Category Archives: Community

Interaction with the community of Falfurrias

Yin and Yang

In ancient Chinese philosophy, Yin and Yang describes how obviously opposite or contrary forces may actually be complementary, interconnected, and interdependent in the natural world, and how they may give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another. I prepared my team for the different approaches taken by the different teams we would encounter on the border. They have different ways of achieving the common proximate goal of saving lives. But during my decade of work in the Texas Borderlands I never head it said so deliberately so many times — there is a human rights side and a law enforcement side. While these sides do not always agree on the best path, they do agree on the ultimate outcome of dignity in life and dignity in death. The Beyond Borders Team assists organizations in both the Yin and the Yang when we are in South Texas. We respect and appreciate anyone who volunteers their time to this work. It’s physically and emotionally exhausting. Everyone we have met has invested a lot of their own time and money into preventing deaths and identifying the dead. So the paths and ultimate long term goals might be different, but these forces need each other as they search the brush and work to save lives. Just as the night needs the day, big is only meaningful when compared to small, and order is meaningless without disorder.

Some of the Yin and the Yang of Humanitarian Work in the Texas Borderlands

Most of the year I am geographically removed from an issue I care deeply about. Therefore, my role is less applied to searching the brush and recovering the dead and more dedicated to providing opportunities for the next generation to tackle issues of social justice and global citizenship. While this generation of young people is much more tolerant different races and cultures, they are also tend to be more isolated due to internet and social media technologies. Teaching empathy in a way that literally places you in the shoes and pathway of another, teaching awareness of global issues that dehumanizes and marginalizes others and how that impacts us all, teaching how every person is connected to every other person on this planet and teaching how action can come in big and small packages while all having the same impact are not things that come just from reading a book. I have to remind myself that these issues stretch longer and deeper than Brooks County and there are many ways we can all contribute to positive change. The 26 current members and alums of the Beyond Borders Team are out there making a difference in their local and global communities. They are continuing the work to bring awareness and understanding of the connections we all share in the wider world and using that worldmindedness to advocate for basic human rights.

I’m so proud of the team members from this trip for many reasons! Not only are they knowledgeable in the practical applications of forensic casework but they also grew in their skills, their awareness, their motivation and their aspirations while in the Texas Borderlands. At the same time their humor, care for each other and support all contributed to their success in the field. We worked hard and covered a lot of ground while we were there. Their experiences will motivate them to stand up for human rights and work for change long after they physically leave the borderlands.

That branch is higher off the ground than it looks! Jan 2022 Beyond Borders Team

I also need to mention that our team is so grateful to our supporters: the University of Indianapolis President & Provost provide financial support, our donors to the Beyond Borders Team, our families, our colleagues in south Texas who not only do this on a regular basis but changed their schedules to host us and a special thanks to all of you that have read and shared the blog ! I hope you know how much of an impact you have on so many people! Thank you!

~Dr. Latham

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Rewind and Reflect

To think I am already writing my reflection post is wild. It feels like 2 seconds ago that I was anxious and scared about the trip, and now I am back in my apartment preparing for the upcoming semester. This trip has brought me memories and lessons I will keep and cherish for the rest of my life. 7 days flew by faster than I ever had expected. [Also, I’ll warn you. This is going to get pretty emotional.]

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Working water stations

I actually started writing this post while I was still in Texas on our last work day. I was feeling extremely discouraged, feeling like I hadn’t done enough, holding in tears as we made our final walk back to Gloria, knowing it would be the last time. We did not make any recoveries while in Texas this trip, and it feels like a double-edged sword. Working so hard with only pictures and animal remains to show, when that wasn’t our goal, doesn’t feel like success, but remembering that searching was our true objective brings it more into perspective. The work we did searching allowed us to learn a number of things like which areas were more active with migrant traffic and help Don cover areas that would’ve taken days to do alone. Our work on the water stations potentially saves a number of lives. I was able to learn so much about people’s perspectives, the politics surrounding this work, and how one’s background can influence how you see this work and why people do it.

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Searching in the brush

Comparing our skills from the first day to the last revealed an exponential change. By the end of the trip, we were able to navigate through thickets, brush, and complex MOTs (not technically defined as Mass of Trees but that is how I remember it) much faster than day one when it took us a few minutes even to find a route out. I learned a lot about footprints to where I could identify them and follow the direction they went. Being able to recognize a path through the brush made a significant difference while searching because we were quicker led to areas of migrant activity. We became compass pros and improved our line searching skills each and every day. Plus there was one rescue while we were there, so one young life saved.

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Don getting bothered by his favorite tourist

Meeting and getting to work with Don, Eddie, Melissa, Jason, Matt, Leo, and even Ray has left me with memories I will never forget. Thank you for searching with us, keeping us safe, and putting up with my antics for days. I have learned so much from each of you and am so thankful to have met y’all. I hope if I get this opportunity again that I will get to work with you all again. (I’ll try to keep the noises down next time)

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Evidence of recent migrant activity

Being back in my room writing this leaves me with such a mix of emotions. We discussed it briefly in our last decompression session before leaving Texas, and Dr. Latham told us a lot of these feelings are common and normal before I even expressed how I was feeling. I feel like I didn’t do enough. That 5 days wasn’t enough. I continuously think on the challenges we endured while just searching the brush, holes, hunters, wildlife, cacti ( many kinds but pencil cacti that I am still pulling the spines out of my legs), thickets, and so much more. We had issues with these all while fully prepared, good shoes, water, snacks, thick clothes, protection, and people to warn us. Others are doing this in the dark, with just the clothes on their back, and fresh water being a luxury. How am I back in my bed when others are still out there fighting for their lives? What can I do here that will actually help someone in real time? I feel useless. That is not the case though as much as I may feel it. I am in school to better myself so I really can make a change, with the authority and knowledge to do so as well. There are many ways we can help from here (& you from your home as well). My time fighting for others and trying to help them is not over. I am thankful for the support I have to push me to keep going and those who have experience in these fields and are willing to help guide me.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t change how I am still feeling. What I saw and learned in Texas influences every second of my day. I find myself questioning whether I am justified in doing mundane things, correcting myself when I speak and think certain things, how can I complain or be deserving of this wonderful, plentiful life I have when others are putting their lives on the line just for the possibility of a new life. For the possibility of a future that may not come. The future promised to those making the dangerous trek is not always delivered and often times wasn’t the true future intended. The image of clothing we saw, food we found, all on our searches flashes through my mind constantly. I have an immense sense of guilt as I go through my days when previously I wouldn’t have batted an eye. I am very thankful for the life I live, but after my experiences and lessons learned in Texas, I am thankful to have my team around me and those who have also gone on this trip to talk to them about these feelings and work through these new challenges with them.

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Dream Team

I am forever thankful to Dr. Latham for this lifechanging opportunity. I will be forever thankful to her for this, her kindness and patience along the way, and the team she chose as well. Having Olivia, Alex, and Tanya was truly the dream team, even when I’m sure we worked Dr. Latham’s last nerve quite a few times. I was terrified to leave and so anxious, as I said previously, but being with them was the best possible scenario for me. Everyone is so laid back, kind, and funny that it made the experience go so smoothly. This could’ve been a very different story if these people weren’t so genuinely amazing. I hope I will get to return in the future to pursue this work because along with learning so much, it strengthened my belief that this is the career and future I want to pursue and that I really can make a change.

UIndy, thank you for giving me this dream of an experience. My eyes have been opened in a multiplicity of ways, and my life has truly been impacted by this work and the inspiring people I got to work with.

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The incredible people we were so lucky to work with
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Texas skies

Til next time, treat others with kindness, pursue happiness, and radiate positivity.

Texas Tourist, Cajun Queen

Izzy

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Looking back, moving forward

We’ve been back for several days, but I still find myself regularly thinking about everything that happened in Texas. Even though we were only gone a week, it feels weird to be back. Being able to wake up in the morning without a mission and a day of hard work planned out feels wrong. Driving through Indy traffic and being surrounded by people and buildings and the bustle of a big city feels overwhelming. There was an aura of peace and silence in Falfurrias that is difficult to find here. While I wish our expertise wasn’t needed in Falfurrias, I want to be back in the field searching and helping in any way I can.

I grew immensely as a person over the week. I’ve been living a bubble of privilege, and, after everything I experienced over the week, I feel unsettled. Simply being born where I was born grants me so many freedoms and opportunities that people are willing to die for. It isn’t fair. A life is a life, and a border shouldn’t change that. While I know it is probably a pipe dream to wish for a world where borders don’t matter and people are seen as equals, I refuse to give up hope that it may one day be a reality. As long as there are people like Eddie, Don and the Remote Wildlands Search and Recovery Team, and Dr. Latham in the world, I choose to have hope.

Seeing the work they do and how they put their heart and soul into helping migrants makes me want to be a better person. To work towards a brighter future. And to be the best I can be in the field in order to help as many people as possible. This trip really solidified that this is the type of work I want to do. It’s easy to get wrapped up in classwork and academia, but actually applying what we’ve learned, and learning things that no classroom can provide, has made me a better person with a clearer view of the world we live in.

Even though the trip was physically and emotionally exhausting, I wouldn’t have changed it for the world. I feel like our team is bonded in a way that most people wouldn’t understand. Yes, we were friends before the trip, but, after spending so much time together, we’ve become more like family. We sass and nag, but we also laugh and really talk. We learned so much about each other that wouldn’t have come out in a different environment. We saw each other’s highs and lows, and, by the end of the week, we were functioning like a well-oiled machine in our searches. Words weren’t always needed; we worked as one unit. I know my teammates will go on to do great things, and I am excited to see where life takes each one of them.

I know I will forever treasure the memories I made on this trip. I hope I get to come back in the future to continue helping Don and Eddie with the amazing work they do in trying to make the world a better place.

Olivia

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