Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Waiting for the rains

By Brenda Norrell

TUCSON -- This is the worst time of year, the heat is insufferable. After 15 minutes of walking in this 107 degrees baking-oven, I run into an ice-cold cafe for an ice-cold green tea.
What makes it worse this year, is most people can't afford to run their air conditioners at home, or own a car with air conditioning.
This is the hardest time of year here, when there is no relief from the sun, the time before the monsoon rains.
Then, I remember all those people headed north from Mexico, Guatemala and the south. Their families are hungry or a wife or child is sick and there is no medicine. They walk in this torturous heat and risk dieing in the baking desert.
Many do not make it. Their bodies are found out there, beneath mesquite trees or on the dry-baked earth. Many have died of heat exposure or dehydration. Some have been shot, others have been raped and shot.
The heat, and those images, are difficult to convey in words.
Photographer Michael Hyatt has captured images to tell this story. Hyatt's photos are of the mementos that migrants leave behind. He has just released a book of photos, Migrant Artifacts: Magic and Loss in the Sonoran Desert (Great Circle Books, $30).
At the book's opening show in Tucson Saturday night, one photo told the sad story of one life. A pair of leather sands, worn sandals like the kind that Indigenous wear in Chiapas, Oaxaca and most other places in the south, were left in the sand. They were left there, as if the person walking had simply stepped out of them during a slow and purposeful stride, stepped out of them and gone onto the next world.
More than 4,000 people have died crossing this desert along the border, each mourned by a mother, father, brother, sister, daughter or son.
Still, there are those volunteers out there each day trying to save lives. The volunteers from No More Deaths and the Samaritans look for those dieing in the desert. Humane Borders volunteers leave water in gallon jugs and small tanks for those dieing of thirst. Tohono O'odham Mike Wilson is one of those. The water, and the volunteers, are not enough to cover the vastness of the desert.
Derechos Humanos Coalition is struggling to protect migrant rights, including those shot and raped by border agents. The Indigenous Alliance Without Borders is fighting for the right for safe passage for Indigenous at the border.
The O'odham Voice Against the Wall is struggling to protect the ceremonial routes from the intrusion of the border wall and the return of their ancestors, following the recently vandalized graves by U.S. border construction.
Everyone is struggling, everyone is waiting for it to rain.
--Brenda Norrell

Photos by Michael Hyatt from his new book: "Migrant Artifacts: Magic and Loss in the Sonoran Desert"
"Our Lady of Guadalupe on the Migrant Trail," 2003.
"Anne Frank in Migrant Camp," 2004.

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