It was beautiful. And horrible. All at the same time.
Patriotism and humanitarianism. The definitions of these remain ambiguous. The love for one’s country, and the love for all humanity. Shortly after we arrived here, we were instructed to create a poster of the things we hoped to get out of the summer. Now, half way through this experience, I’m still working on what I wrote and said. My poster read “In Unity and Justice for ALL.” Ironically, this line comes directly from the Pledge of Allegiance to the United States of America. I also included the words ‘patriotism’ and ‘humanitarianism.’ When explaining my poster, I expressed my feelings about defining them. “I love my country,” I said. “but I’m not always proud of it. But I am American for a reason.” I’m discovering that maybe true patriotism and helping to make your country the best that it can be. And for you, maybe that doesn’t include humanitarianism. But for me, it does. For me, they both come down to one thing—helping people.
These are the things I thought of after living the most patriotic day of my life. July 4th was, as it should be, beautiful. But it was also horrible. We left for the No More Death’s camp near the small town of Arivaca, Arizona, at noon on the 4th of July. When we reached the camp, we joined the other volunteers on the evening patrol for the day. A patrol with this organization includes hiking well-trafficked migrant trails in the desert carrying water and food and providing medical aid to anyone in need. After the patrol, we were invited to attend Arivaca’s 4th of July celebration. Held at Arivaca Ranch, it was as stereotypically patriotic as one can get. Burgers and hotdogs on the grill, country music blaring, and horses and kids running free. Soon after the meal, the fireworks began. And you could have painted a picture. Purple mountains majesty in the background, fireworks in the sky, and horses stampeding through it all. Never was I prouder or guiltier to be taking part in it all. That night, as I camped out under the stars in the desert, I thought about privilege (as I often do here). I got to enjoy that amazing scene because I am American. And that’s all some people want—the good ol’ American Dream. And who are you or who am I to judge them for that? And though I’m not always proud of what we do, that’s patriotism. I have the ability to change the things that shouldn’t be because of the opportunities this country provides. I love being American.
The next day, we rose at five in the morning to prepare for the morning patrol. On the way to the site where we would be hiking, one of the experienced volunteers told us about a scene we may encounter. You see, the desert is beautiful, but it holds some of the most horrible secrets in its beauty. A “Rape Tree” is one of these secrets. A tree containing a woman’s underwear or bra, it is what one may call a ‘trophy’ of where a sexual assault took place. Not only is the desert a naturally deathly place, it becomes even more dangerous for woman. Oftentimes the coyote, or guide, of a group will use his position of power to take advantage of women travelers. Then, as if the act itself isn’t horrible enough, he displays the assault to the world. It is impossible to even try to understand such behavior. After hearing of this atrocity, we could only hope not to see it. On the evening patrol that day, three of us saw “Rape Trees” first hand.
The desert was beautiful. And horrible. All at the same time.