What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other word would smell as sweet.
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo called,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name, which is no part of thee
Take all myself.

Juliet in Romeo and Juliet: Act II, Scene 2

Shakespeare had a way with making lines stick, pegged into your memory. Thus many are likely familiar with the line “What’s in a name?” in which Juliet decides that names are not of importance but rather the being in which it identifies. Roses still will smell sweet. Romeo will still be the perfect man in her pre-teen world. In this context, however, their names divide them from an approved relationship due the family feud between the Montagues and Capulets. Enemies by name. In short, despite what we get from the famous Shakespearean line, names do matter in this moment for Juliet and her future.


The tradition of naming in Mexico is significant. I’ve had to explain many times when giving my full name why I don’t have two last names. Commonly in Mexico, kids take both the mom and the dad’s last name. To not have two last names usually means you lack a parent. In comparison, Ryana Holt is much shorter than a typical name here.

I would argue that in most places in the world names are important. They can define lineage. Names make you feel special, known, are a sign that you belong. They are a beautiful way you are identified. Nick names create feelings of connection while bad names hit you in places you didn’t know you could be hurt.


Once the sun dipped low enough to stop illuminating our faces, it got cold fast. That’s the thing about the desert in winter. The day brings a heat you can’t escape, not quite suffocating but also not comfortable. The night brings a cold that makes you yearn for the sun once again. We were circled up with our jackets, gloves, and hats and told to line up and grab three crosses from a wagon full to begin the vigil.

20160209_172150After a group of migrants trying to cross from Agua Prieta, Sonora, MX to Douglas, Arizona, US drowned in a drainage ditch in the early 2000s the Douglas Tuesday night prayer vigil began. Information of migrants who had died in their county was sharpied onto white crosses, if known. Date of birth, date of death, name. Our role was to call out the name on the crosses we carried. After, everyone would join in and yell “PRESENTE” (present).

We lined the road leading to the port of entry between Douglas and Agua Prieta with these crosses. We held the crosses high. Cars passed by on their way to Mexico. The sky burst into colors again, as the night before into a desert sunset of dark blue, red, and yellow.

It was dusk. I knew then that the migrants crossing through the desert nearby silently were getting ready to go. What were their names? Would any of them become another cross added to the wagon already filled?



In the book The Devil’s Highway (a book I highly recommend, especially along with the book Enrique’s Journey for journalistic and well presented stories of migrants) the process of dying in the desert is explained. Left to bake in the sun, your skin goes black and hard. You wither and cook. The blazing sun renders you unrecognizable. Maybe in the vastness, left to your demise, you’ll be there until the whiteness of your bones jumps out of a border patrol agent. This could be why you are unidentifiable.12743959_10153977726708593_5864211195620725720_n

Maybe you were robbed of all you had, every little slip of paper, ID card, note from a loved one. No one who you were. No one called to report you missing. You slipped through.

Once a daughter, a friend, maybe a sister, wife, or mother, now you have returned to dust. Even you, nameless in our system and our minds, had a name once. I hope your loved ones at home still remember you by it, are tormented by it not knowing where you are, if you are alive, or how you died. Tonight, you are present in our hearts and in our prayers.


To many, these names feel foreign on the tongue. I could tell by the many rough attempts at pronunciations. No matter, we were still calling back into our consciousness the lives of those lost to the desert, or maybe even into the hands of corrupt guías or border patrol. These names may not conjure a friend or relative for you but they are names when said by their families, bring pangs, even waves, of pain, of loss. Names that were once given to them as innocent babies and that were yelled out as they disobeyed their parents. Names of people who grew up to be hard workers but through fear, economic distress and/or violence were whispered in sad goodbyes by loved ones.

These names are no longer so foreign to me. They are the names of my family, neighbors, co-workers, and soccer teammates. They are the names of the people who take care of me, love me, and have welcomed me as their own. If they were born in a different town, a different region, south of the MX border they too could be names on these crosses. And that knowledge was enough to push through my increasingly trembling voice and yell with all I had the names on the crosses I carried, to yell PRESENTE. Because to me, they must be made present. It is urgent to remember them. Our country, immigration system, and lack of knowledge encourage their names to go ausente but this issue, this border, these people deserve more than hushed facts and hateful words.

They are PRESENTE.