Backpack Journalism at Creighton University is a collaboration between the Theology Department and the Journalism, Media, & Computing Department. It came about because of a theologian interested in social justice and filmmaking and a journalist and an artist interested in filmmaking and social justice.
Each summer, a small group of students travels to a community in search of a story. Led by professors Dr. John O’Keefe, Tim Guthrie, and Carol Zuegner, the students immerse themselves in the communities, interviewing, filming, recording, and writing. When they return to Creighton, they take the stories they have collected and develop them into a short documentary film. The Backpack Journalism documentaries have been accepted at several film festivals, including the Omaha Film Festival. The class has traveled to such far-flung places as the Dominican Republic and Uganda. In 2014, they will head north to Bethel, Alaska.
Today is Monday, the 23rd of May. We met Joanna, director of education and advocacy at the Kino Border Initiative. She led us into our first experience of crossing the border into Mexico.
We parked our vans a couple of blocks outside of the border. After walking for about five minutes, we came upon what looked like a steel, caged walkway. Joanna informed us that this walkway will be used in the future as an entrance for migrants being deported back to Mexico. I was shocked at how much it resembled a cattle chute. The path we took into Mexico was a sidewalk that followed right along side of the caged walkway.
We walked beside the caged runway for about 200 yards (two football fields) and got into Mexico without anyone flinching or checking our passports.
I was already hot and irritated with the rocks that kept getting into my shoes.
But the migrants had to do this trek from within a cage. I can’t fathom what they could possibly be feeling during this very public walk of shame. These people had left their homes out of fear to search for safety. They have been in the desert for who knows how long without the proper basic resources such as food and water. When Border Patrol detains them, they are in terrible condition. The humiliation must be traumatizing to be shackled by the hands and feet. They get dropped off in the same dusty, sweat filled clothes that they started their pilgrimage in. Once they are uncuffed, they are told to walk through a cage into a city they have never been to.
I cannot begin to imagine the horror and vulnerability that these people face.
One of the Kino Border Initiative‘s missions is to work towards humane migration. This becomes a huge challenge when news outlets, politicians and government officials are constantly criminalizing migrants and refugees. I admit that I have fallen victim to this power of repetition that sees migrants as criminals rather than as individual lives seeking something better. After today, my eyes have been opened and my life has been changed. My hope is to help those who aren’t fortunate to have the experiences that we are having. I want to give a face to the migrant instead of seeing a group of criminals. No matter your political views, I hope that you can at least realize that all humans have inherent rights and dignity.
“When you devalue one human life, you devalue all human life.”
The first week of bootcamp was officially over and I was more than ready to get on the road.
After 10 hours of driving through Nebraska and Colorado, we found our way to Raton, NM. We will get up early once again tomorrow to set off for our final destination.
There are two other Marias on this trip so my companions have taken to calling me “Goose.” In high school, my friends gave me the title. At first I despised it. There’s nothing cute about geese but they refused to change my animal because it was “perfect.” I couldn’t make any sort of connection besides the fact that I walk with my feet out.
Their reasoning was deeper than I had originally thought. They explained that I tend to not be afraid to confront people if something is bothering me. They talked about the exuberance that I bring into a room when I walk in. I’m protective of my friends and committed to team work. I had never really thought of myself like that and once I reflected on it, I became a proud goose.
Once my classmates had brought out my spirit animal name again, I decided that I really wanted to use those traits these next few weeks. I’m excited to get to know the traits and qualities of my other classmates and give them an animal to be proud of. Geese are team players and I want to build up my incredible backpack team. I can’t wait to encourage them to do their best work and see all of us develop as not just as individuals, but as one.
This is my first blog post for backpack journalism, two days late. I’m sorry (Carol), but I wasn’t born on time either and I’ve been cursed ever since.
But to be honest, I didn’t know what I wanted to write about. The writing prompt was to talk about myself and why I chose to participate in this adventure. Easy, right?
Over the past year, I have learned so much in my courses at Creighton, particularly this past semester. The course that has made the most impact is my International Mass Communications class (Thanks, Carol). I was told at the beginning of the semester that this class had changed students lives. I didn’t expect it to change mine. I suppose this class was a main reason that I signed up for this trip.
I realized that I was taking my freedom of speech for granted. I am lucky to live in a country where it is deemed a fundamental right. Others aren’t as lucky to have such a privilege. This class helped me realize that I need to be using my voice for those who don’t have one.