Tag Archives: Creighton

The Grey Shirt

The Endless Desert PC: CUbackpack
The Endless Desert
PC: CUbackpack

I started writing this blog when our group took a desert walk with the infamous Lil’ John. I was about halfway through it when I found myself holding down the delete button. All 237 perfectly crafted words were erased in a matter of seconds. That was the problem. They were perfectly crafted. They were artificial. It wasn’t me.

I wasn’t prepared for how the desert walk would affect me. Even today, I feel an ache in my stomach when I think about it.

Let me start by saying that I am not much of a hiker, so my first thoughts as I walked through the “moderate to easy “ trail were negative. Our usually silly group seemed more serious as we slipped and stumbled on the path. We were wearing athletic gear, sunscreen, had water and were well rested. But we were all struggling. My selfish, negative thoughts subsided when we stopped to hear Lil’ John talk about the migrants.

For the first time, it was easy to understand the migrant reality. I could imagine why people twist their ankles, run out of water, get lost or lose their life in the desert. It was hard for me to believe that anyone ever made it out.

Even though I was on the border, talking and serving the migrants every day, I couldn’t really comprehend that this was real. For some reason, I didn’t understand what I was seeing until I walked the path in the desert.

The moment that will stick with me for the rest of my life was when I first spotted a shirt. It was long sleeved, grey and looked like something one of my brothers would wear. It was proof. It was a reminder that this was real. That it belonged to someone.

It hurt when that reality hit me. It hurt that I would never know his name or his fate. I wanted to save him and knowing that I couldn’t and knowing that there were thousands out there was crushing. I think about that shirt and the man who left it all the time.

I want people who are against migration to understand that no one would want to walk that desert trail unless they had to. I want those people to think of their families and what they would do to save them. I don’t want them to step into his shoes, I want them to wear the grey shirt.

More to come,

Natalie

The Best

I cannot believe this is my final post. It’s weird that this officially means it’s all over and it’s really weird to reflect on the experience and consider what it all means to me now and what it will all mean to me in the future.

There was so much I learned and I think I covered a lot of that but one thing I haven’t really talked about it how grateful I am to have been a part of such a wonderful project with such a wonderful group. I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on the deeper aspects of the project, but we had a lot of fun too.

Living in a small house with 16 people can either be really fun or just the worst and it was really fun. We danced while making dinner, we danced while doing dishes, we played ridiculously specific rounds of mafia.

We also met so many incredible and interesting people. One night we went for dinner and margaritas in Mexico with a lawyer who was prosecuting for a family whose 15 year old son was shot on Mexican soil by an American guard on the border. His son and his son’s friend were there as well, both had family in both the Nogales, Arizona and the Nogales, Sonora side. The level that these two cities and their cultures are intertwined is truly astounding, especially when you see this massive iron structure sneaking between the two.

We also met a priest named Father Peter Neely who had been living in Nogales for some time and was extremely intelligent and well versed on the issues. Some of my most profound understandings came from talking with him. He introduced to some ranchers who own a massive ranch right on the border and have hours of footage of cartel members carrying huge packs of drugs through their land.

There were just so many layers and so much to take in, but having people there going through the same experiences who you could laugh with and cry with was something truly special.

One of my favorite times spent with everyone was when we went to a lake in Arizona, near Nogales. We spent the day swimming and A.J. (aka the group’s “dad”) cooked us all burgers and hotdogs (burgers and water–my two favorite things).

Later that night, some of stayed to fly the drone and play soccer. John called us over, saying he was going to teach us to meditate. So, approximately 10 of us sat down on the ground in a classic meditative position (legs crossed, hands palm-up on your knees) facing the water. At this point, the beach was still pretty crowded; people were boating and swimming, and it was probably a pretty funny (or super creepy) sight to see 10 people sitting in that position, dead still and dead silent, eyes closed, for 10 minutes straight.

That didn’t really occur to us until we heard a little kid in the water yell, “Mom, what are those people doing? They look so creepy!”

So, yeah, there were a lot of those funny moments throughout the trip which just made it so enjoyable and I feel like, right now, that’s what I’m holding onto. The profound experiences I had and the things we learned are things that will take more time for me to process, but I have no trouble saying I had the best time with the best group at the best school.

Getting tacos together for John's birthday.
Getting tacos together for John’s birthday.

A22

I know his name, but I won’t say it.

They know their names, but won’t say them.

When I interviewed Fr. Neeley, who used to work in detention centers, he told me that the guards would call migrants by letters and numbers. According to Fr. Neeley, dehumanizing migrants made it easier to mistreat them. For me, this was one of the most disturbing moments of the interview. I couldn’t imagine categorizing another human to avoid my own reality.

For this blog, I will do just that. I will tell the story of a migrant that I met and only call him by A22. I want to prove to myself and to the readers, how uncomfortable and disgusting this practice really is.

I had just finished cleaning up the evening meal at the comedor. Almost all of the men and women whom I encountered during dinner spoke Spanish. I communicated with a smile, service and a lot of Spanglish. I was surprised when A22 approached me and even more surprised when he spoke perfect English. A22 wanted the proper translation of an English word for his friend and asked for my help. Somehow A22 and I went from speaking about synonyms to telling his story. Right away, I could tell that A22 just wanted to be heard, and so I listened.

A22 came to the country when he was just 13 years old on a temporary visa. He stayed when it expired and started to make a life for himself in Arizona. He fell in love and had a son with his American girlfriend. After his son was born, his girlfriend became a drug addict. A22 told me that the plan had always been to marry her to become a real family and to also earn his citizenship.

“People always ask me why I didn’t just marry her. I know I wouldn’t have been deported if I did, but I couldn’t. The drugs took over her life. It ruined our relationship and it ruined her role as a mother. I wasn’t going to do that to my son. I wasn’t going to be that stereotype,” said A22.

At this point in A22’s story, I was almost in tears. The far right likes to believe that Mexicans are all criminals who will cheat the system to enter the country. A22 was a perfect example of how this idea is untrue. There are people with citizenship who do not have the moral compass that A22 holds; his girlfriend is a great example.

A22 won full custody of his son and split from his girlfriend. After some time, A22 made, what he called, a human mistake. He got back together with his girlfriend. His girlfriend became pregnant again and, according to A22, she continued to do drugs during the pregnancy. A22 told me that she was receiving the drugs from her brother.

“I made a mistake. I was so angry with her and her brother. This is my kid that she was hurting. She wouldn’t stop. He kept giving her drugs. I tried to warn him. She was killing my child. I had to do something,” said A22.

A22 assaulted his girlfriend’s brother, was charged with a felony and was deported in April.

“I just want a second chance. Why don’t I get a second chance? Is it because I’m brown? Is it because I’m different? I tried to tell the judge I was protecting my family, but he didn’t listen. Why does she get to keep our kids and I have to leave? I don’t get it,” said A22.

A22’s first son is now in the mother’s custody. His second son was born with Down syndrome and a missing limb because of his mother’s drug abuse. A22 has never met him.

A22 has been in Nogales for about a month. A22 shares an apartment with other migrants and has a job that only pays him about $10 a week. A22 is developing a case with a social worker to return to the country and raise his sons. It could take six to twelve months to process.

 

A22 is important.

A22 is real.

A22 is human.

 

Our Chat in the comedor
Our chat in the comedor

A Pilgrimage of Our Own

I have never been on a pilgrimage.

I’ve always imagined what it would look like. Long travel days. Poor hygiene. An air of excitement. I can happily say that I was almost right. Our group’s hygiene is on fleek.

Over the last two days we have traveled over 1,400 miles in a total of 24 hours of driving. There has been sleeping, singing, sight-seeing and more sleeping. Our already fun group grew even closer; I guess two vans full of antsy students is to blame.

Even though we were driving to the border, we didn’t discuss it or our mission much. The vibe of the van changed when we approached the outskirts of the city. The beautiful desert scenery was obstructed with border control and a giant drone searching for immigrants in the mountains. It was surreal. I felt like I was in a movie rather than my own country. We played inspirational music and remained silent until we approached our home for the next two weeks. Those final moments in the car set the mood for our mission.

Here is a quote that I have kept with me in travels throughout Europe a that I see fit for this journey:

“A pilgrimage is not a vacation; it is a transformational journey during which significant change takes place. New insights are given. Deeper understanding is attained. New and old places in the heart are visited. Blessings are received and healing takes place. On return from the pilgrimage, life is seen with different eyes. Nothing will ever be quite the same again,” Macrina Wiederkehr.

 

 

Here is our group after we arrived in AZ.

Tomorrow we are entering Mexico, filming B roll and interviewing an employee of the Kino Border Initiative.

For now, I’m exhausted.

More to come,
Natalie

The Goose goes South

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.

My van members that let me sleep on their shoulder, talked in weird voices, and sang for the ten hour drive.
My van members that let me sleep on their shoulder, talk in weird voices, and sing for the ten hour drive.

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.

Storytelling with a purpose

As the two white Creighton vans pulled out of the McGloin parking lot this morning, it was and still is difficult for me to fully comprehend what’s ahead. Nothing is ever what you expect it to be. This past week has been amazing and surprising and I’ve learned so much but we’ve only scratched the surface.

A big part of me still can’t believe I’m lucky enough to be doing this. It’s an interesting juxtaposition: I have an amazing opportunity to capture people’s lack of opportunity. In my first ever college journalism class, the first thing my teacher emphasized to us was the centrality of storytelling in journalism. Ever since then, I’ve been obsessed with this idea of long-form, narrative journalism. In my first ever Creighton class, my theology teacher emphasized to the class the importance of using your degree for social justice. That is also something that has stuck with me. That’s why I find it so incredibly humbling to use the power of storytelling to hopefully do some good in the world.

It’s scary to be actually moving forward with this work because it’s something that I care so much about doing in the long-term. It’s also incredibly exciting. I feel confident in what I’ve learned so far, but I’m definitely nervous about applying this knowledge in a real and meaningful way.

The amazing group I get to work with!
The amazing group I get to work with!

Positive(ly) Privilege(d)

Today was, by far, the most draining day of bootcamp.

It could be that it is day five of our intense training into the documentary world. It could be that I procrastinated on packing. It could be that we participated in an emotional  discussion with alumni of the program. It could be that we discussed heavy topics, such as the guilt that comes with privilege. It could be that we watched a documentary about teenagers who only have the option to join a gang or migrate. More than likely, it is a combination of all of these reasons.

After an exhausting day, I was excited to go home, relax and get some sleep. Well… It is 1:58a.m. and I am laying in bed next to a duffle with a broken zipper and a grocery bag full of Gushers.

I am nervous I didn’t pack the right things. I am mad because I smudged my freshly painted nails. I am cranky that I have to be up in four hours.

Aren’t I annoying? After all I’ve watched and learned this week about the struggles that Mexicans and Latin Americans endure just to enter my country, my biggest problem is that I can’t fit my flip-flops in my bag.

In class, John brought up the point about how easy it is to forget one’s privilege when one is surrounded by people with the same privilege. This documentary is meant to give a voice to the voiceless and make those who are are deaf to the issue hear. He also discussed how their was a John before Africa and a John after Africa

I hope that listening to and telling these stories will increase my awareness of my privilege and put my “problems” into perspective. I hope that I can turn my guilt into inspiration. I hope that I can find the Natalie after Noglaes.

Please pray for safe travel.

Creighton Backpack Journalism crew
The group on our last day of bootcamp.

 

More to come,

Natalie

 

 

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!

Information Overload

At the end of day three I am both exhausted and eager.  The amount of information thrown at us has been pretty crazy but for some reason I keep wanting more.  Learning information about all the different things we need to know has been bearable because I know that the knowledge and skills will greatly benefit in the making of our documentary.  Plus we leave in three days!

I have learned more about cameras and all of their different functions as well as some history of Christianity and the Catholic Church.  I have also learned about how to do an interview.  To be honest this was my biggest fear coming into this backpack journalism trip.  I am not a journalism student unlike almost everyone else and I have not written that much or conducted many professional interviews.  Hearing about the amount of blogs we will be writing and the interview questions we have to come up with seems like such a daunting task to me.  I know that throughout this journey I will learn the necessary skills in order to improve my blogging and interviewing skills.

For our journalism portion of class, Carol had us read three outstanding articles.  The first article was about a deadly tornado that struck a town on Psalm Sunday.  The second was about a lady giving $150,000 to a college in order to allow more southern Mississippi African American kids go to college.  And lastly, my favorite article was about a fifth grader who has acute myelocytic leukemia.

I think that the reason this article touched me so much was because of the way the author, Erin Grace, brings emotion into her piece and her style of writing.  She writes about one sentence per line almost as if she was writing like a fifth grader.  Erin humanizes the main character, Lauren “Lolo”, in many ways.  The most compelling line of her whole article was when several of Lolo’s friends came to Children’s Hospital on a snow day and stood in the atrium balcony and waved to her.  The way Erin describes the scene and how Lolo looks with her IV on her pole and hospital gown makes you feel like you are really there.  Lolo’s mother sees her daughter’s friends waving but with hesitation and perhaps fear.  Her mother simply looks at Lolo’s friends and says, “It’s still Lolo.”

Nico has been teaching us how to use the cameras and all of their functions.  He is a great teacher and one who really knows his stuff.  He taught us some of the basics on the second day and then had us partner up and go shoot at Creighton.  Ryan Lloyd was my partner and boy did we have fun!  We decided to shoot our adventure to the top of the old gym on Creighton’s campus.  We used all of the eight types of shots Nico taught us and had an absolute blast doing it.  We worked very well together because we both anticipated shots and also are creative.

Learning how to use the camera
Learning how to use the camera

We have come so far in only three days and have soaked in a lot of information.  I know that not all of the information will stick, but what is adventure without making a few mistakes and not going down the clear-cut path?  I am beyond excited for Saturday when we pack the vans and hit the road on this CU Backpack pilgrimage.

Faith That Does Justice? Faith in Injustice?

After 72 hours of backpack journalism bootcamp, I lie in my bed absolutely exhausted and overwhelmed at how much information we’ve received, but confident that we’re making notable progress.

So far, we’ve spent some time learning about the art and technique of videography, foundations of feature writing, and introductory theology. More than anything, I feel as though today marks a huge turning point — the foundation has been set, and it’s time now to dive in.

We all have the skills now to “fake it ’til we make it” and from this point forward, I feel as though we’ll be applying these last three days of information constantly, pushing ourselves to live and breathe light meters, to begin to raise questions about our own personal definition of church, and to think about how to ask those same questions of others in a respectful but intentional manner.

Much to my surprise, I’m pretty excited to see how the theology class ties into our project. I was expecting videography training, dos and don’ts of interviewing, and a crash course in good storytelling, but the biggest curveball for me so far has been wrapping my head around tying theology into our agenda.

We’re working our way towards a better understanding of ecclesiology — the study of church. Specifically, we’ll be discussing the definition of church within the context of border culture in Nogales.

This past fall, my understanding of church expanded tenfold when I was blessed with an opportunity to travel to Philadelphia to join a million and a half others in celebrating Pope Francis’s visit to the US. As we held hands and recited the Our Father, giving each other peace in the streets of downtown Philadelphia, I had goosebumps witnessing faith and mass ritual bring people from all over the world together in prayer. My own definition of church changed that day, and I’m looking forward to seeing how migrant culture challenges that even further.

Christian traditions are practiced all over the world, but with each culture brings a new interpretation and understanding of faith and community. As we continue to prepare ourselves technically and emotionally for this border immersion experience, I have found myself newly ecstatic to experience and absorb a new and different definition of “church,” as understood by the people of Nogales.

In the midst of such trial, transiency, and systematic injustice, how do migrants keep their faith? How do those serving humanitarian purposes in that area find strength to keep working towards a distant goal? How do those negatively affected by an increasing number of immigrants strive to live like Christ?