Tag Archives: Kino Border Initiative


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.
Setting up the shoot for Isabel Garcia’s interview.

Desert Living

Having lived in the midwest my entire life, it’s always been baffling to me that there are so many beautiful plants that thrive off of little to no water in the desert.

A tall cactus in Saguaro National Park.

The vision of brightly colored flowers blooming alongside pricklies on cacti is like dipping french fries in a milkshake — two things that you’d never think would go together, but seem to complement one another beautifully.

Every time I would see beautiful flowers on cacti, I would stop and take a photo. I started thinking about parallels of plants that adapt and thrive beautifully in the desert, realizing that people have done the same thing in the borderlands.

Hearing stories of extreme poverty from migrants and Kino volunteers, it was constantly inspiring to me that everyone still remembered how to smile and laugh. Just like the cactuses have a beautiful flower here and there, the people of Nogales have learned to live beautifully, with joy, hope and faith despite such hardship.

Nogales-2 Nogales-4 Nogales-16 Nogales-8

Our immersion as told by Inside Out

After two longs days of driving, we arrived back in Omaha from Nogales on Saturday. The closer we got to Omaha, the more nervous I was about being back in my reality. I don’t usually do well with transitions, especially fast ones. I spent all Sunday running errands and catching up on life things, and made plans to watch a movie with my sister and some friends for Monday night. Inside Out was showing at Midtown Crossing, and it’s one of the best movies of all time in my books.

I sat on a zebra print blanket completely at peace — good friends, good weather, good people watching. A perfect summer night. As the movie started getting good, I thought about what a great tool it would be to use the emotion characters as a starting point in processing some of what we’ve just seen at the border.

via imgur.com

Sadness: I experienced sadness most in moments of listening, and silence. Stories of families torn apart by immigration policy, limbs lost in the journey north, statistics of unidentified dead bodies — hearing these inconceivable stories broke my heart and left me speechless every single day. Our reflections were life-giving, but also left me feeling incredibly sad. Most of the stories shared revolved around an overwhelming sadness, and sometimes even feelings of hopelessness. It was comforting, though, to know that I was not the only one feeling disheartened at times. John once told us that it is often heartbreaking, witnessing suffering truly opens our hearts.

Joy: I felt joy just as often as I felt sadness, and the confidence that each day would also bring joy is really what kept me waking up every morning. That same promise of joy is what gave the people at the border strength and hope for a future of justice and love — seeing the hope in their faces gave me great amounts of joy. I felt joy in the backpack journalism team, working together to tackle technical difficulties, road trips, and dinner plans.

Fear: I was most afraid when I would hear stories about the power of the cartel. It is terrifying to me that an unregulated organization is so strong and overpowering in such a poor and vulnerable community. They capitalize on migrants at their weakest points in life, offering them a brighter future in exchange for a commitment to their mission. How could someone with nothing say no to someone promising them the world?  Terrifying.

Disgust: I was disgusted when we sat through an Operation Streamline  process. We watched first time illegal entry offenders get processed and sentenced to as many as three months in prison after spending 20 seconds in front of a judge, all while shackled at their hands and feet.

Anger: I was most angry when I thought about how systematically unjust this system is. It’s become increasingly systemized as years go on, and American policy has such little respect for our fellow humans, our neighbors. I’m angry at the American people for letting this happen, and refusing to listen to the cries for help of the people in the border lands.

All of these emotions roll into this backpack journalism experience so far, and all I can think about now is how excited I am to have a tangible product to show off. I’m excited for us to bear witness and share these testimonies with anyone that’s willing to open their ears and hearts to our message.


Top 9 quotes

As a journalist with a crappy memory, I have learned to avidly write down powerful quotes that I want to remember forever. After looking through all of my notes from our trip, these are the 9 that stand out to me the most:

  • “The challenge of immigration politics is that it is driven by fear”
  • “Celebrate resilience, give into moments of joy”
  • “What’s most personal is most universal”
  • “Try to listen to the space so you’re aware of what’s around you with an open heart”
  • “The border wall would not exist if we did not have borders between our ears”
  • “May she rest in peace, and may we be restless for peace”
  • “You can’t build a wall against hope”
  • “When you stop asking questions, you become complacent with the situation”
  • “You have worth. You deserve to be treated as a human being — I think that’s something we all need to hear”

Beauty lies within the hearts of those you meet

Today we met up with two of Carol’s friends at Saguaro National Park. One is an accomplished herpetologist and the other is currently a journalism/magazine/editor professor at University of Arizona. They took us around the park and taught us many things about the plants and animals of the park. It was really a nice day and a beautiful park.

Saguaro National Park
Saguaro National Park

After the park we went to a restaurant with both of Carol’s friends. One of Carol’s friends is named Carol as well so we called her Carol 2. I got to sit next to her at lunch. We talked almost the whole time. She applied twice to work at National Geographic out of college as a writer and the second time she got in. She did some time in the office then became the editor at National Geographic for their travel magazine. She was telling me stories of the places she got to go and what she wrote about. Also she was on the launch team of the National Geographic web site when it first came to the Internet. I loved talking to her and seeing how excited yet humble she was. My teacher Carol told us that Carol 2 has won just about every teaching award possible.

Later in the evening Father Pete, Ivan, and a new guest came over for pizza. The new guests name was Mario. We talked one on one for a while before dinner started and then at the table. His story went a little like this. He was born in Portugal then did his undergrad in the states. Then he went to the University of Europe in Belgium to receive a masters. Their master programs are only 1 year so it is super intense. After that he served in the United Nations as a diplomat for 28 years. He lived for at least 2 years in 12 different countries and is fluent in 4 languages. He was telling me how he chose to live a life in service for others and how he always wants to give back. He said that that is the way to live a life and I totally agree with him. After his 28 years with the U.N. he got a call from the Vatican to serve there for 2 years. He did that and said it was a really good experience and now he is in between Spain and Boston in retirement. He is here in Nogales to do some consulting work for the Kino Border Initiative. I think it was God’s plan for us to meet because he left an impression on me and we had a great and meaningful talk.

Tomorrow is our last day in Nogales before we head back home.  I continue to meet these amazing people and there are so many stories that will be left untold.  I am now a witness to the raw reality of life on the border.   I alone can not change this reality but I highly encourage you to spend time reading testimonies or to even come to Nogales if you ever have the opportunity.

Building America

On Tuesday morning, my alarm went off at 3:45 am, and after a few hits of the snooze button and a couple cups of coffee, our 16-person backpack journalism squad rolled out to a local hilltop neighborhood to film some sunrise b-roll. As the sun inched over two neighboring cities of the same name, a long and looming copper wall became more and more evident rising and falling with the dessert hills.

Over the past four days, we’ve spent equal amounts of time in loaded silence and hysterical laughter. Hearing stories that challenge our understandings of life in all its forms makes us forget how tired we are from dessert heat, emotional roller coasters, and 12+ hour days. During late nights and early mornings, I’ve had many opportunities to blog about how this experience has been so far, but I just haven’t been able to find the words.

Every interview, conversation, observation and reflection makes me more and more confused about the reality of migration. The Olivia Pope ‘fixer’ in me gets frustrated with every new piece of information, as it makes a realistic solution seem even further out of reach.

My fixer instinct was particularly defeated in seeing a train marked with “Union Pacific – Building America” cruising past downtown Nogales on the Mexican side, through a gate opening in the wall, and straight into the US. As this train is “Building America” by delivering cheaply produced goods from Mexican factories to American consumers, Mexican citizens wait in line for 20 years for the chance to be called American and treated as such.

This raises the question — how deeply rooted and systematically unjust is the relationship between the US and Mexico, and how does that relationship trickle down to affect individuals every day? Union Pacific, headquartered in downtown Omaha, employs dozens of Creighton students. Are they contributing? I love to eat avocado toast for breakfast, and “Avocados from Mexico” brand avocados are tasty and cheap. Is my avocado addiction to blame?

Father Peter Neeley, a Jesuit and the Assistant Director of Education at Kino Border Initiative, believes that the dehumanization of migrants comes down to American people valuing things over people. We care a lot about keeping the prices of our favorite goods and foods low, and as a result, economic dependence on cheap Mexican labor continues. Yet, criminalization and dehumanization of migrant populations stimulates a culture of fear despite economic dependency.

For me, comprehending all this comes down to a single quote: “to live fully, we must learn to use things and love people, and not love things and use people.” With this in mind alongside inspiration from the love and passion of the people that have dedicated their lives to working towards resolving this issue, it seems that hope and faith can be found in knowing that the sun will rise over the wall again tomorrow with a solution somewhere down the road.

Making all feel welcome

We are on our fourth day of work for Backpack Journalism Arizona/Mexico, but we sit and look at each other at dinner every night and say — “Has it really only been one (two)(three) days?”

We have packed a lot into a few days, spending most of our time at the border or in Mexico at the Kino Border Initiative.  We have walked along the wall, seen the “cattle chute”  that deported migrants must walk through. We have watched those mostly recently deported migrants come into the comedor,  the Kino Border Initiative’s soup kitchen, clutching their backpacks or plastic bags that hold everything. They look lost and scared and hungry. For a short time, in the midst of feeling lost, there can be a sense of belonging.The people who work there and the volunteers do everything to be welcoming. One example is Sister Alicia of the Missionary Sisters of the Eucharist, one of the partner organizations at the Kino Border initiative. She and other sisters work in the comedor and the women’s shelter. In the comedor, she never stops moving and never stops smiling.

two women laughing and smiling
Sister Alicia and Carol Z laughing over Carol’s attempts to fill salt shakers at the comedor

That smile, the movement all help to make the migrants feel at home, feel like people after a dehumanizing system has left them without a place.

Sister Alicia and everyone at the comedor work to make it a welcoming and warm place. The migrants are served the meals. Short presentations before the meal focus on dignity, rights, a song about hope. The volunteers or Sister Alicia lead the migrants in short hand exercises or cheer contests. It’s beautiful to see the faces light up with smiles and laughter.

There’s prayer too. One of the themes we are hearing likens the comedor to the Eucharistic table where gifts are prepared and shared. The power of hearing the familiar cadences of the “Our Father” — even in a language I don’t understand — brings tears to my eyes. Every time. I have been lucky enough to hear and recite that prayer in the Dominican Republic, in Africa and now at the border.

Continue reading Making all feel welcome

Branded as a Criminal

Growing up I was always taught the moral wrongness of putting people into categories. That a person’s race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, economic class, or political orientation should not determine how you treat them.

Yet those who have committed a crime were never included on that list.

No one really discusses the rights of “criminals” and this is coming from someone who was raised by two lawyers. America as a whole has not yet come to a conclusion about the rights of those charged with a criminal offense. Yes, you have a right to an attorney, you are free from cruel and unusual punishment, you are free from double jeopardy, and so on, but then what? What rights do you have in jail and then which ones are afforded to you when you leave? Even the interpretation of the criminal justice amendments in the Bill of Rights are still debated in American politics, especially when charging those who are not U.S. citizens.

This ability to be so vague about the rights of those convicted of a crime allows for those found guilty to easily be put into categories. They are categorized as a criminal, a term with the connotation that they are dangerous and useless in society. Being a criminal is truly a scarlet letter today in America.

This fear of the “criminal” is used by the American government surrounding migration into the United States through the Mexican/ American border. First, by creating the image that these migrants are criminals. When migrants are caught they are charged with a criminal offense (while many other countries handle this offense administratively). Migrants are put in jails or detainment centers. When they are deported both their hands and feet are shackled. The entire process creates the image that people who have crossed the border illegally are criminals and in association bad for both American society and wherever they are deported to.

This visual categorization of migrants as criminals allows for them to be dehumanized because criminals are perceived as less than in society. However, like all categorizations, this is not a truthful portrayal. Many migrants are forced to look for a better life due to extreme violence and poverty. Like Father Peter Neeley said in his interview no one wants to migrate unless they have to.

Migrants are not criminals and they should not be treated like a danger to society. Just like any category, some fit into the stereotype prescribed to them, but most do not. There is no reason to brand these people. They are humans, with families, and unique backgrounds. This is why it is so important to put a face to an issue. We have no right to put anyone in a category as a way to simplify an issue, that is not justice.

Tourist, chef, professional lip singer

For the first time I felt like a tourist today. We did one interview with the director of the Kino Border Initiative and then we were on the road again. We had to drop Nico off at an airport back to Omaha for a wedding and then we went to Saint Xavier missionary.

Saint Xavier Mission Tucson, Arizona
Saint Xavier Mission Tucson, Arizona

It was absolutely beautiful both inside and out. The church was so busy yet so beautiful. The detail and purpose of the art work was unreal. Matthew and I climbed up this really rockey hill to the top where there was this white cross that you could see from miles away.

Cross over the land Tucson, Arizona
Cross over the land Tucson, Arizona

After that we went out to eat and then to another missionary that the Jesuit Kino started. It was really cool being there and seeing how they collaborated, not dominated, the indigenous culture.

To end the night, I was the grill master again. I grilled 17 pieces of chicken. Carol wanted to make Greek salads so three people helped her with that while I was outside. The chicken turned out great! Everyone really enjoyed it and it went great with the salad. While we were cooking we had a blast dancing and singing to songs. Some of my classmates thought I did musicals and plays growing up but I said no. It was so much fun though bonding with Carol and my other classmates.

Check out our snapchat @cubackpack to see some of my interpretive dancing to a Tarzan song and others exceptional dancing/lip singing skills.