Tag Archives: backpack journalism

Memorable Quotes of CU Backpack 2016

With this year’s CU Backpack trip being my first, I was expecting a variety of different interviews and different outcomes. Our professors told us that in the past, some interviews had been flops and couldn’t really be used in the final cut of the documentary. However, every single person we interviewed on this year’s trip were absolutely stellar, without a single bad interview. And with these stellar views came some stellar quotes, as well. Here’s just a few of some of the most memorable ones for me:

  • “The only law is love your neighbor.  Now you tell me how putting up a wall is loving your neighbor.  You tell me how deporting women and children back to a place we know they will get killed is loving your neighbor. It may be loving yourself because you want to hold onto your things, but we are making decisions based on material things, not on human beings. And that is no way shape or form something that we cannot tolerate as American citizens.”  – Father Peter Neeley, S.J.
  • “The wall that’s a few miles from here would not be there if there weren’t walls between our ears, all of our ears. We have walls. We’ve built walls. We don’t even know that they are there, cultural walls. And until those walls are taken down, the other ones won’t fall.”  – John “Lil John” Heidt
  • “If you go along the wall and then you see it, it’s pretty ominous, right. It’s like a scar, it’s a step backwards in history, and it will one day be looked at by people and wonder what we were thinking. It represents the worst of us, our ignorance, our fear and our arrogance. That’s what it represents. And when you have those things, those are powerful.”  – Isabel Garcia
  • “[The migrants] are people with dignity who deserve everything, it is just that evil that makes them feel they don’t have any rights. I am sure you have seen at the comedor that people come in with a certain face and they leave with another face. Being treated well as human beings with dignity really lifts their spirits.”  – Sister Maria Engracia Robles Robles, M.E.
  • “What we try to teach people when they’re in the Comedor is actually because you are made in the image and likeness of God, have inherent dignity, as a human being you have dignity. Because of that dignity, you have certain rights. These aren’t rights that a government can give or take away, these are your rights because you are who you are, just because you were born, just because God created you.”  – Joanna Williams

Walking in Their Footsteps

A lot of our days in Arizona started off very early, whether it be for getting b-roll or to get ready for the long day ahead of us. One day in particular, we were all out of the house we were staying in by 6 in the morning to take an early morning desert walk in Arivaca, Arizona, where we would walkfor two miles on the path that migrants take when they are traveling across the border.

During this walk, we were lead by our tour guide for the day, John Heidt, or as we lovingly called Lil John, who is an activist that works closely with the No More Deaths organization. Throughout the walk, he would give us information one why the route we were taking was a migrant route, and described the grueling journey most of them take to get to this point. We stopped to listen at some points, and even walked to a makeshift shrine made by migrants that had bottles and jugs of water for travelers to drink from. We ourselves left many bottles of water and several cans of food for anyone who would take the trail.

Jugs of water hanging from trees by ropes for migrants who are passing by on the trail to drink from. The jug on the right reads "No human is illegal"
Jugs of water hanging from trees by ropes for migrants who are passing by on the trail to drink from. The jug on the right reads “No human is illegal”

John spoke elegantly about the issue of migration to us and what these travelers go through to make it into the US. One of his statements that stuck with me throughout the trip was about how we, as Americans, tend to have borders in our ears, and unless we take those walls down, we cannot take down the actual wall. I spent a lot of time during the trip reflecting on that particular quote, and understanding that our ultimate goal of the trip was to, in fact, help take down some of those cultural walls through the final product of our documentary.

While it was only two miles, it took us about 4 hours to get through the trip, and all of us were completely exhausted by the end of it; and this was only an insignificantly small fraction of the length that migrants who cross the border have to travel. It gave me a slightly better understanding of the hell migrants have to trek through, albeit a very small example of that. It made the drive back to our house much more reflective, trying to imagine walking all the miles that we drove out there to Arivaca. I guess you really can’t understand what others go through until you walk a mile, or a few hundred, in their shoes.

Trying to Make Sense of it All in a Very Scattered Way

I think the best way to describe the way this experience altered me is by what something Nico said during our final reflection. He said something to the effect of “We’re not just putting names and faces to the issue, we’re putting real, actual people to the issue,” and he could not have been more right.

It wasn’t just seeing these issues firsthand that got to me, it was learning about these issues and then meeting and become friends with the people these issues affect that really changed me I think.

And I’ve said this a million times, but I think it’s so special and so important that we have the ability to share these stories and these people with an audience. I think that’s an incredibly powerful tool and has led me to appreciate and love journalism and all its many facets and capabilities so much more than I already did.

As far as the issue itself, I think the biggest thing is that it makes me wonder what else is out there that I don’t know or that is so largely misunderstood. It just blows my mind that all of this is happening right under our noses and people, including myself, have been able to remain so ignorant about it. Again, I think that makes me appreciate the importance of journalism and makes me want to discover and share more.

It also blows my mind, from a political standpoint that there’s such a lack of knowledge. I would love to see politicians visit Kino and look at these issues firsthand before passing policy and legislation. This is an issue that cannot be resolved from afar, because the bottom line is that things aren’t working because there isn’t a concrete enough understanding of what the issues are.

I guess, to that extent, I find myself getting frustrated by our political system and by the backwards structuring of it all. But overall I think this trip has helped me understand how incredibly powerful journalism can be.

Literally, trying to make sense of everything we've heard.
Literally, trying to make sense of everything we’ve heard.

Freedom of Aid

On Saturday, our group went on an interesting adventure. We followed a soft-spoken Quaker man, whose white hair was longer than mine, into the desert in order to gain a better perspective on what migrants go through on their journey north. Our fearless leader, “Lil John” as we called him, took us under barbed wire fences, over walls of rock, and through uneven rocky brush lined with heavily thorned desert plants under the early morning desert sun. I went through 4 bottles of water.

As we moved from the cattle path to the migrant trails, the reality of where I was didn’t really hit until crawling under the second barbed wire fence of the day. While brushing myself off on the other side, someone pointed out a discarded sweater. It looked like it used to be white, but was torn, weathered, and caked with dirt, turning it a stained dark brown. It appeared a migrant had discarded it right before crawling under the barbed wire we’d just come through.
As the trail continued, I noticed the occasional rusty can littering the sides of the trail. After a while, we reached an opening in the valley trail. A small shrine had been erected out of a natural opening in the side of a small cliff. A tree branch to the right of the shrine had gallons of water hanging from strings with messages of prayer and good will written across them in Spanish. On the ground lay several more gallons of water, as well as cans of beans. The shrine itself was decorated with candles, crosses, and images of St. Mary.
It was an incredibly surreal place to see in the middle of a trail that meant death and pain for so many. In the midst of illness, death, injury, and pain that lines this journey for so many, there is a small ray of hope and comfort. Ironically, that aid is provided by a group of activists from the very same nation that at once draws and rejects people. The same country that hunts these migrants down on this journey, also produces people who aid them on the way.
If I’m being honest, I didn’t know what to think about this juxtaposition. I guess it reminded me the more positive aspects of The United States’ system after two weeks of feeling frustrated by my country’s continuous blunders. Out of all the backwards policy, the ability and the choice to help people in need still remains.

Lil John showing us the migrant trail.
Lil John showing us the migrant trail.

Operation: Streamline

I heard the word “culpable” in the US Federal District Court in Tucson, Arizona during the hearings of detained migrants about 35 times yesterday. I would have heard it another 30 times if our group stayed in the courtroom for another fifteen minutes. 30 guilty pleas in 15 minutes may not sound right, but it unfortunately is: the plead of “guilty” was said about every 30 seconds in that courtroom.

Operation: Streamline is an initiative that began in 2005 under the Bush administration in an effort to create a zero tolerance policy against the undocumented crossing over of migrants from Mexico into the U.S. Every migrant who has been detained meets with a lawyer, who strongly encourages them to plead guilty, and has their hearing within one day. These hearings are en masse, where up to 70 migrants are all tried in one courtroom session: rarely do they ever plead innocent. In exchange for their cooperation of pleading guilty, their sentences typically range from 30 to 180 days.

This process with this many individuals happens every weekday in that courtroom, as well as a couple others along the southern states.

The district court that we went to in Tucson, AZ to see Operation: Streamline take place
The district court that we went to in Tucson, AZ to see Operation: Streamline take place

Continue reading Operation: Streamline

Building America

On Tuesday morning, my alarm went off at 3:45 am, and after a few hits of the snooze button and a couple cups of coffee, our 16-person backpack journalism squad rolled out to a local hilltop neighborhood to film some sunrise b-roll. As the sun inched over two neighboring cities of the same name, a long and looming copper wall became more and more evident rising and falling with the dessert hills.

Over the past four days, we’ve spent equal amounts of time in loaded silence and hysterical laughter. Hearing stories that challenge our understandings of life in all its forms makes us forget how tired we are from dessert heat, emotional roller coasters, and 12+ hour days. During late nights and early mornings, I’ve had many opportunities to blog about how this experience has been so far, but I just haven’t been able to find the words.

Every interview, conversation, observation and reflection makes me more and more confused about the reality of migration. The Olivia Pope ‘fixer’ in me gets frustrated with every new piece of information, as it makes a realistic solution seem even further out of reach.

My fixer instinct was particularly defeated in seeing a train marked with “Union Pacific – Building America” cruising past downtown Nogales on the Mexican side, through a gate opening in the wall, and straight into the US. As this train is “Building America” by delivering cheaply produced goods from Mexican factories to American consumers, Mexican citizens wait in line for 20 years for the chance to be called American and treated as such.

This raises the question — how deeply rooted and systematically unjust is the relationship between the US and Mexico, and how does that relationship trickle down to affect individuals every day? Union Pacific, headquartered in downtown Omaha, employs dozens of Creighton students. Are they contributing? I love to eat avocado toast for breakfast, and “Avocados from Mexico” brand avocados are tasty and cheap. Is my avocado addiction to blame?

Father Peter Neeley, a Jesuit and the Assistant Director of Education at Kino Border Initiative, believes that the dehumanization of migrants comes down to American people valuing things over people. We care a lot about keeping the prices of our favorite goods and foods low, and as a result, economic dependence on cheap Mexican labor continues. Yet, criminalization and dehumanization of migrant populations stimulates a culture of fear despite economic dependency.

For me, comprehending all this comes down to a single quote: “to live fully, we must learn to use things and love people, and not love things and use people.” With this in mind alongside inspiration from the love and passion of the people that have dedicated their lives to working towards resolving this issue, it seems that hope and faith can be found in knowing that the sun will rise over the wall again tomorrow with a solution somewhere down the road.

Making all feel welcome

We are on our fourth day of work for Backpack Journalism Arizona/Mexico, but we sit and look at each other at dinner every night and say — “Has it really only been one (two)(three) days?”

We have packed a lot into a few days, spending most of our time at the border or in Mexico at the Kino Border Initiative.  We have walked along the wall, seen the “cattle chute”  that deported migrants must walk through. We have watched those mostly recently deported migrants come into the comedor,  the Kino Border Initiative’s soup kitchen, clutching their backpacks or plastic bags that hold everything. They look lost and scared and hungry. For a short time, in the midst of feeling lost, there can be a sense of belonging.The people who work there and the volunteers do everything to be welcoming. One example is Sister Alicia of the Missionary Sisters of the Eucharist, one of the partner organizations at the Kino Border initiative. She and other sisters work in the comedor and the women’s shelter. In the comedor, she never stops moving and never stops smiling.

two women laughing and smiling
Sister Alicia and Carol Z laughing over Carol’s attempts to fill salt shakers at the comedor

That smile, the movement all help to make the migrants feel at home, feel like people after a dehumanizing system has left them without a place.

Sister Alicia and everyone at the comedor work to make it a welcoming and warm place. The migrants are served the meals. Short presentations before the meal focus on dignity, rights, a song about hope. The volunteers or Sister Alicia lead the migrants in short hand exercises or cheer contests. It’s beautiful to see the faces light up with smiles and laughter.

There’s prayer too. One of the themes we are hearing likens the comedor to the Eucharistic table where gifts are prepared and shared. The power of hearing the familiar cadences of the “Our Father” — even in a language I don’t understand — brings tears to my eyes. Every time. I have been lucky enough to hear and recite that prayer in the Dominican Republic, in Africa and now at the border.

Continue reading Making all feel welcome

A Human Being

Today I met a man while visiting the Kino Border Initiative’s Comedor in Nogales, Mexico. The Comedor is a place where migrants who have been deported back to Mexico can go to get a couple of hot meals twice a day, as well as any other help and assistance that they may need. It’s a place of refuge for those who have no where else to turn after they’ve lost everything, and it’s filled with volunteers who care greatly about each individual and do their best to make them feel important. The inside of the Comedor is covered with posters that all start with “Tengo derecho a…”, stating the rights that everyone in that room deserves to have. The people who work at KBI do everything they can to make sure those who were deported understand they have these rights, and help them share their stories of the trials they’ve faced resulting in them being back in Mexico.

The entrance into Mexico in Nogales, with the Kino Border Initiative Comedor located to the bottom left underneath the sign
The entrance into Mexico in Nogales, with the Kino Border Initiative Comedor located to the bottom left underneath the sign

Today I had a conversation with someone who kindly pulled me off to the side away from another conversation I was listening to. The first thing he said to me wasn’t to ask my name, or to ask how I was doing. Instead, the first thing he did was shake my hand, look me in the eyes, and ask: “Are you a Christian?” I was somewhat caught off guard by this question, not expecting this to be the beginning of our conversation. I hesitated for a moment in answering him: I haven’t been a practicing Catholic since I was in middle school, and even then I never really considered myself a devout Christian. But given the fact that this was the very first thing this man asked me, I knew he must care deeply about his faith, and was looking for someone to discuss the matter.

Today I lied to man about my faith and answered him with a smile: “Yes, I am a Christian.” He immediately began to confide in me, and we dove into conversation for the next several minutes. His name was Francisco, and he had been in Nogales for the past 2 weeks. He was separated from his wife Roxanne, who was stilling living in the United States, about 3 months ago after he was detained and deported back to Mexico. His son, Daniel, is currently living with his sister in a city 8 hours away from Nogales, and hasn’t seen him in awhile either; he missed his 7th birthday in the middle of April, and wished that he could have been there to see him. His son will be taken to his wife later in the month, since he has all of his legal documents, as does everyone else in his family but him.

Today I saw the personification of determination in Francisco. Despite everything that has happened to him, he kept assuring me that he would see his wife and son again. “I know I’ll get my paperwork soon, and I can see my family again. I know it’s possible with God.” He asked me to pray for him and his family, and to keep them all in my thoughts. He also told me to pray for everything else in this similar situation. “I’m not the only one going through this; there are so many others that are going through different things, and they all have their own story.” And he was right: just earlier in the Comedor we heard stories of other migrants who were just recently deported and what had happened to them. Some tried to hitch rides on a train but fell off, almost dying. Some tried to walk through the desert, only to be detained after the grueling journey defeated them with dehydration and exhaustion. All different people with different stories and different backgrounds.

Today I heard but one example out of hundreds of thousands of stories about the hardships migrants face when it comes to finding a better life. I saw how much his faith mattered to him that he would ask me, someone he believed to be a Christian, to pray for not just him, but for all other migrants facing the many different facets of injustice. I admired his devotion to his religion, that he can have so much faith in God and still be so optimistic to see his family again, and ask of others to have faith in his mission as well.

Today I prayed for a man after years of not practicing any religion, in genuine hope that he will see his family again.

Today I met one man out of so many others who just want to reach a better life across the border.

Today I met a human being.

The Journey Ahead

When I got up to pack  this morning at 5 a.m. I was struck by the act of packing. In a way I was packing for just another trip; shirts check, pants check, toothbrush and paste check and check, and the list goes on. But while my hands may have been packing for an ordinary trip, in my mind I was preparing for a life changing journey.

As I pack I run the gamut of emotions from excited to nervous to impatient. I feel like I’m on the cusp of a rare experience that I will carry with me to the grave, altering the way I see the world and its population forever. I feel  fortunate to have taken a trip before this one that resulted in a radical change in life direction, ultimately leading me to Creighton University. And I recognize the similarity between the feelings I felt before that trip and what I am feeling now.

I am excited to learn about the people we will meet and the issues they face. In class yesterday we watched a short documentary about young men traveling to the Mexican-U.S. Border. I thought about the privilege I have by virtue of where I was born and the color of my skin that I will most likely never have to make a trek as terrifying or difficult as theirs. I know that I would never want my brother to be in the position of having to choose between gang life and a bloody death on the street and thus I can’t imagine the pain these families experience watching their young men grow up.

I look forward to hearing the stories of the people we meet and hopefully being able to tell them in a respectful manner. I don’t know how this trip will change me, I can only hope to be ready for the potential changes.

Long Days, Large Payoff

I remember a few years ago when I used to go to high school back in Texas. I remember having to wake up around 6:30 everyday just to get ready in the morning, then get to school an hour later and wait for class to start at 8. I would stay in that school the entire day until the very last class period at 4:30, go home to do my homework, and try to go to sleep at a reasonable time every weekday. It’s times like this week that make me think back to those high school days and think to myself: “How in the world did I manage to survive being in school all day everyday?!”

While waking up early and staying in a classroom all day has taken a toll on my spoiled, nap-riddled sleep schedule, I can still honestly say I’ve enjoyed every sleep deprived moment of this week. I’ve learned so much in the past few days, not about just film, editing, and videography as a whole from Nico Sandi, but also about feature writing from Carol Zuegner, as well as some ecclesiology lessons from Dr. John O’Keefe. It’s been a busy week jam packed with multiple lectures, lessons, and tutorials, and it’s been an incredible ride so far.

This week has been especially great for me in terms of learning new things, because I’ve always been curious about how exactly a camera works. I never knew what ISO was, or how shutter speeds and the aperture affects shots, and how to balance all of these factors to get the picture/video you want. But after this week, I’ve gotten the main gist of how all of these things work, and how to use them effectively in film. I’m actually pretty sure I even had a dream about it at one point; I just couldn’t get it out of my mind after learning about it and seeing it in action every day! Additionally, Nico helped all of us out by giving us cheat sheets with different shots, as well as hints and tips when it comes to shooting, which has been immensely helpful this past week.

Cheat Sheets
Nico’s Handy Dandy Cheat Sheets: The most useful pieces of paper this week

I’m very excited to put everything that I’ve learned this week so far into use while we’re all in Arizona and Mexico. Everyone in our group is very talented and have been doing some awesome stuff as far as shooting and editing videos go, so I’m even more excited to see how well we’ll all work together as a team!