process of repatriation, but also in situations like this one. A father and daughter can hopefully now be reunited in this cemetery one day.

Thank you for following along with my very lengthy stream of consciousness tonight. Today was a good day. See you again tomorrow!