Creating Impact: Supporting migrant advocacy at no more deaths aid camp
Meadows Scholar Rachel Stonecipher has turned a freshman year seminar into a passion for telling the stories of migrant workers and undocumented immigrants on the U.S.-Mexico border. This is her story.
I believe that no one should be stuck in a second-choice day job when there
is important work to be done.
My film education at Meadows, together with my human rights and anthropology
studies, has taught me not simply to “make an impact” on the world,
but how to create an impact by calling on everything I have learned. For
me, it boils down to this: I believe human understanding (the basic goal of
anthropology) and empathy (my basic goal in film) to be two sides of the
same coin. Over the past four years I’ve combined my interests to support
migrant advocacy efforts.
In my freshman year, I took an anthropology seminar on
transnational labor migration. That one class kicked off
a swirl of ideas and inspiration. First, I joined a trip with
the Embrey Human Rights Program to study public health
issues on the border. That project led me to apply for a
summer 2011 Richter Fellowship to study the social networks
among southern Arizona migrant advocates. There
I filmed demonstrations, interviews and more, using the
footage as data. What I discovered was a multi-layered
network of activists who had been fighting for as many as
four decades for the basic inclusion of immigrants in community
life. They used activism to expand the contexts in
which people could know those “other” than themselves,
supplanting the now-divisive label of “citizenship” with
shared goals: community participation, solidarity, justice.
Last summer, thanks to an SMU Engaged Learning grant,
I returned to Tucson specifically to study a volunteer organization
called No More Deaths. No More Deaths is one
of the only groups that consistently maintains a volunteer
presence on the remote desert trails used by migrants coming
into the U.S. Its mission is to end the deaths of migrants
in the desert due to dehydration and heat exhaustion.
The volunteers of No More Deaths provide food, water
and medical assistance to migrants at a semi-permanent
aid camp near the border, outside rural Arivaca, Ariz.
From the camp, volunteers drive and hike to designated
GPS waypoints where they leave food, water and sometimes
socks and blankets. For two weeks last summer,
I volunteered and lived at the camp. I hiked, learned to
four-wheel drive and helped with daily operations. My
object as an activist was clear; my object as a researcher
was to study the experience – mental and physical – of
volunteers who face the difficult task of responding to the
overwhelming health crisis in the desert using essentially
a GPS and their own senses. To comprehend this it was
necessary to be a volunteer myself.
I was not able to film extensively during this trip because
of logistical limitations, but I took some pictures in order
to remember the feeling of the walks. I think my feet,
arms and back remember, but I will never be able to say
that I experienced the incredibly difficult, seven-dayminimum,
on-foot journey that many border crossers
have learned to make.
The study taught me that empathy is nuanced. It is difficult.
I believe film can help. This project changed my
orientation to social problems by making me feel a part of
the problem and the solution. I will always feel connected
to the situation on the border, along with any havocwreaking
context to which policies – and our politics –
are tied. If being there in the desert could change the
perspective of any social scientist, commentator, voter,
etc., as it did for me – and I believe it would – then those
of us who have been there have a moral imperative to bring
that experience to the broadest of audiences.
After graduating this spring, I plan to create a documentary
on immigration through Arizona, focusing on communitybased
social change. Exploring the experience of caregiving
in the border’s politically and physically strained environment
has also been foundational to my longer-term career
plans to become a medical anthropologist and public
writer on these issues.
My priority is to create culture that shows readers or
audiences a glimpse of the mundane and extraordinary
details of each other’s lives. My trips to Tucson have
proved that once you walk in another’s shoes, it is impossible
to re-segregate your social world.
B.A. Film & Media Arts and
B.A. Anthropology, ’13