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Thoughts to My Desconocido/a

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Editor’s Note: As a reflection while participating in the Migrant Trail Walk, lay missioner Julia Pinto shares what she would say to her desconocido/a–an unidentified person who passed away while migrating.

June 5, 2024

The Migrant Trail Walk is an annual 75-mile journey on foot from Sasabe, Mexico to Tucson, Arizona to honor the lives lost in the Sonoran Desert in pursuit of a better life. It is not a simulation of what people face as they migrate because we walk with innumerable privileges and resources, but rather it is an opportunity to experience some of the challenges of the desert firsthand and advocate for an end to policies that push vulnerable people to these sad fates. In the last year, 191 people perished in this desert . Some of them, like the person on the cross that I carried, are “unknown persons.” Their remains are too decayed to be able to even tell if they were male or female. Their families do not know what happened to them, and they will likely not know for a long time until DNA tests are processed to identify them. 

During the week, the thirty-six of us pilgrims had segments where we walked in silence. These are some of my reflections as I carried my little cross in silence on Thursday, May 30th, the fourth day of the trail:

My Desconocido/a, we don’t know who you are, where you came from, or where you were going, but God knows. God created you and cares about your shortened life and misplaced dignity. 

I wish you had known and enjoyed peace, financial security, and safety in your hometown, like I do, so that you would not have had to flee. I wish you had found hospitality and welcome in the US as you ran from the place and people you loved. I wish you had had enough water, enough food as you trudged endlessly in the scorching sun. I wish you could have used a flashlight in the disorienting, unsettling darkness of the night and stuck to the cleared paths instead of piercing your arms and feet in the jagged desert. I wish you had had warm clothes for the freezing cold nights and shade in the suffocating heat of the day. 

I don’t know if you were traveling with family or companions or if you made the journey on your own. I hope you didn’t have to be alone when your spirit left your body, but you probably were lost, scared, and unaccompanied. People might think you were foolish for risking your life in the desert, but I think it was courage that made you offer everything you had to give your parents, siblings, children, or whomever a better life. Were you running from violence? Only someone truly desperate would risk the treacherousness of this landscape. I would have definitely died without the support of a team bringing me food, water, safety, directions, and gear. 

I feel overwhelming relief as I finally arrive at my destination after days of walking. Thank you, gentle soul, for walking beside me on this journey to Tucson. I wish you had made it. There’s enough room at the table for both of us. You should be here, present with us in the flesh, telling us your name. 

Question for Reflection: How can you reconnect with the humanity of broader global issues? With whom do you feel called to walk in solidarity?

Julia graduated from The University of Texas at Dallas in May 2015 with a BS in Mathematics and a Math Teacher Certification at the ripe age of 20. She taught Geometry, Algebra 2, Precalculus and Statistics for four years in a public high school in Richardson, Texas, as well as another year in a private school in Takoma Park, Maryland. Julia’s desire to serve and minister like St. Francis drew her to Washington D.C. to work as a Publications and Communications Associate with the US Catholic Mission Association through the DC Service Corps program, where she researched and helped support various mission organizations around the world. This call to mission now pushes Julia to venture beyond D.C. to serve as a missioner on the US-Mexico border. In her free time, Julia enjoys reading, working out, dancing, meeting strangers, and solving all kinds of puzzles.