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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We went to bed late yesterday after a final debriefing meeting and packing. We felt good about the work we did as a team. We woke up to news that all domestic US flights were grounded due to issues with the FAA computer system. But we packed up Monica and headed toward San Antonio hoping for the best. I’m responsible for my student team members and getting them home safely, but I’m also painfully aware that our barriers to travel are mere inconveniences compared to the those faced by many.
We stopped for a last round of Whataburger breakfast taquitos and decided to eat breakfast in a park at the base of the Eagle Pass International Bridge. Here we saw the Rio Grande and a wall constructed of box cars and barbed wire. The river looked clam and peaceful, yet we were facing what caused the death of many of the individuals we had just exhumed from the cemetery. This was our last memory of Eagle Pass before leaving town.
While driving to San Antonio we were notified our first flight was delayed but not cancelled. That gave us a few hours of sightseeing and time for lunch. This down time creates a buffer between our work in the Texas Borderlands and returning to Indiana, something that is essential for the mental health of the Beyond Borders team members. There are many coping mechanisms enacted by last responders and forensic scientists who repeatedly confront things that are disturbing and emotionally challenging to interpret and better understand. In Texas and in our daily casework in Indiana I try to instill facing, rather than avoiding, the emotional response of casework. I teach my team to rely on each other for support and to come to me with any feelings or questions they have. The hope is this will create a healthy pattern of mindfulness but I also have resources for professional help with coping strategies. So our last day of sightseeing is not meant to downplay the mass disaster situation in Eagle Pass, but is always highlighted to show some of the deliberate steps we take in making sure we stay capable of contributing to do this work.
After several delays (of both flights) we were finally headed home. Our last flight experienced a lot of turbulence, so we were all wide awake for the 1am landing in Indianapolis. Please continue to read the blog for the next week as we all post our post-trip reflections.