Postcards From the Edge

Hi, Mom! I'm crossing the border!

Rudy Adler has a kind of Fraggle Rock vision of what he hopes the cameras returned by both the migrants and the Minutemen will bear out: that the common qualities shared by the peaceful, willing worker creatures and the monstrous, country-guarding Gorgs outweigh their differences.

"What I think is going to happen is you'll see a lot of similarities between the two groups," he says, considering the two polar extremes with which most participants in the border debate align themselves.

"Hopefully, it'll get both the left and right to calm down a bit, and see the people on both sides are just people."

Inside the migrant house in Nogales, the men rest up for the long hikes across the desert or recover from just being deported.
Jimmy Magahern
Inside the migrant house in Nogales, the men rest up for the long hikes across the desert or recover from just being deported.
Customs agent Tina Hurley: "What goes on around us is terrible .  .  . but right here, it's so lovely."
Jimmy Magahern
Customs agent Tina Hurley: "What goes on around us is terrible . . . but right here, it's so lovely."

"Do you wanna see inside a migrant house?" Brett Huneycutt asks, smiling.

There's nothing particularly inviting about the ramshackle house on the impossibly steep hill just off the central drag in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico.

Fused to the rocky hillside with a mixture of stucco, wood, and, as in many border colonia houses, a little used tire, the Casa Juan Bosco, run by a couple named Francisco and Gilda as a temporary flophouse for as many as 50 migrants attempting to cross the Mexico-U.S. border at a time, is hardly the type of place you'd expect to find a privileged Brophy Prep grad like Huneycutt. Brett Huneycutt, on summer vacation from his masters studies at Oxford, where students come to dinner in robes à la Harry Potter?

And yet, there he is, beaming -- after getting the couple's permission to enter the house -- like he's just moved to the front of the line at his favorite Disneyland attraction.

"C'mon!" Huneycutt says excitedly, trudging up the steep stone walkway. "They said we can talk a while."

Huneycutt is here with Criado -- Adler has stayed behind on this trip -- to pass out about 22 disposable cameras to Francisco and Gilda and the migrants packed inside the house.

To the uninitiated, walking into a migrant house can be a startling experience, like walking into a Time photo album of some bleak Baghdad prison camp.

Inside the open door of the packed Casa Juan Bosco, sacked out on 33 bunk beds stacked three high along every wall of a room the size of an average studio apartment, a tired, sweaty pack of men either preparing for a harrowing run across the border or recovering from a deportation stare back through narrowed, suspicious eyes.

There's no radio or TV in the room, only the weak hum of a standing fan. And apart from the faint snores from some of the more worn-out workers -- it's only 9 p.m. on a Tuesday, but a lot of these men are resting up for a journey that typically begins after midnight -- the room falls deathly silent as soon as Huneycutt and Criado enter.

It's an intimidating scene, to say the least.

But this is approximately the pair's 25th trip to the border this summer. And, like a late-season episode of The Real World, whatever uncomfortableness they might have felt at the beginning of the project seems to have given way to getting real.

Within minutes, the fresh-faced Huneycutt is cracking jokes with a rough-looking mustachioed man who initially slides down from his bunk with the scowl of an angry desperado from an early Robert Rodriguez Western.

"I asked him, 'So what do you do?'" Huneycutt says, attempting to translate between giggles. "And he said, 'I'm a pollero,' meaning he works as a chicken-keeper. But pollero is also the word Mexicans use for coyote. So we were both laughing -- at the irony, I guess."

After another joke, Huneycutt is slapping the short, ruddy-faced man on the shoulder, laughing in his infectious, high-pitched rat-a-tat giggle, and the prison scowls surrounding the room turn into easy smiles.

"The joke loses something in translation," is all Huneycutt says, before switching back to Spanish, the language he first learned at Brophy and has loved ever since.

Huneycutt, who's part English and German and part Taiwanese (but in his heart, Criado jokes, a "Mexican wanna-be"), says he hopes the pictures that come back from the migrants will give others a sense of what the people he's met over the summer are really like, and help "humanize an incredibly divisive political issue," as it certainly already has for him.

"I like to think our audience for this project is someone like my mother," he says. "You know, they're not sure what to think of complicated political issues. But, like, when they see things from a more one-on-one, personal perspective, it cuts through."

Later, in the car ride back with Huneycutt to the Motel 6 on the Arizona side of the border, Criado feels compelled to share one aspect of the migrant house visit that really cut through for her.

"That room," she says flatly, "smelled like ass! I'm sorry!"

Huneycutt and Criado probably wouldn't be in Nogales if it wasn't for a couple of conversations they both had last spring with Adler, Huneycutt's childhood pal.

Adler, already disillusioned with the business fields open to him with his B.A. in finance, had just finished up a 13-month internship at the prestigious Portland ad agency Wieden+Kennedy, and was itching to try his hand at "something that would let me apply my skills, and also my philosophical ideas," he says. Plus, he adds with a smile, "It seemed better than getting a job. You're not young forever."

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