Tag Archives: CU backpack 2016

Living into the reality

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

I rely on trust a lot, probably too much. Trust in my decisions and myself, trust in God, trust in those I surround myself with. I find myself thinking, “It’s all going to be okay, it’ll all work out,” definitely more than once a day. Fortunately, with most things I’ve experienced in life, everything really has worked out, and usually even better than I had anticipated.

Thinking back to earlier this year when talk of the 2016 backpack first began, I remember initially being disappointed that this year’s trip was to southern Arizona. With past trips including destinations like Africa and Alaska, Arizona sounded unadventurous. Looking back, I realize a) I was doing the trip for the wrong reasons and b) I was ignorant of the severity at what was happening on our border.

But, back to what I was saying about trust. I trusted that this trip would be beneficial to my learning in someway, and now after returning and having time to think about it, I realize it was more than I could have ever imagined. And with this, I realize that this trip is so much of what being educated at Creighton is about. As I go into my final year of undergrad, I am astonished at how my understanding of education, learning and being successful has evolved.

In talking with a fellow classmate and friend on the trip who recently graduated, she made a note on Jesuit education that stuck with me. “Having a Jesuit education will take you apart and put you back together in whole new way.” It made me think of earlier this year, watching the speeches at the funeral of Creighton’s former president, Fr. Schlegel. In one of the eulogies, a man made note of one of Fr. Schlegel’s favorite quotes, “One’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.”

At the time I could grasp the concept, but I couldn’t fully relate. After this experience, I think I get it. I will never be able to un-see what I saw, and thus I will forever look at immigration through a new lens. This experience is just an example of what learning and education should do. Beyond becoming more knowledgeable on a subject, you should be challenged to critically think about complex issues with difficult solutions. You should meet with those who have less than you. You should leave your reality, and put yourself in the reality of the world. You should ask yourself how you define success.

Throughout college, my idea of success has always involved getting good grades and having a solid internship. But in the theology portion of this course, we watched a commencement speech given by Jon Sobrino. The theologian said, “Being successful in life is being human. And being human means I will say first of all, to live in the real world in which we live.”

So more than anything, to educate yourself you should leave your reality, and put yourself into the reality of the world. And that’s what Backpack Journalism does.

As humans, we easily forget. We forget moments, feelings and stories. I want to remember the sadness I felt listening to Daniela talk about her father coming to the states and watching her live out a dream he never could. I want to remember the guilt I felt as I watched migrants treated as criminals in the courtroom. I want to remember the joy of being in an unfamiliar place with optimistic people who wanted to learn as much as I did. I want to remember the discomfort of hiking in the desert. I want to remember the names, the faces, the handshakes of the migrants who made the concept of migration more than just a concept to me.

When I hear them called illegal aliens, I will speak up and remind them that they are humans. To my congressman, who wants a concrete wall at the border, I will a write a letter, expressing other solutions to border security. But more than anything, I will work to live into this reality. This reality that there are more questions than answers, more injustice than peace, but always more hope than despair.

And with this, I have trust that it’s all going to be okay, it’ll all work out.

Creighton Backpack Journalism  group 2016 on day one.
Day 1.
Last day.

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.

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.

Backwards Fear

The biggest fear people have when it comes to immigration from Mexico is that we are letting criminals and drugs stream over the border. To a fairly large extent, this is true. The problem comes with our government’s inability to separate the drug trade from people who are crossing to escape violence and reunite with their families. Because this distinction is not made, all Mexican migrants are essentially treated the same. People often ask why migrants can’t simply cross the border legally. There is a 20 year waiting list for Mexicans to get a visa, even though immigration into the U.S. is actually the lowest it’s been in 50 years. Waiting 20 years is probably not a viable option for immigrants fleeing from violence, or trying to get to the family they’ve been separated from. So, all migrants are forced to cross illegally. Many of these illegal immigrants carry drugs across the border. Border security has been increasingly heightened and militarized, making it harder than ever for migrants to safely make their way into the United States. So, these migrants have very few options. This is where the cartel comes in. They know the border and the surrounding areas extremely well. They are able to successfully go back and forth across the border with no problem. In this way, they become many migrant’s only hope. Migrants pay thousands of dollars to cross the border under the cartel’s protection. This means more revenue for the cartel and more backs to load their supplies of drugs onto. Essentially, by making the border inaccessible to anyone, we are causing migrants to aid in the very practice that we fear most about immigration: criminality and drug smuggling.

This knowledge and this frustration that I have developed over the course of this trip is what makes this trip different from any experience I’ve ever had. It was such an intense few weeks of learning and growth that led to so much understanding about the complications and misconceptions of the issues at hand and I don’t think I could have found that anywhere else.

The wall between Nogales, Sonora and Nogales, Arizona.
The wall between Nogales, Sonora and Nogales, Arizona.

Streamlined Through the Justice System

Operation Streamline. Every thing  you need to know about this state sanctioned program is in the name. It’s all about efficiency. Essentially Operation Streamline works to efficiently process and convict undocumented migrants. It requires that states utilizing Streamline charge undocumented workers with a federal crime in order to deter others from crossing the border.

At its worst Streamline is a massive violation of human rights, at its best it’s a drain on the federal system and a waste of taxpayer money. After watching a Streamline court session I feel like it’s closer to a violation of human rights than anything else.

As our group sits in the courtroom, we look at the 50 or more people sitting in front of us waiting for their chance plead guilty. They’re shackled at the waist, arms, and feet despite committing a non-violent offense. The judge reads off their rights as a group while a translator quietly communicates the judge’s words in Spanish through a headset given to each charged person. Then they are called up in groups of five, with their lawyers, to plead guilty to a misdemeanor so that the federal court will drop the felony charge. It’s systematic. The judge doesn’t ask anyone why they chose to cross and no one provides an answer. Before you know it the group of five has been sentenced and are walking out in their shackles.

Photo courtesy of freerangestock.com. We weren't allowed to take pictures during the court session but the chain in the picture seems accurate as a representation of the removal of due process.
Photo courtesy of freerangestock.com. We weren’t allowed to take pictures during the court session but the chain in the picture seems to be an accurate representation of the removal of due process.

The idea that something so quick and concise counts as due process is ludicrous. A truly just system would recognize that prosecuting people for trying to make a better life for themselves is a surface level response. It doesn’t deal with the question of why. Why are people migrating? Why are people claiming asylum? Why is there such systemic violence in these countries?

There is no simple answer to any one of these questions. If it were really as simple as the left or right make it, then immigration issues would have been solved years ago. The problem with issues like immigration is that they’re multifaceted. They contain dimensions far more complex than what Streamline addresses, which is why it’s such an ineffective practice. Leaving large groups of people with criminal records for the crime of pursuing a better life is a failure of the U.S. justice system.

The good news is that several states have already eliminated Streamline and the remaining states will follow suit with enough pressure. It is therefore our duty to raise our voices in protest of unjust laws and operations like Streamline.

The Long and Winding Road

37 hours and 1,450 miles later, we’ve finally reached our destination in Nogales, Arizona. We’ve bunkered down in a guest house 15 minutes away from the border, where we’ll be staying for the next two weeks. Most of us, if not all of us, are pretty tired from our two-day long pilgrimage, and I can imagine we’ll all sleep well tonight. But despite the exhaustion, this has already been a great trip so far, and I’m looking forward to what else the rest of this journey has to offer.

Our car rides have been filled with friendly conversations of trying to get to know each other, singing and jamming out to different kinds of tunes, starring out the window to appreciate the constantly changing scenery, and many spread out moments of quiet nap time. Though, to be honest, gazing out the window and taking long dispersed naps is what took up most of my time. And everyone else’s, for the most part.

Several Backpack group members sitting on the wall behind our guest house in Nogales, Arizona
Several Backpack group members sitting on the wall behind our guest house in Nogales, Arizona

But it’s been great getting to know everyone that I’lll be around during this trip and making new friends. I know everyone here will be an amazing part of this trip and contribute so much to the final product of our documentary, whether it be through filming, interviewing, editing, etc. Even within the first few days of boot camp, everyone was able to show where their niche was and what they’re best at, so that will all easily translate into all the hard work we’ll be putting into this film.

As we drove through the deserts of New Mexico and Arizona, I began to think about the people who risk their lives just to make it to the United States. Many of these people walk hundreds of miles through hot, dry weather just to find a better life, no matter how long that will take them. Seeing and experiencing the hot desert landscapes of these southern states gave me a little bit of insight into what some of these migrants go through, but I know I will not be able to fully understand everything they have to go through. It will be quite the learning experience to get some perspective from the people we’ll be interviewing over the next couple of weeks.

Tomorrow we’ll already be traveling across the border to take a look around Nogales, Mexico and see where we’ll be going around during this trip, and will already be conducting our first interview. I’m more than excited to begin this learning experience, and can’t wait to do it with all the people I’ve gained as friends the past week.

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.