I wrote this in July 2000.
It was only 9 am, but my face glowed red in the desert heat. Sweat ran into my eyes. Arms were slathered in SPF 25 yet they’d turned pink. I’d drunk close to half a gallon of water in the hour I’d been out there. I’m part of a group who volunteers weekly to pick up trash that migrants heading to El Norte have left on ranchers’ lands. What I was finding, however, were pieces of lives.
Near a small campsite, I found two small plastic packs. One was black, a woman’s. It held a little food that had gone bad, part of a roll of toilet paper, and two maxi pads in their pink wrappers. I wondered how desperate a woman, or any person, must be to try crossing this desert on foot. How desperate would I have to be?
Newspapers report cut fences and land strewn with dirty diapers and water jugs, but what I’ve seen has not matched what I’ve read. To be sure, our group has found hundreds of water jugs which we cart off to recycle. But we’ve also found car batteries, an old sofa, a refrigerator, and a car bumper. We haven’t seen a single diaper in the weeks we’ve come out and haven’t seen any fences cut.
Reaching for my water again, I wondered only why there weren’t more abandoned containers. The heat had already convinced me to quit for the day, so I couldn’t conceive of spending days, even weeks, pushing through mesquite, walking dry washes, and evading La Migra. How is it that the desert heat has killed only sixteen of those who’ve passed through here in the last few months? If I’d been one of the migrants, it’s likely I’d be one of the dead.
Poverty can force a person to push scant belongings into a small pack, string a gallon of water on a rope, and say goodbye to friends and family. To head off into a land of thorns, venomous snakes, and terrible heat with no lakes or rivers. How must it look to those from the rain forests of the south?
in addition to all the dangers of the land, there are men with binoculars and rifles searching for those brave enough to cross the area by foot.
The money migrants pay for assistance in crossing guarantees nothing. In exchange for money, migrants get promises laced with lies; they get led through the desert without enough water or food; they get packed into cars and vans with poor brakes and tires. If spotted by the men with rifles, they are abandoned by the ones they’d paid to guide them. Some are left alone to die.
I looked at the small collection of things I’d decided, for reasons I don’t understand, to keep. I have a green ball cap from the 1996 Super Bowl; a yellow bandana; a blue toothbrush; thin white socks tucked neatly into a pair of tennis shoes; the identity card of man from southern Chihuahua; diarrhea medication. Pieces of lives