Category Archives: Reflections

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

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.



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 foimg_9137r 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.

img_9224What 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 iimg_9376nto 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 muimg_9394ch 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 9: Derechos Humanos

Texas State and UIndy students working together to get the job done.
Texas State and UIndy students working together to get the job done.

This morning we entered the Sacred Heart Cemetery full of mixed emotions. It was our last day in the field. Our hands were so sore and swollen we had trouble bending our fingers. Our bodies were aching. Sidney was getting sick. We’d been using icy hot, ibuprofen, ice packs and taping our blisters almost every day, but we knew once we got warmed up and moving that we could push through the pain. The UIndy team was on our third plot of the cemetery which was almost complete. We were all getting loopier by the day and singing songs that had nothing to do with archaeology as we shoveled and trenched endless mounds of dirt and investigated the area for missing individuals. Many of the Texas State students came over and helped us wrap up our final trenches before lunch, which was immensely helpful. We were proud to have met our goals this season and meet some long-term friends and colleagues in the process. This project is truly a team effort and we are all here for the same purpose.

After lunch, we were very fortunate to assist the South Texas Human Rights Center  with their water station refills. These water stations are amazing tools that aid in the survival of human beings who are on their last leg. Each station consists of a 55-gallon barrel, 6 gallon-sized jugs of water, a post to keep them upright, and a flagpole to indicate their presence 1cd886ea-8b3c-48d2-bb6e-32f6ba1878e4from afar. In addition, the Human Rights Center prints instructions on how to contact them and attaches them to each water bottle in case someone is desperate for help. The lids to the water stations also have contact information, and the GPS coordinate of that water station’s location so they can read it to the person they are contacting if they need assistance. Individuals who stumble upon these may have gone incredibly long periods of time without food and water. Many become lost for days in the thick, desert brushlands, but this route is their only option if they want to remain hidden. These water stations save people’s lives who may otherwise have be reduced to bone within days in the Texas heat.

img_6324We were all very grateful to have been given the opportunity to participate in this process on our last day in Falfurrias. According to their website, the South Texas Human Rights Center currently services 144 water stations each and every week. Arden, Emily and I went with Eddie Canales to refill some stations on the nearby ranches. To complicate matters, Texas is almost entirely made up of privately owned ranches that do not allow Eddie to set up water stations on their properties. He informed me that only about 25% of the ranch owners allow him to do this work on their property. In addition, water jugs may spoil and water will leak out rendering them useless. Sometimes he finds them with intentional punctures or damage from people who disagree with helping the migrants.


Angela and Sidney helping with water stations.
Angela and Sidney servicing water stations.

Eddie, Arden, Emily and I got to see two ranches with about four water stations each. Eddie Canales is an amazing person and it was so much fun to spend time with him as we did this. It was fascinating to hear about his daily experiences as the founder of the Human Rights Center and year-round resident in the area. We also spent quite a bit of time laughing while we bounced around in the backseat of Eddie’s 20-year-old 4×4 truck while we navigated sandy terrain to reach the water stations we intended to fill. Angela, Sidney and Dr. Latham went with Selina and Arianna (two other members of the South Texas Human Rights Center) to fill water stations on a different route.

In many ways, nine days in the field seems like a long time digging, but it was so much more than that. We do not solely feel passionate about digging in the dirt. We feel passionate about the humanitarian work that is being done here and feel a duty to continue assisting in the identification of the voiceless and deceased. We feel passionate about helping family members find out where their loved ones might be. Anthropology in the U.S. encompasses a multifaceted approach that includes cultural integration, and I feel that this experience has really shown me the importance of that approach. I am grateful to have been able to participate in a mission in which we work closely with people from different walks of life that have a common goal at heart.


Day 9 group photo (featuring Eleanor)