All posts by Maren Haddad

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!

An Ode to Backpack Journalism

I knew I wanted to be a part of Backpack Journalism from the moment I decided to go to Creighton. I had heard so many wonderful things about the experience, and I knew it would be impactful for me and the career I wanted to pursue.

I didn’t necessarily know what I was in for when I signed up, and I think that’s the beauty of this trip. I knew we would be telling a story on film, but I never would have guessed that this story would be so personal and enriching to our group. I knew I would be challenged and taken out of my comfort zone, but I didn’t think I would gain a new perspective of humanity within this experience.

Getting that b-roll
Ryan and I making sure our camera is in focus to get b-roll of the border. So grateful to have worked alongside such talented individuals who made this experience that much more special!

I am humbled and grateful for this opportunity to be a part of Backpack Journalism. I hope that other students at Creighton will also be able to be a part of this experience because it is truly unique to the Creighton community and an unbelievably powerful way to experience and document the world. Backpack Journalism is in great hands and will continue to present the world to larger audiences in a remarkable way.

I did not have to travel far to experience the harsh realities of what others go through; these issues are at the doorstep of our country. With so much disparity and unrest in our country, I believe it is so important that Creighton sends students out into the world ready to stand in solidarity with those who suffer and work to perhaps alleviate that suffering. Experiencing the world in this way helped me understand realities that I never would have been able to fathom in a classroom setting.

A Recipe for Compassion

This past week I stopped by my favorite coffee shop to write my theology paper due for this class. I ran into a close friend I hadn’t seen in too long and we sat and talked for two hours catching up. I explained to her what Backpack Journalism was, where we went, what I learned, and what we were doing with what we had learned.

She and I had a wonderful conversation about migration, the legal system, what possible solutions are and what could be done. She explained that she was really proud of me and I let that sink in for a minute. I feel as though it’s not me she should be proud of, but the migrants. I’ll put my thoughts into an analogy of what we are trying to accomplish for Backpack Journalism through tortillas, a staple Mexican food.

Tortilla Time
The notorious tortillas we spread out every day and fanned until they were cool enough to store until it was time to serve them.

The migrants and others we interviewed and interacted with gave us the ingredients to use for our documentary, all of the elements that otherwise wouldn’t make the story what it truly, uniquely is. I, along with everyone else in our group, are simply putting all of these ingredients into one concoction (a tortilla if you will) and we’ll put the finishing touches on our documentary (or tortillas) and present it to audiences to enjoy (much like tortillas).

I felt this analogy fit the context in which we served as Sister Alicia so lovingly prepared the tortillas every day for migrants in the Comedor, making sure they were warm and delicious for everyone who enjoyed them. I believe we are preparing our documentary in a similar fashion to how Sister Alicia goes about preparing tortillas: with compassion. Without the migrants, there would be no story, and without the migrants, there would be no one to enjoy the tortillas. Now go get yourself a tortilla, I’m sure you’re craving one by now.

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.

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.

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

This past week we’ve been editing our film, an arduous process that requires concentration, patience, and an abundance of teamwork. I could not be more grateful to have worked alongside such compassionate, inspiring, and talented individuals that understand the importance of showing and telling a story. However, as we sit at our computers editing film or hovering around a table rearranging the text, I felt something missing.

Editors at work
I and my fellow editors have been hard at work organizing the film. Seeing some powerful quotes and experiences a second time around is even more meaningful than before!

On our journey back to Omaha, I was excited to be home, but I was also sad to leave Nogales and the individuals we encountered. As I have mentioned in my past blog posts, my experience in Nogales was really moving, on many levels. So as I’ve looked over the text and edit the film of the people and places I encountered, from the bustling Comedor that accepts every individual with grace to Sister Alicia and Joanna’s constant smiles and warmth, it’s impossible not to feel like the journey isn’t over.

In some ways, sadly, threads of this journey don’t necessarily have an ending. It’s a hard reality to understand and accept that we may not know the fate of the people we met in Nogales, to comprehend that their journeys wherever they end up could end positively or negatively.

I do have hope, however, that this film will bring justice to those we encountered. I hope this film allows viewers to be informed, to perhaps step outside of their comfort zone, and to feel a sense of humanity in such a dehumanized issue.

The Head Vs. the Heart

As we wrapped up our experience in Nogales, I couldn’t help but feel wholeness in my heart after hearing the stories of various individuals but also living amongst those who have lived a life of anguish yet still remained full of hope. However, the complexity of this issue left me with questions unanswered because while the solution to migration lies within humanizing those who suffer, the end to this issue could take much longer for the rest of the population to realize.

Our journey to Nogales was never meant to solve migration. The migrants we walked with and lived alongside with allowed us to see that in even the hardest circumstances, each individual should be treated with dignity, a right that cannot be taken away from them no matter what a government thinks is acceptable punishment. After hearing heartbreaking personal stories and understanding a migrant’s fate called out into a federal courtroom, I know that there is injustice in our society in the treatment of those who suffer. I know because I have seen the effects this inequality has on others and how it has become ingrained into our society.

Flood the System
Artwork I stumbled upon in immigration attorney Isabel Garcia’s office. After my experience in Nogales, there is traction in steps towards creating a more just system of approaching immigration, but many aspects need to be changed.

Dr. O’Keefe made a point in his lecture during our trip that really opened my eyes to what it means to stand in solidarity with others. This is by no means as eloquent as it was when I first heard it, but I’ll try to explain it as accurately as possible. Dr. O’Keefe explained that after his first experience working with marginalized communities, what was once knowledge on the subject that may have been known mentally before being immersed in the community moves and settles in the heart and becomes a much more personal issue after being awakened and made aware of the realities that others may suffer.

It is societal nature to desire to categorize one another and put each other into little boxes that fit us with others who may be like us. Sadly, it’s instinct to want to push rich people to one side and the impoverished to the other, those with fairer skin to one side and those with darker skin to the other, those with brilliant minds and those who were not given those opportunities lie on different sides of the spectrum. We’re so caught up in wanting to organize our lives one way or another that we lose sight of the unity of humanity. No matter what characteristics or life experience we have in common or differ from one another, we all have a purpose on this earth. Some of us may know this reason and may be living out this purpose while others may be searching for what they were destined to do and who they were destined to become, but it’s up to each of us to recognize that a human life, with all of its faults and perfections, is a gift no matter what.


Hope in the Eyes of the Oppressed

The saying “the eyes are the window to the soul” has rung true to me during my time in Nogales. It’s impossible to distinguish the emotions, life journeys, trials, and tribulations of the individuals I have encountered with the little knowledge I knew about migration coming into this journey.

The aspect of this journey I keep coming back to is through each struggle that an individual may have encountered, there is a glimmer of hope in each migrants eyes. Hope is the silver lining that keeps humanity afloat in the difficult circumstances life throws our way. While some circumstances are more difficult to overcome than others, working with migrant populations has taught me to never lose hope no matter what the odds are against you.

After listening to the stories of migrants, kin of migrants, volunteers and Jesuits who help migrants at Kino Border Initiative, attorneys who represent migrants in a court of law, and ranchers who see drug smugglers crossing their land near the border, this issue is unbelievably more complex than I could have imagined.

Compassion, however, is not a complex issue. Treating someone as a human, with dignity and respect, is something that doesn’t take years of study to comprehend. Once you see the pain in someone’s eyes that shows the struggles that he or she may have gone through or the glimmer of hope in one’s eyes that shows the triumph that he or she could reach in the future, it’s impossible to see migration as anything but personal stories. If you are touched by one life, you are touched by many.

It’s impossible to say that suffering will ever be extinguished in the world, but if we look at individuals as humans who each have dignity and rights and see marginalized populations as individuals who deserve the same respect we believe we deserve, then perhaps the complexity of suffering can be alleviated.

Water for the journey.
During our desert hike that followed a path many migrants take, we found gallons of water left for migrants who enter this arduous journey. We refilled the existing gallons and left more bottles of water as well.

Finding God in All Things

Today has been one of the longest days I have lived thus far in the past twenty years, but easily one of the most meaningful as well. Our entire group woke up to shoot footage at 4:30 a.m. this morning. We drove up to the top of a hill and watched as the sky turned from dark blue to an array of light blues and oranges over the border. Starting my day experiencing the beauty of nature was the perfect way to set the scene of seeing God in what was all around me throughout the day.

Nogales Sunrise
Waking up at 4:30 this morning to watch the sunrise over Nogales was unbelievably worth it.

In the morning, we visited a women’s shelter organized by the Kino Border Initiative that helps female migrants and their children after they have been deported. KBI primarily works with migrants who have just been deported and provides a warm meal, clothes, medical assistance, and temporary shelter for migrants in need.

We were fortunate enough to spend time helping the KBI staff and listening to the stories of migrants. While we had been oriented about the lives of migrants, I was completely unprepared for what I would hear from migrants firsthand. In the women’s shelter, we met one family who had some members born in Honduras and two members born in Georgia in the United States but still were reunited in Nogales.

Maria C. and I stayed behind to help film Natalia, a performer who was born in the United States but raised in Latin America who has spent her life living in solidarity with migrants. She had worked for KBI for a few years listening to migrants stories and singing for them. We were able to film Natalia sing and play the guitar for migrants, many of whom had just been deported shortly before their arrival for dinner at KBI.

The stories I heard from migrants allowed me to see the perseverance and resilience of those who are seeking a safer and better life for themselves, the crucial its of reuniting with loved ones, and the gratitude of compassion from others helping them in their current situation. Many migrants sometimes feel they deserve what happens to them, from complete poverty to brutality from authorities, but when others listen, there can be hope in a seemingly hopeless and complicated situation.

It’s impossible for me not to see God working through the people I’ve been surrounded by through this experience, from my fellow students who are using their gifts to tell the story of those who are marginalized, to my professors who are giving their time and guidance to us through and through, to the organizations that help migrants in any way possible to alleviate what they are going through, and finally to the migrants themselves who in my experience interacting with them had a smile on their faces and didn’t leave any sense of giving up or ending their journey.

On the Road Again: 1,400 Miles Later

Well, we made it! I am currently blogging to you live from our house for the next two weeks, nestled in the hills of Nogales. After two days of travel, we are all exhausted.

We started our journey Saturday morning and stopped in Raton, New Mexico, and continued our journey early this morning to arrive in Nogales around 7 p.m., totaling two 12-hour driving days.

After crossing the border from New Mexico into Arizona, we were one step closer to reaching our destination!
After crossing the border from New Mexico into Arizona, we were one step closer to reaching our destination!

If you have never ridden in a 12-passenger van plastered with the Creighton logo on the side, then you are missing out because it’s quite the experience. While I may have spent most of my time in the car sleeping or watching the scenery go by, I learned a lot about myself and fellow passengers.

I learned that while we may have been getting to know each other for only one week prior, spending 24 hours in the car really allowed us to bond. I now know that Dr. O’Keefe is a big fan of Taylor Swift, Dr. Zuegner isn’t afraid to challenge the other van to a dance competition featuring her signature cactus dance, and I wouldn’t have pictured all of us laughing, singing along in the car, or walky-talkying to the other van a week earlier.

Even though we’re all exhausted, we are ready to take on these next two weeks together!