Estoy en La Plata…

Posted in la plata on March 11th, 2010 and tagged , , ,

I feel a little bad that I haven’t written anything, but I have thought a couple times about writting and didn’t think I had enough worthwhile things to say. Oh well. Lo que sea.

I am putting pictures up on flickr to share with my family. Here’s the link:


Posted in border on December 8th, 2009 and tagged , ,

Here is the first version of the documentary that Sewon and I created from the footage of our trip to the border, spring 2009!

part one:

part two:


This past semester (fall 2009), Sewon shot some new footage and re-edited the documentary, with amazing results! Here is one version…


Posted in border on April 6th, 2009 and tagged , , , ,

Today we met up with Johanna A. from No More Deaths by a dusty little park by a busy road. This was definitely the most difficult meeting in terms of whether to record, and it was certainly the most disastrous. Usually we either have a meeting with a representative or two from a group, or we are talking with migrants. Representatives from organizations are used to BorderLinks delegations and were universally fine with our video camera. We decided to not record conversations with migrants during meals or at the plaza since they would not be giving a prepared speech like in our other meetings, they would be telling us spontaneously about their lives. This is harder to do anyway, especially at such a stressful time, and asking people to be so open in front of a camera is asking too much. Our meeting with Johanna was difficult because it started out like a formal talk where she described her work in with the documentation campaign of No More Deaths. I felt uneasy because as I held the camera pointed at her I knew that the men who were sitting a ways away could see it, and I didn’t like that the camera was introduced before we asked them if it could be part of the talk. Johanna then she told us she could bring over some migrants if they wanted to talk. If only the second part had occurred, we probably never would have taken out the camera (or only if someone had seemed very talkative and had okayed the camera), but the camera was already out to record Johanna’s talk, and so we entered a grey area where we didn’t know how to handle the camera with the migrants. I think the group of us all writing in our notepads and me holding the camera was pretty intimidating, quite understandably. We also overwhelmed the men we talked to by handing them our consent forms, which in their condensed form were really intended to clarify for the interviewee what was going on (it is frustrating that something that should protect the interviewee often doesn’t serve that purpose- and really consent forms are for the purpose of protecting the institution, while neglecting the subject’s protection, since the ways a subject could be protected can vary drastically by situation), but in this situation just made things seem more complicated and overwhelming. After this incident we felt very strongly how the camera can change the dynamics of what’s going on, and how we need to be extra careful not to force ourselves on anyone. Of course we want the voice of migrants in our video, but wanting to make sure you do not omit someone’s voice is not the same as adding someone’s voice who does not want to be recorded. We must find another way to show that voice, in a way that doesn’t compromise them.

Before we intimidated them, the men we talked to told us that the Border Patrol sometimes catches migrants at water stations and throws out their food. One man we talked to was caught near Ajo and taken back to Nogales. La migra uses water to capture migrants like a trap, which isn’t fair. After our fiasco with the camera, we talked to a woman who had been deported to Nogales the night before. Police were suspicious because she had come out of an apartment door that was different from the one she went in, so they wanted to know where she lived (they might have talked to her because of jaywalking? She had just came home from taking her daughter to school). They were suspicious and wanted to see her car. She gave them the keys. They ran the plates and asked for ID. Because she didn’t have ID they detained her for four days and she was voluntarily deported (otherwise she would have gone to trial, and she could never have won that case- it would only have led to jail for months if she lost). She had been in Phoenix for 12 years with her two children, who are still there. She intends to bring them here (or rather, get a job here to earn money to bring them here) and then back to where her family in Mexico lives. She is sad because here in Mexico her son won’t get the same schooling. This story was hard to hear because we were a group of students, well cared for, with stable lives, and here we are talking to a woman whose life has been uprooted in a matter of days. Our scholar activism doesn’t help in such immediate, practical situations such as hers. We will help by going back to our communities and sharing. But still, she will live her life, trying to unite with her children and later raising her children in a country that is not the country of their childhood. Just like we have limits, all the organizations we have talked with have limits- they can provide this, can’t do that. No one can deal with everything and no one can help everyone

While we were at the park, a truck from Grupos Beta stopped by. This park seems like a similar location to the plaza in altar. At least in this park, humanitarian and informative groups know there are migrants. I wonder if coyotes try to talk to people there.


Posted in border on April 6th, 2009 and tagged , , ,

6:45 AM, in the Basement of the Borderlinks building, which serves dually as an office building and a dorm with kitchen and bathrooms, we had our first meeting. Bonnie A, in full uniform, from the Department of Homeland Security, Nogales port of entry, came to speak with us. The door was open and there was light noise of traffic in the background. The lighting was poor and the overhead fluorescent light went on and off during the course of the talk.

This was our first meeting with someone outside of Borderlinks or our own group. I introduced myself and told Bonnie that Sewon and I were doing a documentary on the border and how the border is perceived. I gave her one of the longer release forms, since this was a more formal discussion. She read it, signed it and gave it back, saying that she was fine with us taping. I held the camera for the majority of the talk, sitting to Bonnie’s right. I had recorded with the camera before, but never in a formal setting in which I was recording a person presenting to a group, so I needed to adjust my strategies of filming as the talk went along. I was also unsure about whether it was necessary to stop recording to save tape, and then start again when I thought there was something going on that was necessary to be recorded. This created an issue since the camera created a beeping noise (and the red light turned off) when I started and stopped recording- I did not want to give the impression to Bonnie that some things she said were more valuable than others, but the life of the battery and amount left on my current tape was something I had to keep in mind. I also felt that since our documentary would focus not only on the perceptions of the people on the border, but how we as students of the border reacted, I should record my fellow students listening to Bonnie. However, I wasn’t sure if recording that image meant I lost the audio of that part of her speech or if that image would turn out to be useful or not. Constant reevaluations were necessary to make the correct decision of where to point the camera and when to pause it or turn it off, with the considerations including whether the image and audio will fit in our overarching idea, whether the camera will pick up the audio or image well, what effect the camera will have on the people who are exposed to it.

Bonnie seemed aware of our perspective as students who chose to participate in a BorderLinks trip- probably not very pro-Border Patrol- so she framed her talk with this in mind. She suggested other resources, newspapers, etc, where we could find the information that she was telling us. She was clearly trying to paint the picture of her perspective, her life as a Border Agent, to us. In an attempt to give Border Patrol more legitimacy, or understanding, in our eyes, she explained that it is scary not to know who is coming up to the border when it’s just you and your partner against whoever is in that car. It may be someone who means no harm, but it also could be someone hostile. Eighty percent of people crossing might just want to work, but we need to “treat them equally” and that means treating them all like they might be dangerous, for the safety of Border Patrol and our nation. Bonnie said that the situation on the border would only be better when the Mexican economy was better, but she also brought up the fact that drugs are being taken south (so we should control southbound traffic more as well) implying that the in the issue of violence on the border the blame is not solely Mexican. Bonnie said that the wall is helping, since it is helping funnel drug traffickers into certain areas and this helps the border patrol agents- the funneling of the dangerous migrants into a more condensed area allows the border patrol to concentrate better on those areas, and when the border patrol can concentrate on areas they don’t need to be alone as often. Bonnie stressed how scary it is to be up against the unknown, and up against possible drug-traffickers, some of whom were trained as Green Berets in Mexico. Bonnie sees border security in a post-9/11 light. Border security is crucial in preventing another 9/11. One student asked Bonnie how she got into the border patrol, and she explained how she had seen how people were taken advantage of and she wanted to help people. She specifically got into the job of talking with groups like us when another agent retired, and she was interested in explaining to people about what the Border Patrol was about. Bonnie mentioned the Merida initiative, and referenced drugs as one of the few economic options in Mexico.

Since our talk and hike with Debbi and Ed M was much more informal than our talk with Bonnie A, we gave them the shorter consent forms, which they kept. We visited Arivaca Lake, which is actually on a national forest which is leased by ranchers who graze their cows there. There, the public land, private usage, and the migrants’ invisible struggle for a better life overlap. The shrine that Debbi and Ed brought us to was a spot up a little canyon which we hiked where a chunk of the rock had fallen away, leaving a nook in the side of the stone. Here, migrants had placed crosses, beads and necklaces, candles, pictures of saints (often San Toribio Romo, the patron saint of migrants) and la Virgen de Guadalupe. Some of the candles had definitely been burned, as was evident from the dark marks on the top of the nook from the smoke. In the canyon leading up to the shrine and in the little clearing around the shrine were many bottles- gallon jugs, electrolyte bottles, Gatorade- pieces of clothing, food wrappers, a paper that showed immunizations, a bus ticket from Nogales to Altar (or was it the other way around?). It was striking to see these signs of humanity so far from any source of water or shelter from the weather. At the shrine Debbi told us the story of a Salvadoran girl, Josseline Jamileth Hernandez Quinteros who died in the desert nearby. She was 14 years old. We were told of a woman who was pregnant and still crossed because she believed that the best gift she could give her child was US citizenship. In this case, the border crossing was a leap of faith, with hope and courage. I think that this shows how powerful the concept of citizenship can be. Like it or not, events such as these, and the idea that US citizenship is the best thing a mother could possibly achieve for her child, help define what US citizenship means, and how our nation is constructed. One of the first things that Ed told us was that the current number of deaths on the border isn’t a high enough percentage to deter migrants. The number of deaths is too many from a humanitarian aspect, and not enough for the policy to be effective. At first when he suggested that the number of deaths wasn’t “high enough,” I was appalled, but I realize that with the funneling nature of the wall, death is part of the policy, and deterrence is definitely something that policy makers and Border Patrol consider (I didn’t think that Border Patrol dealt with deterrence, just with what was going on actually on the border, but they did sponsor those songs… corridos de la frontera). I don’t understand why it can’t be agreed that using deaths as a deterrence policy is inhumane and unjust (because all men are created equal, whether they are citizens or not- all human life matters), so other strategies should be explored. I guess it is an “us vs. them” mindset that helps this idea seem unreasonable.

Debbi told us that she believed that education about the situation of migrants and the deaths on our border was essential. Of course not everyone can be on the border helping, but being aware of what people have to go through, and where people have come from, is very important. Debbi showed us a necklace of meditation beads that she created with inspiration from the migrant experience. She said that she thought it was a good thing to create something beautiful out of the experience. The struggle of a migrant is one based on courage and hope- without courage and hope there is no migration. The risk would not be taken.

Condensed pre-trip thoughts (posted post trip?)

Posted in border on April 5th, 2009 and tagged , , , ,

Note: I’m not really sure what to write here. Anyway, here are some of my pre-trip thoughts. I condensed them, though it’s probably hard to tell.

I am really excited. I am thinking about how we could structure our documentary in a way that would incorporate our research question and a demonstration of how BorderLinks helped shape our research/ our approach to the question. We could simply show the process, beginning with the question and moving forward with the week and then our findings the conclusion. That way we can conclude the footage of the trip and the fact-finding process and then we can parallel that with our actual findings and then conclude our actual research question. That is probably the most logical way to structure the documentary… and we that can always change.
I am thinking also about Sewon’s ideas about studying the media representation (or lack of representation) of women crossing the border (or illegal female immigrants in America) and how it affects their self-representation. Also how women express their feelings (that have been affected by the border, by their movement away from their first home, by their encounters with new cultures, good and bad) and how the experience of crossing the border affects women. I think this is all  interesting, and it looks like the itinerary that we have right now will give us many opportunities to talk to female artists and organizers. I also think it would be interesting to look at how women’s interaction with macho culture is affected by crossing the border. Or maybe how the macho aspect of Latino culture is affected (strengthened or weakened or changed?) by the border crossings and meetings. That question is less focused on women and more focused on gender issues in general. Something about women with children crossing the border would be interesting too, since when most people think of “undocumented immigrants” they think of “illegal immigrants” and then of criminals or day laborers or something- this is an image of men! What about the women? There are definitely women who are trying to come into the US for better lives for their children, where is their story, and why isn’t their image represented in the stereotype?
I think Sewon and I will have an easy time thinking up many things that we are interested in, but I am curious and a little unsure to how we can focus our question to do the best research when we are actually on the border. I know that when doing interviews and such you react to what the interviewee is saying, and if people have a lot to say, or surprising things to say, about a certain thing, our research might go in a different direction. Still I feel like we need to have a more focused place to start and we (especially me) are so broadly interested in these topics it will be interesting to see how we end up narrowing it all down.

Today we met with Troy Davis at the media center and he was really helpful! We’re going to hopefully meet with him next week also to try out the equipment and the editing software… this way, when we take footage on the trip, we’ll have an idea of our editing capabilities. He showed us the camera (it’s so small!) and suggested we take a wireless mic and a shotgun mic, along with a tripod, probably. He explained that the camera uses one hour DV tapes. Sewon and I have started to think about how many we will need, since we definitely don’t want too few. Looking at the itinerary will likely help us figure that out, since some days might have less than interests us than others. We decided to prepare  interview questions for the next meeting so we can start thinking about what exactly we want to ask the people we meet on the trip. Of course once we start interviewing people, their answers will lead us into questions we could not have anticipated, but I think it’s a good idea to have a starting point- some questions we know we want to ask, or information we know we would like to find out. Also we’re going to research interview release forms.


Sewon and I just checked out the camera that we will be using for the trip and shot some footage. We bought a couple DV tapes and will try out the editing software on Thursday. We also thought about trying to reserve a camera for the meeting on Tuesday so we could tape people’s expectations and motivations for the trip. I think that would be a good way to show the process of BorderLinks, and how our perceptions change.


Today I picked up the video camera so that we can record our discussion tomorrow. If anyone is willing to stay a little bit after the meeting, we thought up some questions:

-Are you excited about the spring break trip to the border?
-What drew you to decide to go to the border?
-What are your expectations of the physical U.S./Mexico border? (Do you think it will be dangerous?)
-What do you hope to gain out of your experience through BorderLinks?


I just got back from our meeting. It was very helpful. We talked about the itinerary a bit more, the budget, and everyone’s different projects. It was really helpful to hear feedback on our project. We have been working out the logistics and learning about the camera, but we have been a little bit lost in our thinking about research questions, though we have been thinking about it. Professor Tandeciarz and Professor Bickham-Mendez helped synthesize what I think Sewon and I were aiming at with our most recent questions. Our documentary could focus on why and how William and Mary is connecting with the border, and how the process changes the group, our relationship with the border, and our relationship with our own community in Williamsburg. Professor Tandeciarz had the great idea of taping our community screening of the film, and then incorporating that into the film, which is an idea that I love. We talked about how personal transformation is the basis of social/political change. I still think Sewon and I need to think this over more and talk it out more, because there are still some things I’m a little fuzzy on. If our research is on the dialogue between the William and Mary students and the border, are we ourselves going to have many direct questions for people at the border or will we mostly be recording the others’ interviews? Or should we maybe try to figure out how we are received and how people at Tucson/Nogales connect with us (since we are trying to connect with them). For example, why they want to meet with us, why they think it’s important not just to do what they are doing but to educate people like us about it.

Professor Bickham-Mendez had some good feedback for our release form and we’re going to meet on Friday to talk more about the project.

Ideas for interviews/footage in Williamsburg: next meeting, Chuck showing maps, interview individual students or working groups of students about what the border means to them/why they are interested, Lilli, Geoff Fiess (what are your concerns), Professors Tandeciarz and Bickham-Mendez, people in the community (probably better around the time we screen it or after we screen it). Not in Williamsburg but: Gary Adler, PhD Cand., from the Sociology Department at the University of Arizona- since he’s surveying us, it would be great if we could interview him…


I read Enrique’s Journey. It was gut-wrenching. It was awful, the things that people have to go through, and I thought it was especially awful how familial ties were broken. Enrique wanted to be with his mother so badly that he risked his life many times, and then he reached her, and he couldn’t even enjoy the experience because he was undocumented, he was in a new, different country and community, where his mom had been there for years while he hadn’t, and things were just entirely different from what he expected. After all these experiences, even a mother and son can’t just pick up where they left off. What I got out of the book was a look at the human rights issues and also at the community ties that are hurt by this desperate immigration. This was also shown in Crossing Arizona, when they showed the ranchers who were upset by immigrants on their property. This hurts the community on both sides of the border. The community here in the US that might have been inclusive and sympathetic to immigrants is now hostile. Cartas del otra lado showed how the lack of infrastructure in Mexico was a great problem, since the women left behind who were trying to make their own living had trouble with gas lines, getting government officials to pay attention to the real problems, etc. It also showed the problem of disintegrating community ties with the men in the US who turn to drugs or other women when they are disconnected with their families- they need to feel community connection somewhere, so they find a way- but it destroys what is left of the ties they came to America to defend.

I am concerned because I am still not sure what questions we are going to ask people on the border. I feel like we are still shaky on our research question, and every time we talk about it I feel like we solidify it more in regards to what is our community’s connection to the border? But what are we researching actually on the border? I thought we originally wanted to know how different groups define/perceive the border. Perhaps we want to know what they think our community (Williamsburg, William and Mary, college kids, Latino communities in the US, non-Latino communities in the us, etc) should know about the border?


I feel better after our meeting. I understand now that our question about how our community connects with the border will manifest itself in how our individual research projects pan out and how we interact with the border. We will be following others when they ask questions, or asking questions of people we interact with, not so much creating new questions. It’s all about how the border manifests itself in our own community, why we care about the border, and how that effects the way we interact with the border when we’re there- our strategies, how we react and talk with people. I have calmed down a bit. I realize that our focus should be on figuring out what to film and who to follow- where to focus the camera. I think that we will be able to do this pretty well because there are two of us and one can film and the other can take notes for future reference when editing and stuff- about what was going on- and also to keep an eye out for other things we want to get footage of- because maybe we’ll be taping something but actually there will be something else going on elsewhere that is more important.

We should consider talking with Drew Stelljes when we get back, to talk to him about the decision to cancel the service trip(s?) to Mexico.