Thursday, June 17, 2010

Aid in the Desert

Let me be upfront about this book, Crossing with the Virgin: Stories from the Migrant Trail. My mother is one of the authors.

She is a retired physician living in Tucson, Arizona, and she has spent the better part of the last decade volunteering to prevent deaths in the desert between southern Arizona and northern Mexico. The group she volunteers with, Samaritan Patrol, places water in the desert in the hopes of curbing the tremendous number of deaths by dehydration that occur every year, particularly during these summer months when the heat is unbearable.

In addition, they try to provide medical aid to the injured and dying, getting them to the hospital should they need. They also help migrants get in touch with the Border Patrol should they desire aid in returning home. What they do is legal, but politically charged. What isn't political are the heartwrenching stories she and two other Samaritan volunteers wrote down in this book.

The book is composed of the stories of the people they encounter--parents of children lost in the desert, survivors of terrible journeys, and others--out in the desert. The stories are at once harrowing, horrific, uplifting and brutal. The writing by all three authors is wholly and completely their own, and their instincts as writers are spot on. What makes the writing excellent is the writers' total honesty about their subject, these migrants crossing through the desert south of Tucson, Arizona, on their way to better jobs in California, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Florida, and wherever else opportunity may afford itself. They have opinions, yes, but they let events and and personal narrative speak for itself.

This is a book full of raw, true, and very personal stories of life at the margins, life in the most extreme of contexts, life clung to through some of the worst conditions on the continent--not for the challenge, but for survival. But it's also a collection of stories about compassion, heart, humanity--those basic instincts we have to reach out and help another fellow human being whether they're lost, injured, or dying.

It's sad that I probably wouldn't know about this book if it weren't for my mother, but I'm glad she wrote it, if for no other reason than that I've discovered a visceral, direct window into lives so often unheard, unwitnessed, and unknown.

Crossing with the Virgin: Stories from the Migrant Trail
by Kathryn Ferguson, Norma Price, Ted Parks

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