Category Archives: Community

Interaction with the community of Falfurrias

Day 3: Betwixt and Between

In his 1967 book The Forest of Symbols, Victor Turner wrote a chapter titled “Betwixt and Between: The Liminal Period in Rites of Passage” (Turner 1967). Here, he describes a “liminal” period in which the subject of interest is in between different steps of their rite of passage, and are no longer held in the same regard as they were before their rite stated, but have not yet reached their post-rite status. While Turner was describing the Ndembu people in Zambia, I feel the idea of liminality can be aptly applied to the crisis at the border.

One could consider many stages of liminality in the physical and mental movement from one’s home country into the US, or any other county: in between their homeland and the border of the next, in between the border and their destination, in between their destination and freedom. This liminality is only compounded when an individual perishes in their in-between, which is what is happening here in Brooks County. Individuals are attempting to reach their destination, often with little or no contact to either their before (home) or after (destination). They are between, and their deaths force them into an added dimension of liminality: found or not found, identified or unidentified.  Thankfully, our work here in Falfurrias allows us to aid both the living as well as the deceased.

dsc_0015This morning, we met early at the
STHRC, loaded up a prototype water station built by Trinity University students and faculty, water, and supplies and headed to a local ranch. We replaced a regular water station with the prototype, hoping that the additional water it is able to hold will be of aid to those walking along the power lines attempting to
reach the interstate. On this ranch, we met a foreman whom none of us had met before. He lead us to the water station and helped us build the prototype. After talking more with Eddie, he offered to take water and fill the rest of the water stations on the ranch.  I
downloaded an app on his phone that would give him fairly accurate GPS coordinates to
send on either to Eddie or in case of emergency. He told us about his experiences providing
dsc_0090 aid to those crossing through the ranch, and truly seemed interested in helping any way he could. 

This is how our work is able to impact the living. Through Eddie’s guidance and with Deputy White and the foreman’s help, we got the prototype up and filled it with 14 gallons of water (most only hold 6). Aid in the form of water helps increase the chance of survival, and thus the movement from one phase to the next. 

Our team with Eddie and Deputy White setting up the water station.

After we finished and made sure all of the electronic elements were set up, we continued on further into the ranch to conduct a line search. Deputy White had receiveddsc_0104 some coordinates of interest along a path, so we lined up as usual and did our search. We did not go far out into the brush, like yesterday, but mainly stayed on the path. This was largely due to the fact that the coordinates were right on the path, not off into the brush very far. We walked to and past the coordinates, then doubled back. We walked mostly in silence, our eyes trained on the shrubbery, looking for anything that our brains would perceive as bone before we did. 

Our searches, as well as our exhumations, are what makes our work able to impact the dead. By locating those who have perished, we start them on their way to identification, and thus out of their between. It is important to note that none of this would be possible without Eddie and the STHRC, or without Deputy White. They are the ones who continue the work once we are back to our “normal lives”.

After our fieldwork was finished for the day, we drove to McAllen, TX to speak to students from Emory University (visiting from Atlanta, GA). We listened to Eddie talk about his work and the STHRC, then to Dr. Latham talk about the history of our team’s involvement at the border. The students and their professors asked thoughtful questions, We finished our day by eating a lot of tamales at Delia’s. 

My hope is that our work continues to aid in the movement of individuals out of liminal phases, into something more definite. This applies both to those crossing the border, as well as those of us who are still figuring out what we are doing with our lives. I’m so thankful for this experience, and even though it’s my third trip, I learn something new everyday.




Turner, V. (1967). The Forest of Symbols. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.




While it has been about 8 months since my last trip, not a day has gone by that I don’t think about everything I learned and the people I met. No matter how cliche it may sound, it was an experience that has and will impact my life forever and I’m so beyond grateful that I get to do it all again.

As our country’s political climate remains so tense, I’m fortunate enough to have an outlet and be given the opportunity to volunteer my time with organizations such as the South Texas Human Rights Center and Remote Wildlands Search and Recovery. I get to learn from the people who spend every day working at the border and experience first hand the amount of dedication they have. I also get to come back home and share my experiences with my community as well as have open conversations about the border crisis which is a privilege itself. 

Searching in the brush (May 2019)
Searching in the brush (May 2019)

Although our mission for this trip is the same as the last time, I know to expect the unexpected. I feel a little more prepared since I have some experience with the search and recovery efforts, but I know this trip will be different. With the cooler season in Texas, our work days will be much longer and that is the main challenge I believe I will need to overcome this trip. 

My goal for the time being until we depart for Falfurrias (it is Christmas as I write this) is to try and stay active to help with my stamina. In May, our days were cut short by the high temperatures and humidity, but they were still some of the hardest and most energy consuming days I have experienced. I know that no matter the weather or how long we spend searching, I will be exhausted at the end of each day. But, I want to make sure that my body can keep up with the passion and dedication I have for the team and our mission. 

Deputy Don White and I repairing a water station
Deputy Don White and I repairing a water station (May 2019)

I’m no longer that concerned about the landscape or creepy crawlies; we had our fair share of spiders, scorpions, ticks, chiggers and of mesquite thorns and sticker burrs. But, as for the weather, I don’t know what awaits us. While we expect it to be cooler, we still carry the same risks of dehydration and over exhaustion as we did in the summer, but it will be less obvious. However, I know that our team will take care of each other and, regardless of what we encounter, I know that we’ll get through it.

Apart from the amazing opportunity I have been given, there are a lot of things I’m looking forward to this trip. I can’t wait to see and spend time with some of the people I had the pleasure to meet and I am excited to interact with new people in the community. I’m excited for our trips to HEB and eating the delicious food that never disappoints in Fal. 

I’m just counting down the days.



Day 2: Back At It

Our second day started as normal: waking up, eating breakfast at the hotel, and meeting Arianna at the South Texas Human Rights Center. Since we spent most of yesterday attending to water stations, we have gotten into a groove. My main role has been the note taker. At every station, I note which station we are at, how many good gallons of water were left, how many spoiled gallons were found, and how many we leave behind. We also note any evidence of human activity (trash, footprints, etc) or any repairs we perform.

Me taking notes while Arianna and Dr. Latham examine a water station.
Me taking notes while Arianna and Dr. Latham examine a water station.

At one point, we were about to head to a station on a path our rental van couldn’t reach. Dr. Latham parked the van on the side of the road and we all squeezed into the truck. We made the water drop fairly quickly, and started back. When we were almost back, we saw a Texas Highway Patrol car pulled up behind our van. Dr. Latham and Arianna got out of the truck to figure out what was happening. Apparently they had watched us all get into the truck and drive off, and waiting to see what we had in our van. They saw our water and cooler and thought we were partaking in either a pick-up or drop-off migrants. They ran our plates and even took Dr. Latham’s information. Thankfully, they believed us when we said we were simply filling water stations, and sent us on our way.

We finished the last of one of the routes we started yesterday, and headed back to the center. There, we met a group of engineering students from Trinity University who have been working to design new water stations for the center. These stations are solar powered and transmit a satellite signal of the weight of the barrel, so that they are able to tell how many gallons of water are in each station without someone having to drive all the way out to the station. They also have a drawer for first aid supplies and the ability to charge cell phones. They are still working out the kinks in the systems, but they currently have two prototypes on a route that they are field testing in a place they can get to often and easily.

Prototype water station.
Prototype water station.

While we were at the center, a familiy member of a missing person, Byron, came to join us. He has a cousin who went missing in Falfurrias, so he often comes to town from out of state to search, get updates,  and to help however he can. He went out with everyone after a quick lunch to the route where the field prototypes are. While the Trinity students tried to fix the glitches in their programming, the rest of us ran the route they were on and filled more water stations. At our last station, we were met by the ranch manager. He is familiar with both Arianna and our team, he stopped to chat and said he would fumigate near a specific station because there was a family of scorpions living there.

We finished the route, and the engineers fixed their programming issues, and we headed back to the center. Our role then was to be the trainees on how to build the new stations. Selina of the STHRC was filming, and the students taught Arianna and ourselves how to put one of the new stations together. This way, when there are different volunteers, Arianna can be sure to assemble them correctly. There are a lot of wires and different parts involved, so it’s more complicated than the normal ones. The hardest part was raising the flag pole: they are heavy, tall, and if any wires get pinched the whole station won’t work. Thankfully, we built two without problem!

After we were finished, we headed back to the hotel to get cleaned up for dinner. We drove to La Mota, where Peggy and Bill Clark live. Getting to visit them is my favorite part of our trips here. I’m not sure why, but something about their home is so inviting and warm that it makes it seem like you are just down the street from your own home, not hundreds of miles away.

Before dinner, we all sat and talked a little. Bill told us stories of when he was a big game hunter and how he has many skulls from his excursions. We sat down to dinner, and Peggy prayed over us and the food. While I am not religious, the genuine emotion of her prayer was moving. We then ate a wonderful dinner of brisket, rice, salad (with Peggy’s homemade dressing), grapefruit and avocado, and bread. It was so nice to have a home cooked meal after eating out for every meal since we’ve been here.

Our meal at La Mota.
Our meal at La Mota.

We cleaned up the plates, and had some ice cream for dessert. We left after a while, making sure we had enough time to debrief at the hotel and get things set for another early day tomorrow.

Day 2
Day 2