Category Archives: Snapshots

Random things about us


No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care

– Theodore Roosevelt

 Being a forensic scientist in a human rights context requires maneuvering the social, political and cultural landscape in ways quite different from what a forensic scientist in more typical US medicolegal contexts encounters. In my usual forensic casework I communicate with the coroner’s office and local law enforcement, and not with the families or the communities of the deceased.  This will be my 10th trip to the Texas Borderlands. Each trip I am still learning different aspects regarding the crisis at our border, how my team fits into the sociopolitical and scientific landscape and how I can both provide my expertise as a forensic scientist to work towards identifications and provide a meaningful learning experience for my student team.

Beyond Borders
Beyond Borders

Each trip is ultimately successful in providing an opportunity for University of Indianapolis students to apply the forensic skills they’ve learned in the classroom to real world situations. Whether searching for, locating and exhuming burials or conducting systematic line searches, they are gaining valuable experience. However, they have the opportunity to participate in forensic casework  in the Midwestern US.  Therefore, these trips are a way to provide them the opportunity to navigate the unexpected challenges and intensive work associated with the migrant crisis response.

A path through the woods
A path through the woods

It cannot be expected that they fully grasp the sociopolitical situation at the border in one brief trip. But by putting our work into perspective within the bigger migrant crisis in the Texas Borderlands it allows them to make connections between what they read or hear and what they are actually observing while on one of our humanitarian science missions. They interact with the immediate community to better understand how the humanitarian crisis impacts their daily lives and livelihood. They have visited detention and respite centers to interact directly with migrant families to better understand the conditions that produced this crisis. They have also worked with  social justice organizations to provide water along known migrant routes and worked with local law enforcement to do large scale searches along known migrant paths.  And while every student does not get the exact same experience, the goal is to provide them with a broader understanding of the social conditions in the Texas Borderlands.

Each trip takes a lot of preparation. It’s always awkward to speak of the physical and mental preparation and the items we pack to facilitate our work. We spend weeks mentally and physically preparing for a glimpse at the lived conditions and lived reality of thousands of individuals. That itself is proof of the privilege we have. As students and teachers we are by no means wealthy, but this teaches us that “wealth” is a perspective. We may not get to purchase everything we want, but we do not fear of days or weeks with no food for ourselves or our families. We have the potential to be and do great things in the US, especially as college educated individuals. We do not fear for our lives on a daily basis.


As we move through the landscape we have everything we might need to protect us from the harsh environment: water, food, bug sprays, sunscreen, first aid kits and antihistamines, to name a few. Again, this shows the privilege that we can “prepare” for what awaits us in the Texas Borderlands. We leave tomorrow for our next mission, unsure of exactly what awaits us there. Thank you for your support and for following our journey.



Looking Forward

Going to Texas will bring with it many new experiences. Some of these experiences include a change in environment, while others include a change in culture and community. I look forward to the new experiences Texas brings. I am most looking forward to getting to know some of the people who have devoted their time to the humanitarian works within the border lands and those who call the area their home. Being raised in America by parents from New Zealand gave me a unique perspective of American culture. I’m interested to see if anyone in Texas may have had a similar experience growing up so close to the Mexican border, or possibly being a dual-citizen themselves. I hope by the end of this trip, I will have a better understanding of what is occurring in Texas and along the Mexican border. My understanding of this humanitarian crisis can only go so far without witnessing it for myself.

Texas will be very challenging because again, it encompasses both a different environment and culture within the community. Going into any new community as an outsider can be difficult, but going to Texas will be quite different as we are entering the community trying to understand and help with the humanitarian crisis. As an outsider, I think a substantial challenge will be adjusting to the cultural changes from my background to the background of those living in the Texas-Mexico borderlands. Another challenge will be the environment of the Texas landscape. Texas is hot and contains snakes, spiders, and boars; all of which I did not grow up with. Even though it will be a challenge, I am looking forward to the many new experiences this trip will bring.

I think this experience will be life changing. That sounds cheesy, but I mean it. Going to Texas allows us to experience a very small part of what these undocumented border crossers face throughout their journey. You don’t know what they are going through and we will never know exactly what they go through, but we can try and understand them.



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.