Category Archives: Reflections

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

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.



Travel Day

Our day is coming to an end, and looking back it doesn’t seem real that we accomplished all that we did today! To be honest, I am already feeling tired and cannot fathom what the upcoming days in the actual field will feel like. My tiredness comes from a combination of a lack of sleep from the night before due to nervousness and also in part due to our day starting before the break of dawn. Our first flight was to Dallas, Texas and I really enjoyed that two hour flight because Alba and I took advantage of American Airlines’ free movie downloads. The selection involved a corny “scary” movie, which we committed to watching until the end knowing it was bad.  We had a short layover and our next flight was to San Antonio, Texas. This hour flight involved a nap for a majority of the Beyond Borders team, Sudoku, and reading. Once we landed, we grabbed our luggage, our rental car and to everyone’s surprise, everything ran smoothly.


Before our two and half hour drive to Falfurrias, we made a lunch stop at Torchy’s Tacos. I am still not over how good the sauces that accompany the tacos were. As we made the drive to our final destination, I just kept looking out the window and got a sense as to what kind of terrain we will be working in throughout the next few days. Really thick brush, tall grasses, and a lot of cacti, oh my! During the drive, I also learned that other team members WILL take that unflattering picture of you napping in the car. Once we arrived and got settled into our hotel, we drove to H.E.B., a grocery store which stands for “Here, Everything is Better” and they really live up to their name. The prices are great and they have comfort foods such as tres leches cake and bunuelos. We grabbed essentials like bug spray, shampoo, ibuprofen, and most importantly, snacks! After this errand, we ate at Whataburger, another Texan staple, and had a brief meeting about our game plan for tomorrow. Our team leader, Dr. Latham, passed out our wrist compasses and safety whistles and that is when things started to feel more real for me. Everything we have packed and prepared for will be put to the test tomorrow!  As for now, I am looking forward to getting a good night’s rest because we have to wake up bright and early, and I know it is going to be a long and rewarding day working on repairing and replenishing water stations with the South Texas Human Rights Center.




“We are waking up in a more dangerous world.”

We are waking up in a more dangerous world.” is the phrase being repeated by global leaders on January 3, 2020.  This is forcing some to think about how military escalation might impact their personal and family safety in ways they hadn’t considered prior to the US killing of Iran’s top military general. But to others, concerns of personal and family safety are a daily and ongoing concern, and the new global instability is not as eminently dangerous as their immediate surroundings.

Many of the migrants fleeing their home countries have no choice. They are facing unimaginable violence and have little faith in the authorities that are supposed to be protecting them. Crimes go uninvestigated and unprosecuted when authorities are corrupt and controlled by criminal groups.  The Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador are the deadliest countries outside an active war zone. Gangs extort individuals, recruit the young and kill those who cross them or don’t corporate with them. The gangs/cartels oversee drug sales and their violence can extend past locals to rival gangs. Another factor driving migration is violence against women. Sexual violence is a major factor forcing the migration of women and girls from Northern Triangle countries. Femicide, the targeted killing of a woman by a man due to her gender, is frequent and not often investigated when it occurs. Additionally, violence targeted at indigenous groups is forcing them to flee in large numbers.

That’s part of what makes our search missions so emotionally difficult. Not only are we experiencing firsthand the dangerous paths they are walking to escape knowing that “No one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land”. But we are seeing what they are forced to suffer due to policies that limit or belittle asylum. While we know that there are no easy fixes to our immigration policies, it is also difficult to see what our polices are forcing other humans to do to escape for their own personal or family safety. It reinforces our place of privilege and challenges our perceptions when we walk these paths, encounter discarded belongings that were valued but too heavy to keep, see evidence of suffering and observe evidence of death.

Sunny skies and dense thickets
Sunny skies and dense thickets

Our mission over the next week will be to assist local organizations in Brooks County by volunteering our time and forensic expertise to replenish waters stations with the South Texas Human Rights Center and conduct search and recovery operations with Deputy White. Additionally, our mission will provide an intense and immersive educational experience for the team as they navigate conditions and emotions that will push them out of their comfort zones while conducting forensic science in humanitarian contexts.

Thank you for following our work and supporting our mission. Please check back daily for updates from the field.