Category Archives: Reflections

Reflections on how we feel and how the mission is changing us

Returning Home

We are back home now and everything feels surreal. It feels like just yesterday I was stressing about what to pack. Now I find myself trying to process a slew of emotions that are entirely new to me. It was disheartening to see so little care demonstrated for these individuals. It’s strange to come home, knowing that because I was born on the other side of a made-up line that neither I nor anyone I know will likely be treated that way. 

View of Mexico from the US side of the border
View of Mexico from the US side of the border

I find myself continually thinking back to our fifth day at the cemetery when a visitor came to see where their family member had been buried. I had no concept of what they were feeling but I still found myself hating the global circumstances that allowed it to happen. No one should have to go through what this family is dealing with. Hearing their story and getting to witness them grieve puts all of our work in a new perspective. For me, it reemphasized the importance of what we are doing but it also made it feel like a tiny thread in a tangle of large and complex issues that we could never hope to untangle. 

Team members working at the cemetery to locate and uncover burials
Team members removing dirt from a burial

I am in awe of those we met who have made human rights efforts their lives work. These are incredible, selfless people who have dedicated their time and sometimes risk their well-being because they care deeply for all people. There is a lot there that I hope to emulate in my own life. I thought on this trip what I learned would be equal parts archeology and personal growth. Now I find that my transformed mindset and emotional growth far outweigh the former. I have learned so much and hope to continue learning even though I am home again.



Returning From Eagle Pass

Sunrise at the cemetery

Our trip to Eagle Pass has come to an end. Though I traveled to Texas last May and was able to experience one facet of the crisis occurring along the border, what I experienced on this trip was wholly different. To see the way migrants are being treated, thrown into a haphazardly dug hole, often with trash, is beyond horrific. The treatment of these individuals was something I naively was unsuspecting of. Going in, I thought I would most likely see awful things, but humans do not deserve to be treated this way, regardless of the situation. However, I did not expect to see what I did.

Two team members removing dirt from a burial

Many of the atrocities occurring at the border are not something people are able to fathom while so far removed from the situation. Experiencing it firsthand does not allow me to fully comprehend how these acts are able to occur and what the motivations are for those closely involved. However, I hope to take what I have experienced and share it with others so that I can bring awareness of what is happening to these individuals to those who may not know.

The situation at this cemetery, among many others, is terrible, to say the least. However, seeing so many different groups of people coming together to attempt to mend the situation and get the word out about what is occurring at this location was heartening. There were reporters there, from Texas as well as Mexico, to provide accounts of these circumstances. To see another group like Texas State University work as passionately in this situation as we did was great. It was also nice to see our team come together and work so hard and efficiently for something we all care about so strongly. We functioned very well together, and I feel we were able to complete a significant amount of work during our time in Eagle Pass.

Team members taking measurements at the cemetery

Traveling back home causes a lot of complex feelings to rise to the surface. It is difficult to see what occurs to these individuals and to hear what they went through and then return to my everyday life. I am incredibly privileged to be in the position I am, which can be challenging to contend with when I see what many migrants face. I strive to continue to utilize this knowledge to spread awareness and communicate with others about this crisis. Though this trip was difficult physically and emotionally, I am extremely grateful I was able to experience it and learn the many lessons I did. These lessons not only contribute to my education and application of forensic practices, but more importantly, they contribute to my growth as a person, and I am thankful for that.



Day 5: Digging and Don

Team members removing dirt from a burial
Jordan and I excavating while Izzy and Kaitlyn look on

We woke up this morning sore from all of the work we did yesterday but ready to get back to it. We ate breakfast at the hotel, where Izzy had an awesome Texas-shaped waffle. After loading all of our gear, we hopped into Monica (who is not smelling too great after our long work days in the heat) and headed off to the cemetery.

We began working on the burial we had started to expose at the end of the day yesterday. This involved more use of the mattock to bring down a wall and removing larger chunks of dirt as we went. Somehow, Izzy and Jordan managed to hit rocks with the mattock hard enough that there were sparks flying. The weather was pretty cool in the morning, so we got to take longer turns, and the wall came down pretty quickly. Deputy Don White was standing by to provide his (sassy) advice and expertise and answer all of my random questions about his life while helping dump our buckets of dirt. Our team has really found our groove, and we worked very quickly and efficiently. Both Texas State and our team were able to remove individuals before lunch.

Our lunch break was extended for an extremely important visitor to the site. A family member of one of the identified individuals who had been removed on Texas State’s previous excavation in November 2022 came to see where their loved one had been laid to rest. It was an emotional time for everyone. I know nothing can bring their loved one back, but I hope they were able to find what they were searching for from their visit. For me, seeing their reaction helped reinforce how important the work we are doing here is. These are real people and real families that have experienced great tragedy. I wish the work we are doing wasn’t needed and that these families were still whole, but, hopefully, we can help them find at least a little bit of closure.

The backhoe working at the cemetery

When their visit was over, it was time for the backhoe to fill in the excavated graves and remove several feet of dirt from our next areas, so we didn’t have to spend hours manually digging through the rock-hard, sun-bleached top layer of dirt. When they were done, our team jumped in and got to work excavating the next burial. By this time, it was pretty hot and sunny, so we started up our timer and worked for 3-4 minutes in teams of two before switching. At least, we were only supposed to work for 3-4 minutes, but we always managed to finagle an extra minute or two because we didn’t want to stop.

Team members mapping at the cemetery
Mapping in our points

We finished up for the day, took some quick showers, and went out for a delicious dinner at Yopo’s. I’m sad that tomorrow will be our last day working in Eagle Pass, but we have done a lot this week to be proud of. Our team has really learned to work well together. We check in on each other consistently to make sure everyone is taking breaks when needed and drinking enough water. This week has allowed us to learn valuable skills as well as grow closer as a team. We’ve come to expect the unexpected and be flexible, and the experiences we’ve had and the memories we’ve made are ones I will carry with me.

Selfie of team members taken on Dr. Latham's unattended phone
A surprise photo left on Dr. Latham’s (unattended) phone
Team members on day 5

~ Olivia