Tag Archives: nogales arizona

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.

Distractions

Being back on the ranch was really tough for me in a new way than any problems I ran into on the actual trip itself. I think the hardest thing about being back on the ranch was that I was “back” meaning my life was back to its full array of distractions. Friends had returned to Omaha, I was working on moving into my house, getting a car, and starting at my new job. With all these distractions, it was easy to feel like because the physical trip was over my responsibility to the project was over as well.

However, as we got further into the editing process and we began to watch our story come alive, I again became exhilarated and focused on the task at hand. But then, I would go home or go to work and again be distracted by a whole variety of things that didn’t exist while we were back in Nogales living in one space together, always focused on what we could contribute to the project next.

I think this process of distraction and refocusing was a good one to have immediately after the trip because it made me cognizant of that loss of focus whereas if I would’ve just come home and done nothing with the trip, I would have immediately sunk back into my routine without any sort of immediate reflection on the trip and what it meant to me. This way, I was not only forced to stay focused on what I’d learned, but I was also able to help put something together that will allow other people to get a glimpse of that experience as well.

Additionally, I’ve learned now how quickly I can get distracted, and I don’t want that for myself. I want this trip to always be on the back of my mind when I’m navigating my life in the larger scheme of things.

Putting together the storyline for our documentary.

Bueno Suerte

Yesterday, we said goodbye to Pepe at the comedor. “Tu es una buena Amiga,” you are a good friend, Pepe said to me as I gave him a final hug.
As soon as I stepped off the steps of the comedor onto the sidewalk outside, I lost it. I quickly walked down the sidewalk past my group to hide my sobs.
Pepe is planning on returning to the border on Saturday, the same day we returned to Omaha.
I think there is an inherent part of us that has preferred to accept fantasy over reality since the time of the very first story, however many thousands of years ago. Those stories and fantasies have turned into popular novels and major blockbuster films, often telling incredible stories of doing the impossible. We eat these franchises up; sometimes, they’re even based on true stories.

But, there’s a reason these incredible stories are so incredible. Literally, these stories are often not credible, as in they’re barely believable. They question reality.
Movies and books take us to a place we’re not used to end give us a hero and a happy ending. That’s what we’ve come to expect from stories.
So, when Pepe told us he was crossing again on Saturday, my first instinct might before have been to imagine him triumphantly struggling through the long journey north, only to come out victorious on the other side. I imagined him meeting his son for the first time. Maybe we could get him to Nebraska, or maybe we’d visit him in California, and we’d all have a happy ending.
But the rhetoric I’ve been listening to all week does not tell that kind of story.
So, when Pepe told us he was crossing again on Saturday, I thought of the migrant trail we walked, littered with rusty cans and empty gallons of water, where hundreds of migrants die each year. I thought of Pepe’s injured leg inflicted by the kick of a border patrol agent after Pepe surrendered himself last time. I think of the parade of 75 migrants chained hand and foot in front of a judge where they are given no chance to tell their story. I think of the floods of new migrant faces I’ve seen enter the comedor over the past two weeks, their faces swollen with bee stings and barbed wire injuries, their bodies weak from dehydration, and their limbs bruised from banging around in the back of a caged truck like animals. I think of the cartel, watchful, dangerous, and heavily armed from their perch in the mountains.
This is the reality of this story and the story of hundreds of thousands of others. This is the reality that finally hit me when I put my friend Pepe’s face to the horrors I’d heard this week. That’s the truth and it’s something I’ve never had to face, but now it was literally looking me in the eyes.
Of course, the movie-loving side of me still imagines pepe’s triumphant crossing. That part of me lets me sleep imagining him holding his baby for the first time and tears of joy streaming down his face. It allows me to imagine a system that doesn’t separate father from son, a system that looks into individual cases of deportation and asks the migrants, “why did you come here?” instead of “do you plead guilty?”. It’s a system people are fighting for and that gives me hope for a happy ending, but for now things are broken and people like Pepe don’t really have a chance and people like me are able to offer little but a choked up “Bueno suerte,” good luck.
The desert.
The desert.

CommUnity

This experience has transformed my understanding of community in a number of ways.

We’ve seen how the border lands can harden the hearts of people through grueling physical challenges of the desert and the threatening control of the cartel, but we’ve also seen how the community there can heal any physical or emotional wounds. For every heartbreaking story, we heard two hopeful stories of people working together towards justice.

Community is the fuel of every fire there — fires of hope, justice, dreams, spirituality, friendship, and family. There is more of an emphasis on community than anything else. Poverty emphasizes living within the means, and finding faith in reality, however simple.

Living simply without man-made pressures of excessive materialism has allowed these people to focus on community and relationship. These people don’t work for nicer cars, branded watches, or giant houses — they work for their families and children to have better lives. They find joy in community — the intersection of communication and unity.

Communication, in its many forms, connects people across different realities to unify us all in the common threads of our humanity. Laughter, smiles, tears, hugs — the kind of communication that does not require words, are the types of gestures that transcend cultural and linguistic barriers. Where norms, expectations and values vary across different political and economic cultures, these types of communication remind us that no matter our differences, we’re all created in the same likeness of God. We, as humans, possess all of the same emotional capacities of love and compassion, but also heartbreak.

A symbol of peace and love on the wall in downtown Nogales, Sonora
A symbol of peace and love on the wall in downtown Nogales, Sonora

It has been fulfilling to be reminded of these consistencies of humanity, and carry those memories with me beyond the border lands. In addition to that, I am particularly grateful to have been able to record these intentional conversations (i.e. interviews) and images of the reality of Nogales and bring them home to share with the world.

I was reminded of the way communication can unify the communities of migrants and activists in Nogales. I was reminded of the way communication allowed us to be in solidarity with these people, despite cultural barriers. And I was also reminded of the way documentary-style communication can bear witness to the rest of the world. Our documentary has taken on a life of itself. Now the stories we heard won’t end with us, they’ll continue on to plant seeds with anyone willing to listen.

Action and Inaction

A few days ago, I found myself getting really frustrated.
We were interviewing a retired defense attorney and passionate activist for immigration rights, Isabel Garcia, and she gave us so much to think about. “I wish all of America could have been in there,” someone said.
I 100% agreed. I, too, wish all of America could have been there. Instead, her audience was made up of a select number of people who already cared enough about immigration to seek these answers. The people who need to listen to people like Isabel Garcia or, more importantly, the people who need to visit the comedor and look onto the faces of humans hurt by poor policy, misplaced fear, and discriminatory hatred, aren’t going to seek those answers. The people already asking the questions are the people ready to hear the answers.
Think about how information is disseminated today: largely through social media. I get most of my news through my Twitter and Facebook feeds based on what publications I follow. I read, watch, and share articles that are consistent with my own world views.
John Oliver’s HBO segment “Donald Drumpf” had a record breaking 85 million views. In my opinion, that segment was brilliant. I think everyone who supports Trump should watch it. This goes for a variety of good articles I have read on him as well. However, I know the people watching and reading articles and videos that substantially oppose and dispute much of what makes him popular are people  who, like me, are probably not supporting him anyways.
Similarly, while I think everyone who opposes immigration should come to the border and look at the issue firsthand, or at least watch our video with an open mind, I know that’s probably not likely.
This realization hit me hard. Could the people who call migrants criminals and demand they all be deported look Pepe in the eyes and tell him he does not deserve to meet his 7 month old son? Could they look a migrant in the eye who has lost his leg from diabetes because his medicine was taken from him by border patrol and say ‘You deserve to be dehumanized.’? Could they they look a man who has lived and worked in the United States his entire life and doesn’t know a soul in Mexico and say ‘You don’t belong in my country.’? Could they look the mother of a 15 year old girl who lost her life on the journey north in the eyes and say “Your daughter was a criminal.’?
In the midst of this frustration, I talked with someone who made me consider an important point. Before this trip, I was not anti-immigration. I did not believe in the wall. However, there was a lot I didn’t understand and a lot I hadn’t considered on either side of the debate. The 11 other students I’m here with have expressed similar sentiments.
When we were interviewing Isabel Garcia, we asked her what, if anything, gave her hope for the future of immigration reform. She said she saw hope in our generation. The responsibility falls on us, and she believes someday we’ll look back at our current system and wonder how we could have ever let it get this bad.
I think there is a lot of truth to this. Although we might not be able to illicit change dramatically enough to completely shift a person’s worldview, we can educate people who don’t fully understand the issues but are open to learning. While many people are stuck in their ways, many more people, such as the 12 students who signed up to take a 24 hour van ride to the border of Mexico, knowing little to nothing about the issues at hand, are willing to learn. It’s those people who will hopefully be moved by our project and inspired to take action.
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Setting up the shoot for Isabel Garcia’s interview.

Anticipation

Remember when you were little and you had that funny and slightly funny and scary feeling in your stomach on Christmas Eve? Well that is exactly how I feel as begin my 4 week adventure to Nogales, Arizona/Mexico.

Hi. How are you (yes Mom I’m having fun, it’s only been two days, I’ll text you…) My name is Maria Fagerland and I am from West Des Moines, Iowa. I am a senior at Creighton University in the Journalism Department on the Advertising track. I hope to either join JVC or America Corps for a couple of years after graduation and then do advertising for non profits.

Backpack journalism was first introduced to me at Creighton in my very first journalism class with Dr. Wirth. She mentioned it just in passing, but I remember pulling out my laptop in the middle of class (which she didn’t like) and I began to read pages and pages of blogs post from the previous trips. As I finally worked my way through past students triumphs and failures I found myself waiting in anticipation til I finally had the chance to be apart of this amazing trip.

I felt a physical pull toward this. Every part of my body told me that if I didn’t do this, I would be missing out on a huge and potentially life changing experience. In order to learn more I talked to Carol Zuegner (one of the professors in charge). We sat down in her office and she just talked to me about her past experiences on the trip and the a ha moments that she has had.

I found myself holding back tears because I couldn’t wait to have those feelings of clarity or to be apart of something so incredible with 11 other students. I mean who gets to say that they get to film a documentary in college with some of their best friends? I know I am very lucky to be apart of this and I can’t wait to see how we all will be after this.

I hope to be the voice for the voiceless and to shed some personal and real light on the current political tension and controversy. I am anxious to see what it is like at the border and what type of conditions we will be witnessing. I am nervous to be that up close and personal with those directly affected by the border.  But I do know I will somehow be able to get through it. This prayer has personally helped in times of uncertainty and anxiety:

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

Day 1:

I woke up at 6:00 a.m. Fellow backpacker, Aly Schreck and I walked (backpacked) from our apartments to the first day of class to reflect and talk about our fears and hopes.

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The rest of the day consisted of “bootcamp” and lectures. It was a packed first day, but I enjoyed it immensely. Can’t wait for day 2. Stay up to date with all of our blogs during the next couple of weeks!