Being able to be a part of the Hidalgo Count Public Cemetery Project was more than what I expected. I first heard about the project through Dr. Rowe as I had her for Introduction to Archaeology in the Fall semester of 2017. That semester was also my first at the Edinburg campus since the merging of UTB and UTPA. Even though the merge has made it harder for me to take the classes I need here in Brownsville, I am also very grateful for it. Without the merge I would not have had the oppurtunity to be able to have a diverse selection of professors and courses. When I first decided I wanted to major in Anthropology I was leaning onto more of a linguistic, and cultural aspect of it. Being introduced to Archaeology definitely made me want to lean towards that path as well. I believe many do not have a clear view of anthropology or archaeology and with this project, it allows us to engage with the community and be able to give back.
When I first started the course I was not sure what to expect exactly. However, on the first day at the cemetery I knew it was a class I could actually look forward to going to every Friday morning. The first day, many of the new students to the project (including myself) were getting the gist of how everything works such as; what information exactly we needed to collect, how to record it, how the equipment works, and how to interpret what we see.
The cemetery is not just our ‘workspace’ or ‘just a course’, because it is so much more than that. It allows us as students to engage with our own community and be able to learn from it as well. We have used equipment archaeologists use on the field thanks to UTRGV. The equipment we use are; tablets, structure scanner, total station, drones, and cellphones. Other sources for our project have been human remains detection dogs, information from family members who loved ones are buried at the cemetery, and in the future we hope to be able to use a ground-penetrating radar. I personally have been able to access the total station which maps graves. The total station scans fixed points in the cemetery, and records image data points at individual grave markers. The only issue we have faced using the total station is when trees or branches are in the way, but luckily we are able to adjust heights, and sometimes we are able to move the branches slightly out of the way. We take turns using the total station as there are so many of us involved in the course, and the rest partake in data collection. For the data collecting aspect, we use a site known as KoboToolBox. This file allows us to insert information regarding the grave such as; images of the grave, describing offerings placed, measurements of the head stones, the information regarding the individuals name, birthday, death date, direction of the grave, and indicating whether there have been repairs to the head stone. Even though we are not connected to wifi, the file still saves to the folder on the app, and once we are connected to wifi we can manually upload each file. After this semester most of the graves have been recorded, there might be a few left to record.
I have registered for the class next semester, and I hope to further help the project along with my colleagues. We hope to make the data we collected accessible to the public by arranging it accordingly. We also hope to be able to use the drone more to get arial photos of the cemetery, and the ground-penetrating radar. With the ground-penetrating radar we hope to be able to discover more unmarked graves if any left. Something Dr. Rowe brought to our attention was we could possibly have a Día de los Muertos, also known as the Day of the Dead, event at the cemetery. Día de los Muertos is a famous holiday particularly throughout Mexico, and anywhere there are individuals of Mexican descent. It is where family members gather by their loved ones grave and honor their deceased loved ones and ancestors. I believe this is an amazing idea for the community, and hopefully we will be able to hear first hand the history of the individuals buried there through their families. Families will be able to understand what we are doing with the project as well!
Some of the students in the course including myself submitted our project to the Engaged Scholar Symposium 2018 thanks to Dr. Rowe who introduced the event to us and helped us. Together we were able to learn more of the history of the cemetery, and showed an overall view of what the Hidalgo County Public Cemetery consists of. We won first place in the Service-Learning Poster category! It was an awesome experience, and hopefully we can add more results and data next time there is an Engaged Scholar Symposium. Our project was able to be publicized due to this, and we hope to get more people involved with it.
Something I personally learned from being a part of this amazing project is that even in a cemetery, there is still so much life. Being able to see family members visit their loved ones, leaving offerings for them, and seeing nature continue to grow from the wild flowers and beautiful trees. It really is such a peaceful place, and being able to give identification back to those who could have lost it due to time or due to weather feels nice to do for others. We are not just some students doing this because we have to for a course, we are doing this because we want to and we feel a connection with this project. By being able to learn, and to give back to the community make its that much more aspiring for us. We hope to shed more light on this project so that as a community we can come together and take this even further.