All posts by thompsonsm

South Texas Human Rights Center

Three Days

“I heard one of these lectures about an experiment where they give guys a pair of glasses that make them see the whole world upside down. But after three days, guess what? They see everything right side up. And then they take off their glasses, and they see everything upside down again. For three days. And then, eureka! Back to normal. Yes, it takes the brain three days to adapt.” — Bones, “The Doctor in the Photo”

Being in Falfurrias is like seeing upside down. After the third day, the work became our new normal. Our work at Sacred Heart consumed our thoughts, and everything we did was based in a humanitarian effort. We had purpose, a goal, and a plan to reach said goal.

We got used to seeing the same people every day. Deputy White, Dr. Spradley and her team, Eddie Canales. We ate the same lunch, cheers-ed the same drinks. We blogged and mapped and filled out photo logs. Day in and day out we worked towards our goal.

Angela, Arianna, and I raising a new flag at a water station
Angela, Arianna, and I raising a new flag at a water station

Then, we left. Our work ended abruptly. We packed, drove out of Falfurrias and flew home. We took the glasses off and the world flipped upside down again.

I slept all day on Sunday, filled to the brim with cold and flu medicine. I wasn’t able to fully process being home. Sleeping in my own bed, wearing clothes that weren’t field clothes, watching TV, etc.

Then, I woke up on Monday and dug out my heavy winter coat. I swept the six inches of snow off of my car, and drove to school. I had no real purpose, goal, or plan. I didn’t even have a notebook.

Everything I am doing is to make myself a better anthropologist, a better scientist, so that when I am able to return to the field, I will do better work than the time before. However, not being in the field, being active in my efforts seems like a waste.

It’s almost 48 hours into the 72 it should take me to readjust, but I have a feeling my right side up will continue to be in Falfurrias.

I want to use this space to express my gratitude.

Thank you to my team. Thank you for your support and for making this one of the best experiences of my life.

Thank you, Dr. Latham, for giving me this opportunity and being an amazing force of change.

Thank you, Arden, for bringing both an incredible perspective and humor to this work.

Thank you, Sammi, for making all of the maps and being a digging machine.

Thank you, Angela, for being a great field mentor and bucket carrier, and for giving me all your carbs.

The team at La Mota
The team at La Mota

Thank you, Dr. Spradley and the people of Texas State, for allowing us to join you.

Thank you, Deputy Don White, for keeping us safe and always laughing.

Thank you, Sheriff Benny Martinez, for believing in our mission.

Thank you Eddie, Arianna, and Selina for doing humanitarian work daily and allowing us to join you for part of it.

Thank you, Sister Pam, for radiating pure love more than any person I’ve ever met.

Thank you, Dr. Bird, for your support for our work.

Thank you to the Clarks for allowing us into your beautiful home.

Lotería painting showing Falfurrias Butter at La Mota
Lotería painting showing Falfurrias Butter at La Mota

Thank you, Falfurrias. I’ll be back.



Day 7: Change of Pace

Our day seven began as normal: getting to Sacred Heart at 7:30 and jumping right into digging. Our new area is quite large, so we are all motivated to work as efficiently as possible to clear it. We began the day by extending our two long trenches and adding a third in the middle. As we move down, we will cut across perpendicularly while continuing to extend the long ones.

Long story short: we have moved and will continue to move a lot of dirt.

Just a fraction of the dirt we've moved in one area
Just a fraction of the dirt we’ve moved in one area

While we love the work, we welcomed a change of pace today when Dr. Spradley said Deputy White needed a team to go on a search with him at a local ranch. We were set to leave at nine, so we set a timer for thirty minutes and got as much dirt moved as we could before it went off. Then, we headed out to the ranch.

Once inside the gate, we were met by two Border Patrol agents. We went to the area of interest and began to search.

When you take a crime scene investigation course, or even an introduction to forensics course, you learn different search methods: line searches, spiral searches, grid searches, etc. None of that training prepared me for searching this ranch. Walking ten feet in one direction is basically impossible due to the brush-filled terrain. If you kept up with the blog from the Summer 2018 search season, you have a better understanding of what I am talking about. If not, start here. Dr. Latham and Angela are the only ones who have done a search like this before, so the rest of us were learning as we went.

As I was searching, I came up with a system where I would walk from one landmark to another before moving forward: jacket to water bottle, water bottle to large cactus, large cactus to broken branch. This was a way for me to try to keep the main area in mind and to not wander off. I had my phone, but with no signal it would not have done me any good. At one point there was no one within my line of site. It was high noon and the visibility was as good as it could be. I couldn’t see Sammi’s white jacket or Dr. Latham’s red bandana. When migrants traverse this area it’s most often in the dead of night. I cannot imagine trying to navigate the rough terrain in total darkness, no compass, and no idea of where to go. I was thankful we did not have far to go and were able to stay relatively close to each other.

A panorama of my view while searching, not able to see my team.
A panorama of my view while searching, not able to see my team.

After we finished our search, we returned to Sacred Heart and found out the Brooks County Judge had brought everyone pizza for lunch. We took a small break to eat and then continued in our digging efforts. We worked for a few more hours but called it an early day so that we could get cleaned up before heading out to La Copa ranch where our Texas State colleagues are staying. The people who run the ranch (The Ed Rachal Foundation) were kind enough to throw us a barbeque! We were able to eat and drink with those who we normally only get to see in the field, offering a nice break from our day-to-day efforts in the cemetery.

We only have two days left in the field, and our plan is to get as much done as we possibly can while still remaining confident in our work.

Thanks for continuing to follow our progress!

Day 7, complete with ticks and Mexican Coke
Day 7, complete with ticks and Mexican Coke



Day 3: The Kindness of Others

Today was marked by the kindness of others.

We went through the morning finishing our first section. We found no burials or evidence thereof, so we began to move all of the dirt we had removed back into the unit. Sheriff Benny Martinez paid us a visit and offered his assistance in backfilling. He moved and worked just as hard, if not harder, than the rest of us. Sheriff Martinez is one of the main reasons we are able to do our work at Sacred heart, and for him we are incredibly grateful.

In the middle of our backfill, we got a message over the walkie talkie that a local

My lunch provided by a local family.
My lunch provided by a local family.

family had brought all of us lunch; not just our five person team, but all of Texas State’s team as well. More than forty of us ate homemade carne asada, zucchini, rice, and tortillas. They brought us plates, utensils, sodas, and water. Before we ate, the matriarch of the family said a prayer for us. She thanked us, and asked God to protect us both while we were doing this work, and for the rest of our lives. While I am not a religious person, this sentiment from her meant more to me than any amount of food. The support of the community means so much to our team, and assures us that what we are doing is for the greater good.

After we finished our amazing lunch, Beyond Borders alum Ryan joined our team. He drove to Falfurrias to help us today and tomorrow, and will leave tomorrow to be back to work on Monday. Ryan got started right away, carrying buckets and hauling dirt. Day three and four are supposedly the hardest days, so we are beyond thankful that Ryan is able to join us for both of them!

After we finally finished backfilling our first section, Dr. Latham and Dr. Kate Spradley — who is leading this excavation — decided that we would move to a different section than originally planned. We packed up all of our stuff and headed to our new area. We are under a tree still, which provides us shade. However, it also means we are digging through roots, which is incredibly difficult.

I asked Deputy Don White if he had a rake in his truck to help with the surface debris, and before I knew it, he had gone and bought us two brand new rakes. Not only was this an amazing act of kindness, but they came in very handy in trying to deal with the roots. Deputy White has helped us every day with securing the site, fixing anything that is broken, and generally being our go-to guy.

Thanks to everyone’s help, we were able to finish out the day strong.

End of Day 3!
End of day 3!

After a long, long, long day, we were able to show our thanks by taking Sheriff Martinez, Ryan, and Deputy White out to dinner at Taqueria Jalisco.

We are exhausted, but our hearts and stomachs are full.

Everyone at Taqueria Jalisco at the end of a long day.
Everyone at Taqueria Jalisco at the end of a long day.