Photos & essay created by Emily B. Hertz. Emily has been an SCA volunteer in the Bureau of Land Management’s Tucson field office since 2003. She clears trash in southeastern Arizona along the Mexican border.
Needle and string. Virgin Mary beach towel. Cans of tuna. Bus ticket stubs. Voter registration cards. Pesos. Baby bottle. Fleece-lined corduroy jacket. Pornography comics. Multi-colored oxford shirt. Cloth rosary. 10-speed bike. Red training bra. Fleece onesie.
I remove evidence of human migration and trespasses on U.S. soil. This is my third year as a conservation intern.
I came to Arizona because I love the land. The jagged red rocks, cobalt blue skies, and 350 days of sun. I came to Arizona to understand more about the land, the rocks, the plants, the people, and the relationships between them all in the Sonoran desert. I came to Arizona because I was interested in the people crossing the border. Why? Who? How? Where are they now? Did they make it? Are they happier? I still ask myself these questions.
I had my own concepts about the border situation before I moved here. In line with the contemporary obsession to vilify and glorify, I too, had cast the heroes and villains, unaware that I would end up working alongside the entire cast. Border patrol agents. Ranchers. Environmental advocates. Military personnel. Human rights activists. Law-enforcement agents. Hunters. Mothers. Fathers. Sons. Daughters. People.
Most media doesn’t have the time to delve into complexity. Most people aren’t privy to the stories I hear everyday. Being followed home after work. Giving birth in the desert. Finding abandoned children. Finding abandoned parents. Being threatened at gunpoint. Giving a ride to kid and his bike en route to Phoenix from Mexico. Finding human bones. Cutting fences. Breaking open water pipes used for cattle. Feet, without soles””worn away from walking. Roads spider-webbing the landscape. Washes full of trash up to mid-calf. Many times I have come home from working in the desert, having made choices or having heard or seen things that really challenged and questioned my life philosophy. At times I have gotten headaches, nauseated, or vomited. I have vented to friends or cried. And afterwards I usually write. But I’ve wanted to understand the issues I’ve been confronting more in depth “” to come to a place of understanding about the history that’s being created, from all perspectives.
Since January, I have been writing, recording conversations, and taking photographs of the Border Patrol. Border fence. Rescues. Tracking. Infrastructure. Firearms. An agent’s day-to-day activities. This essay is the first of a series of five. I plan to also photograph a local rancher, a person who works with a variety of human rights organizations, a person who works for an environmental advocacy organization, and an immigrant.
My journey is about seeing people in their entirety. It is about juxtaposing the stereotypes with the ordinary. It is about taking a moment to see beyond the image and listen to the stories. Ultimately, it is about seeing ourselves in each other.
Today I opened a small black bible I found months ago in the desert. Green, pink, and yellow marker highlights, adorn bible passages. Words of love, courage, hope, and fear are lightly penciled in Spanish, on rice paper for someone named Cinthia.
“I love you with my heart, with my body, with my mind and with my soul. I love you so much that I can’t bear it. Remember me and don’t forget me. When you sit alone watching the sky and remember where you are from, you are going to see those stars that are together and nothing can separate them, although years will pass, like our love.”
Did she leave this bible behind? Where was she going? Who penciled in the passages at the back of the bible? Where is she now? Where is her family? Did she make it to her destination? Did she get caught? Did she see me?
This man’s bootprint is one of ten footprints, agents spotted a half mile south of where the group was apprehended.
August 2006, Douglas, AZ
Agent J. makes time to eat his lunch while driving.
April 2006, Santa Ritas, AZ
The Douglas Border Patrol station begins building another section of the border fence using landing mat materials from the Vietnam era.
January 2006, Douglas, AZ
The border patrol’s search and rescue team, BORSTAR, prepares B. to be flown by helicopter to a hospital for further assistance. B. developed complications due to exposure, after walking for four days with her daughter from Mexico.
February 2006, Arivaca, AZ
A section of border fence that has been cut and entered illegally by vehicle traffic numerous times. Through this site of recurring repairs towers the Fresnal Mountain in Sonora, Mexico.
August 2006, Douglas, AZ
Water jugs””one of the most prominent pieces of garbage found in border areas. August 2006, Nogales, AZ
A poster in a training classroom at the Nogales Border Patrol station.
January 2006, Nogales, AZ