I cannot stop thinking about my time in Texas particularly because my closest friends and family keep asking how the trip went. They gave me shocked faces as I described how we searched 3-5 miles a day through thick brush, dodging cacti thorns. They were unsettled when I talked about the amount of anxiety I held walking through tall grasses because of the rattlesnakes. They were mortified when I mentioned the stampede of javelina pigs that passed us or how we could hear the howling of coyotes some afternoons. I cannot emphasize enough how it really feels like everything in Texas is trying to kill you.
At the same time the Texas terrain holds so much beauty and wonders. I have never seen so many butterflies in my lifetime and stumbling upon a leaf cutter ant highway was so neat. Everyone kept making fun of me because I would get so excited ANY time we would encounter cows, calves and deer. I admired all the parts of nature that I do not encounter all the time and it was awesome to have Don there to teach us more about the terrain
Words cannot describe how grateful I am to have been a part of such a unique, life changing experience. I am so sad that this is my last time writing a blog post for the beyond borders team because I graduate in May. I have learned so much and I leave with lots of great memories. I am so proud of the team I got to work with. It was empowering to see how much we progressed throughout the week. Every day (sung to the tune of Buddy Holly) we got better when it came to staying in line and maintaining the same pace while we searched. There were times were we would engage in unspoken communication, signifying just how strong the team was.
I am grateful to have crossed paths with individuals that have dedicated a big portion of their lives to make change and advocate for human rights. One of my favorite parts was getting to hear everyone’s backstories and learning about how they ended up choosing to participate in humanitarian work. For the most part they described it as difficult but rewarding work. I leave this trip with so much inspiration. Inspiration to continue to be involved in any way I can by simply bringing awareness to the issue at large.
Despite only spending a week in Falfurrias, my time there was an eye opening and life changing experience. If someone asked me if I would go back, I would reply “in a heartbeat.” As I reflect on my trip, one of the most important life lessons I have learned is how truly fortunate I am in so many ways. A roof over my head, quality education, daily access to food and water, good health, and people around me who have always been a positive and supportive influence. These are just a few of the many blessings I have been afforded throughout my own my life. As I look back, I know there have been times I have taken that for granted and this trip has really put into perspective how most of my problems are so minuscule in comparison to others. Overall, from this experience I have become more mindful of the disturbing reality that not all people are afforded the same basic human rights and changes in immigration policy remain an uphill battle.
Since arriving back in Indianapolis, there is one specific moment that keeps running through my mind over and over again. This moment was during our third day of searches when I stumbled across a tattered and faded T-shirt tied in multiple knots. From my observation, the individual used the shirt to create to a makeshift bandana to cover their face from the sun. As I unraveled the knots, I realized the shirt was a Real Madrid youth soccer jersey. It was at this instance that a thousand different questions popped into my head. My initial thought was wondering if this individual was okay? Other questions that followed included: How old were they? Did they make it to their destination? Did they have dreams of going to the United States to become a professional soccer player? All these questions were overwhelming my brain and I woefully knew that I probably would never know the answer, but I remained hopeful that this individual made it across safely.
For me, finding lost or forgotten personal effects (jackets, hats, shoes, etc.) was one of the most emotionally challenging aspects during our searches. As I looked at each item, I knew it might have represented a small glimpse of who the person was and what they enjoyed doing. As a diehard soccer fan myself, seeing the youth jersey brought forth a sobering feeling that I wasn’t expecting. Over the years, I have read numerous stories about young migrants (often without their parents) attempting the journey across the border in hopes of being recruited to a well-known youth soccer academy or college so that professional coaches and scouts can notice them. Holding that jersey made me wonder if this individual had a similar goal. Soccer has always been seen as a shared language between cultures and that day I felt a special bond with this individual without every really knowing their story.
Other major takeaways I noted from the trip was the overall development and maturity of our Beyond Borders team. I thought all of us grew as anthropologist, forensic scientists, and people. We always had each other’s back and held each other accountable while out in the field. Despite potential cultural and political differences, each member had a common goal of protecting human life and working towards basic human rights for all. Overall, the team chemistry was great, and I thought that aspect made it a very fulfilling and enjoyable learning experience. I certainly feel like each of us have become much closer since returning home.
I want to thank Dr. Latham for the opportunity to participate in the Beyond Borders project. In addition, I wanted to send a big shout out to all those who worked with us during our time in Falfurrias. You are all truly amazing people and I hope to see all of you again in the near future! Lastly, thank you to all those reading our blog and have supported our mission over the past decade.
To think I am already writing my reflection post is wild. It feels like 2 seconds ago that I was anxious and scared about the trip, and now I am back in my apartment preparing for the upcoming semester. This trip has brought me memories and lessons I will keep and cherish for the rest of my life. 7 days flew by faster than I ever had expected. [Also, I’ll warn you. This is going to get pretty emotional.]
I actually started writing this post while I was still in Texas on our last work day. I was feeling extremely discouraged, feeling like I hadn’t done enough, holding in tears as we made our final walk back to Gloria, knowing it would be the last time. We did not make any recoveries while in Texas this trip, and it feels like a double-edged sword. Working so hard with only pictures and animal remains to show, when that wasn’t our goal, doesn’t feel like success, but remembering that searching was our true objective brings it more into perspective. The work we did searching allowed us to learn a number of things like which areas were more active with migrant traffic and help Don cover areas that would’ve taken days to do alone. Our work on the water stations potentially saves a number of lives. I was able to learn so much about people’s perspectives, the politics surrounding this work, and how one’s background can influence how you see this work and why people do it.
Comparing our skills from the first day to the last revealed an exponential change. By the end of the trip, we were able to navigate through thickets, brush, and complex MOTs (not technically defined as Mass of Trees but that is how I remember it) much faster than day one when it took us a few minutes even to find a route out. I learned a lot about footprints to where I could identify them and follow the direction they went. Being able to recognize a path through the brush made a significant difference while searching because we were quicker led to areas of migrant activity. We became compass pros and improved our line searching skills each and every day. Plus there was one rescue while we were there, so one young life saved.
Meeting and getting to work with Don, Eddie, Melissa, Jason, Matt, Leo, and even Ray has left me with memories I will never forget. Thank you for searching with us, keeping us safe, and putting up with my antics for days. I have learned so much from each of you and am so thankful to have met y’all. I hope if I get this opportunity again that I will get to work with you all again. (I’ll try to keep the noises down next time)
Being back in my room writing this leaves me with such a mix of emotions. We discussed it briefly in our last decompression session before leaving Texas, and Dr. Latham told us a lot of these feelings are common and normal before I even expressed how I was feeling. I feel like I didn’t do enough. That 5 days wasn’t enough. I continuously think on the challenges we endured while just searching the brush, holes, hunters, wildlife, cacti ( many kinds but pencil cacti that I am still pulling the spines out of my legs), thickets, and so much more. We had issues with these all while fully prepared, good shoes, water, snacks, thick clothes, protection, and people to warn us. Others are doing this in the dark, with just the clothes on their back, and fresh water being a luxury. How am I back in my bed when others are still out there fighting for their lives? What can I do here that will actually help someone in real time? I feel useless. That is not the case though as much as I may feel it. I am in school to better myself so I really can make a change, with the authority and knowledge to do so as well. There are many ways we can help from here (& you from your home as well). My time fighting for others and trying to help them is not over. I am thankful for the support I have to push me to keep going and those who have experience in these fields and are willing to help guide me.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t change how I am still feeling. What I saw and learned in Texas influences every second of my day. I find myself questioning whether I am justified in doing mundane things, correcting myself when I speak and think certain things, how can I complain or be deserving of this wonderful, plentiful life I have when others are putting their lives on the line just for the possibility of a new life. For the possibility of a future that may not come. The future promised to those making the dangerous trek is not always delivered and often times wasn’t the true future intended. The image of clothing we saw, food we found, all on our searches flashes through my mind constantly. I have an immense sense of guilt as I go through my days when previously I wouldn’t have batted an eye. I am very thankful for the life I live, but after my experiences and lessons learned in Texas, I am thankful to have my team around me and those who have also gone on this trip to talk to them about these feelings and work through these new challenges with them.
I am forever thankful to Dr. Latham for this lifechanging opportunity. I will be forever thankful to her for this, her kindness and patience along the way, and the team she chose as well. Having Olivia, Alex, and Tanya was truly the dream team, even when I’m sure we worked Dr. Latham’s last nerve quite a few times. I was terrified to leave and so anxious, as I said previously, but being with them was the best possible scenario for me. Everyone is so laid back, kind, and funny that it made the experience go so smoothly. This could’ve been a very different story if these people weren’t so genuinely amazing. I hope I will get to return in the future to pursue this work because along with learning so much, it strengthened my belief that this is the career and future I want to pursue and that I really can make a change.
UIndy, thank you for giving me this dream of an experience. My eyes have been opened in a multiplicity of ways, and my life has truly been impacted by this work and the inspiring people I got to work with.
Til next time, treat others with kindness, pursue happiness, and radiate positivity.