Connecting to the realities of immigration and border cultures was a very powerful experience for seven University of Denver students who traveled to Tucson, Ariz., and the U.S.-Mexico border during the 2013 summer interterm for a course taught by Margie Thompson and María Suárez Toro.
“In one day, I have been humbled, moved, given goose bumps, impressed, inspired, angered and horrified by the very actions we have to work to stop, and ready to move forward and help others in the borderlands and beyond,” said Emma Lynch, a graduate student in the Media, Film & Journalism Studies program, after the first day of the class.
A blog created by the students reflected the intensity and impact of visiting an immigration detention center to speak with migrants, and walking in the blistering heat of a migrant trail through the Sonora Desert to see numerous backpacks, pieces of clothing, water bottles and other items abandoned by those seeking to cross the border into Arizona.
Makeshift memorials commemorated the growing number of migrants who are dying in the desert, while a bra hanging from a tree was a chilling reminder of what all too often happens to women who are sexually assaulted along the way.
The desperation of those seeking a better life or frantic to reunite with families resonated at each site the group visited.
“Imagine the desperation you would have to feel to leave your home and loved ones behind, to risk your life in the desert, in hope of a job that might pay minimum wage if you are very lucky,” said Kristin Morgan, a student in the course.
But the overwhelming despair, fear and sadness were most strongly reflected when students saw the faces of migrants arrested by the Border Patrol and sent through Operation Streamline in the Tucson County Courts, their hands and feet shackled in chains.
Graduate student Kenny Hood posted a comment on the blog after the course: “Now, almost a week later, the dust has settled somewhat. But the impact has remained. I am forever changed by what I saw, heard and learned in the Arizona desert, my life’s course forever altered.”