Tag Archives: #Migration

Piece by Piece

My comfort zone is located in several odd locations: any rollercoaster, local coffee shop, or airplane.

However, you won’t find it anywhere near spicy food.

You won’t find it by a scorpion.

You definitely won’t find it behind a camera.

After two weeks of hanging out with all of the above, it felt incredible to be welcomed back with words.

I was in my element in Hitchcock 203. The satisfaction of seeing the story sprawled out on the surface was spectacular. (Side note: I love alliteration. Can you tell?) I loved collaborating with my teammates and organizing our hundreds of pages of material. It was much harder than expected to make the cuts; I wish our movie could be a day long, but I don’t know any film festivals with that requirement.

Overall, I loved reading the interviews again. That’s when I knew we had something special, when I was excited to read an interview that I already knew by heart. The writing team would shout out great quotes from the transcript they were reading and we would all comment on how much we adored it. Praise for our people became a regular pastime in that room. I hope… No, I know that we will make them proud.

I have a wonderfully excited feeling about this film and I cannot wait for you to watch it.

The Piecing Process. PC: Carol
The Piecing Process. PC: Carol/Aly

More to come,

Natalie

The Realization of Complication

Complicate.

It’s a word that we learned on our very first day in Nogales. One of the Kino Border Initiative’s main goals is for groups to leave with an understanding of the complicated reality of migration. After two weeks on the border, I can’t imagine anyone leaving without complication packed in his or her baggage.

I thought I learned complication from the desert walk, our discussions with people who work on the border, Operation Streamline or the migrant’s stories, but I didn’t understand it until I got back home.

When my family asked what I learned, my mind went blank. I felt like every question, every frustration, every sign of hope was at the tip of my tongue but couldn’t escape; I had so much to say, but no way to say it.

That frustrating feeling was when I truly understood the layers of complication that migration carries. I always knew the layers were there and I uncovered even more during the trip, but to know and to understand are not the same thing.

I think this is part of Kino’s magic; they taught us as much as they could, but left the understanding for a later date.

Now that I truly understand, I am so thankful for the outlet of film.

Even though I often find myself frustrated and overwhelmed with migration’s level of complexity; knowing that there will be an epic film full of b-roll and sick edits, gives me relief.

Credit to CU Backpack
Credit to CU Backpack

More to come,

Natalie

If Memory Lane were a Photo Album…

When I studied abroad in Rome last year, one of my favorite professors forbid photographs. He would take us to the most beautiful churches in the world and go absolutely ballistic if he saw a student snap a photo.

Despite my initial annoyance, I learned how to appreciate whatever was in front of me (something very hard to do nowadays). Besides filming and updating the Snapchat, I didn’t take pictures during my time at the border.

Thankfully, my classmates did.

Here are some of my absolute favorite people/memories:

Lil' John. Our tour guide for the desert walk.
Lil’ John. Our tour guide for the desert walk.
Fr. Neeley and Daniela
Fr. Neeley and Daniela. Two awesome interviewees!
Desert walk selfie!
Desert walk selfie!
Some of the CUbackpack team
Some of the CU backpack team
Dinner/Dance Party!
Dinner/Dance Party!
Shrine in Tucson, Arizona
Shrine in Tucson, Arizona
Entrance to Mexico
Entrance to Mexico

(Photos do not belong to me)

10 Things I Never Hated

The border is a complicated and sometimes, intense place. One way to wind down after a long, heavy day was to hang out with my incredible Backpack family. While we were there to learn, we laughed a lot and made memories that I will smile about forever. In the style of one of my favorite movies, 10 Things I Hate About You, here are the 10 things that I “hated” about this experience:

 

  1. I hated stepping outside of my cooking comfort zone.
  2. I hated the way my dance moves looked on Snapchat.
  3. I hated losing my breath from laughing too hard on the long van rides.
  4. I hated the deflated beds that created so many jokes in our room.
  5. I hated being caught as a member of the “mafia” during our silly game.
  6. I hated how my classmates cheated at Tenzi.
  7. I hated the way we all looked out for each other.
  1. I hated the pressure of picking the perfect song when I had the aux cord.
  2. I hated how my cheeks would hurt from smiling during our hilarious dinner chats.
  3. But mostly I hated the way I didn’t hate it, not even close, not even a little bit, not even at all.

 

Thanks, Aly for your awesome selfie skills.
Thanks, Aly for your awesome selfie skills.

Journalism, Success, and the Border

I’ve always tried to live according to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s quote “To know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.” It’s a simple quote but a high order. To me it means putting aside worldly things like money and consumerist success in favor of holding myself to the standard of helping others, even if helping is just being present with someone.

When I was very young I realized that my general fear of blood and distress in the field of mathematics meant that I would never be a doctor or a nurse. But when I went to Guatemala in tenth grade I learned that there are many ways to help that don’t require a medical license. It was there I decided to become a journalist.

A shrine for the migrants.
A shrine for the migrants.

While in Guatemala I read a book called Never the Hope Itself: Love and Ghosts in Latin America and Haiti by Gerry Hadden. The book opened my eyes to the world of journalism and the realities of Latin America. Realities that paralleled what I was seeing in the community I was living with. For the first time I felt like there was something I could do to help: write. Visiting the border has only reaffirmed that calling.

The border for me serves as a reminder of what happens when the media capitalizes on fear. “If it bleeds, it leads,” is an old journalism adage. I think it is an outdated motto that has unfortunately taken over the journalism world in an effort to keep afloat in an era of citizen journalism. The border reminds me of what happens when journalists fail to report on people. When we dehumanize people because they don’t come from our country, we overlook the human rights violations in favor of supporting our own interests. I hope to be someone who helps change that or who at the very least manages to remind people that there is a world outside our individual bubbles. A world that is crying because of the death and destruction we choose to ignore.

That’s a Wrap!

Many of my blog posts have reflected on my experience in Arizona and Mexico in a deeper, more analytical way. To say that I am grateful for this experience would be an understatement.

I never expected to “be changed” by this experience, but I think there have been little moments where I’ve stopped to think, “Wow, I never would have thought this way before,” and I’m glad those moments made me step back and realize that this experience helped me appreciate many things in my life.

I have gained a better understanding of a major issue facing our country and I think this understanding came from the migrants we interacted with and the people who give their time and energy towards helping migrants better their lives each and every day.

I am more confident in my abilities as a journalist to tell the stories of others through film. I am humbled to have experienced my faith in a way I haven’t before, through seeing God every day in the migrants who hold such hope in their hearts, even after everything they have gone through.

I am content in telling the story of the migrants, but I am not content with the way immigration is handled in the United States and Mexico. There is so much that needs to be done in both governments, and I hope one day there could be a solution, one that includes treating migrants with the respect and dignity they deserve.

The biggest question to wrap up this experience is what I can do differently based on what I learned. I think there are many things I could do, from grateful for everything in my life – the big things and the little things, to telling others of my experiences and what I encountered in the two weeks we spent in Nogales. While I’ll undoubtedly incorporate this into my life, I think the biggest take away is to approach every individual and situation with a sense of compassion, to look at things from their perspective, and to never underestimate the humanity of our world, the good and the bad. It’s too easy to focus on the negativity that exists in the world, but centering on the positive moments in our lives is something that I believe outweighs all the hardships.

I hope audiences view our documentary with an open heart and open mind. It’s impossible to replicate our experiences in Nogales through film, but I think our documentary explains the human reality of migration and puts a face and life experience to the issue. I could not be more appreciate of this experience, for many reasons, and I know there is still much to be done, but I’ll use that motivation to tell the stories of others in the future – stories that give a voice to the voiceless.

Not a goodbye, but a see you later. So happy I worked alongside such gifted and compassionate individuals who put their hearts and souls into this experience and documentary. Couldn't have asked for a better group of coyotes to "hoo-yip" through the desert with, gracias CU Backpack Arizona!
Not a goodbye, but a see you later. So happy I worked alongside such gifted and compassionate individuals who put their hearts and souls into this experience and documentary. Couldn’t have asked for a better group of coyotes to “hoo-yip” through the desert with, gracias CU Backpack Arizona!

Now What?

Backpack Journalism is done.

There are no more classes, the final assignments are due, and we finally have a rough cut *woot woot*.

We had our last breakfast together, took the last group photo, and went on our way.

Last group photo
Last group photo before dissembling the fellowship

While getting back into a normal routine (study, cook/eat, work out, sleep, repeat) I have not been able to shake the feeling of ‘now what’?

It seems like an injustice to have this experience, but then return to Omaha and not change anything. Now that I am back to my ‘normal’ what is next? How can and should I use my experience at the border to better change the world I live in?

I have struggled with figuring out a realistic answer to this question. I do not see myself dropping everything and dedicating my life to the issue of migration but, in contrast, I feel like I cannot just do nothing.

First, on a personal level, I need to learn about the complexity of problems in our society. I need to reject my own ignorance and, though it may be hard, actually learn about the issues. You cannot do anything worthwhile without knowledge.

Second, I need to continue to recognize the marginalized in every community. There are people who are marginalized in Omaha and I have turned a blind eye. I need to recognize injustice instead of ignoring it.

This is a realistic first step, where I can use what I learned in Arizona to better myself and my community.

However, this still does not feel like enough. What actual things can I do to better work for the crucified people?

The honest answer is I do not know. I do think that this will help guide me in the future. That after this experience I will not settle for doing things for the purpose of doing something, I will need to find a greater purpose in what I do. However, other than that only time will tell.

So as of now, I’m out, Backpack Journalism 2016 it has been great.

The Luxury of Worrying

Hello, my name is Maren and I am a constant worrier. Ask anyone I know and they will tell you that I fret about situations not even fathomable or over the smallest details that aren’t worth my time or energy. But I do, and much of our society is comprised of worriers too.

Sometimes I imagine if I lived more in the moment and didn’t worry so much about the future. This is the reality for many migrants, however, and I don’t think it’s all cracked up to be. I’m fortunate that I don’t have to worry about a roof over my head, clothes in my closet, water in my glass, food on my table, care for my health, or even my freedom and rights. I take all of these things for granted yet migrants live in a constant state of worry wondering where these basic needs will come from.

This trip to Nogales made me realize how much I take for granted and that my worries shouldn’t be worries at all, especially in comparison to what others have. So on my trip I embraced waking up at 5 a.m., cold showers, sore muscles, and being constantly thirsty. Instead of wanting to sleep in, complain about the freezing shower temperature, aching feet, or thirst as we were in a different climate and altitude, I was grateful to be able to wake up to another day, be able to have water to clean with, have shoes that fit me and protected my feet, and plenty of clean drinking water.

Chopping cucumbers for dinner!
Ryan, Natalie, and I chopping cucumbers in the Comedor: a simple act but helpful to the staff and meaningful to migrants who were able to enjoy this cool veggie with dinner.

Our society is obsessed with more. We want more, we need more, we aspire to be more, and if we don’t reach those standards, we worry about what we lack and take what we do have for granted. Many people say that after they have lived amongst those who have very little, they claim that the less you have, the happier you are. I don’t think anyone should have to worry about their safety or where their water or next meal comes from, but I believe the distractions we’ve become accustomed to in life have led us to become worriers even if we don’t realize it.

I’m grateful for our Backpack Journalism trip in many ways, but especially appreciative of the little things I so often just accept in life without a second glance, and I hope this experience will remind me to take the time to live fully in the present and enjoy every moment of it.

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.

Family Ties

As we continue to edit and piece together our film, major themes are rising to the surface, particularly the meaning of family in regards to immigration. This theme holds a lot of meaning to me not only in the film but in my personal experience in Nogales as well.

A woman we interviewed, Daniela, is the daughter of migrants and is a nursing student in graduate school at the University of San Francisco. Daniela spent several days with us and it was a joy to get to know her and understand her personal narrative in the complexity of this issue. Somehow a connection was made that Daniela knew my aunt, a fellow nurse who spoke at a bioethics conference in California and Daniela met her and spoke with her. I was astounded at how small our world is, what are the odds we ended up on this trip together with this personal connection to someone who I hold so dear to my heart and someone who Daniela knew and respected?

I was fortunate enough to be able to interview Daniela on camera, and it was easily one of the hardest parts of the entire trip for me. Daniela is so passionate about her family, migration, nursing, volunteering, and giving back to a community that has touched her life so personally. There was not a dry eye in the room and it was difficult to even fathom the struggles Daniela’s family has gone through to get to this point in their lives.

Daniela reflected on the meaning behind the sacrifices her family had made to see her succeed and how proud they are of her. It was impossible for me not to think of my aunt, this common bond Daniela and I shared, and how meaningful her presence in my life has been. She is one of the strongest, most compassionate people I know and love, and I couldn’t imagine my life without her in it.

Daniela’s story was touching in so many ways and I am genuinely grateful to have been able to hear her story and convey that to a larger audience. Her story is just one narrative amongst many migrants,  each unique, significant, and raw in their own way.

Group picture of Backpack journalism crew and Daniela Vargas
The Backpack Journalism team with Daniela before she journeys back to California.