Social Justice and Archaeology

The Hidalgo County Public Cemetery Project (HCPCP) can help address issues of marginalization and inequality. One of the clear examples of marginalization found in the Hidalgo County Public Cemetery (HCPC) is the separation of the land between the private cemetery, Hillcrest Memorial Park, and the HCPC. Through this separation, there is a clear difference in maintenance, as well as in the condition and arrangement of the monuments. The separation also highlights the inequalities between the rich and poor, as those buried in the HCPC came from predominantly poor backgrounds, and were buried in the HCPC as it was a free plot of land.

Through the HCPCP, we can address the marginalization and inequalities shown in the cemetery through raising awareness of the conditions and through the data collection and analysis. Through raising awareness, we can involve the community in improving the conditions of the cemetery and educate the community on the history of the cemetery. Furthermore, our data collection and analysis will help provide more information on the HCPC. Generally, the HCPCP has been effectively addressing the issues of marginalization and inequality. However, there could still be room for improvement in communication of the project to the general community and the involvement of different community members.

Communities and Stakeholders

The Hidalgo County Public Cemetery Project (HCPCP) includes stakeholders from different communities, requiring collaboration with various groups. The primary stakeholders in the HCPCP include the family members of those buried in the cemetery, as well as county officials who work with the cemetery and other community members. There are many diverse communities in the Rio Grande Valley, including ethnic communities, immigrant communities, and religious communities. Some of these communities also include the cemetery and individuals as members, as many individuals buried in the cemetery are Hispanic. We are also part of the communities we work with. In this project, we are all from the area, and each interact with different local communities, helping to inform a more diverse perspective on our research.

There are different sides to the involvement of cultural affiliation when conducting investigations. Cultural affiliation can be beneficial to understanding the cultural background and significance of the project. However, it can also influence the interpretations and perspectives of the project, and thus it is important to remain sensitive to the influence of culture, while remaining open to other views. When we work with certain communities, we may forget or neglect more diverse perspectives that could be achieved through working with different communities. Furthermore, certain individuals may also feel neglected. Finally, there are power dynamics involved amongst the communities with interest in the cemetery, such as the power of county officials compared to the family members and other community members involved.

What is Public Archaeology?

To me, public archaeology is archaeology that is accessible to the public, serves the public, and aids underrepresented communities. Accessibility to the public is crucial because it allows the public to gain more knowledge about the projects and the goals of public archaeology. Furthermore, more accessibility allows for community involvement and input, helping public archaeology serve the public through collaboration and helping archaeologists address concerns from the community. In general, the perspectives of archaeology, and the broader field of anthropology, provide more open-minded and inclusive approaches to projects, allowing for public archaeology to aid underrepresented communities.

The project we are conducting at the Hidalgo County Public Cemetery (HCPC) aligns with my definition in several ways. For example, we keep the projects accessible to the public through the blog, contact with news organizations, and contact with family members and other community members. Our project also serves the public through connecting family members with their loved ones. Furthermore, we are recording the gravestones and mapping the cemetery to provide a resource to the public. Finally, our project serves underrepresented communities, such the poor, which are represented in the HCPC.

The lines of investigation I am interested in pursuing are exploring patterns or trends that are present in the cemetery, as well as the overall evolution of the cemetery. It would also be interesting to involve more family members in the project to learn more about their backgrounds and histories.


Engaging with Publics Online

The most effective type of social media outreach for the Hidalgo County Public Cemetery Project (HCPCP) would be a combination of the blog and other accounts such as Twitter and/or Facebook. The blog provides several advantages to serve as the primary mode of social media outreach. For example, it can be sustained and updated through the course of different semesters. The blog also allows for longer posts, for the inclusion of multimedia, and is accessible to the public.

However, the incorporation of Twitter and/or Facebook could also help reach a larger audience. Twitter may be helpful by presenting a summary of topics or of the progress of the HCPCP. The tweets could also include links to the full blog posts, thus bringing the audience back to the main source of information. Facebook could work in a similar way, by being a medium to share the blog posts to connect to a larger audience. Facebook also allows for longer posts, giving the option to spread more information there as well. Furthermore, both Twitter and Facebook have means to include pictures and videos, which helps in showing the progress of the HCPCP.

Final Reflection

Overall, I enjoyed my experience working on the Hidalgo County Public Cemetery Project (HCPCP). One of the reasons was in the hands-on experience I got in the field. The class was more interactive than a regular class, and being outdoors was a refreshing change to a regular lecture setting.  We typically had good weather for our meetings, except for rain toward the end of on one day, and a couple of hotter days. Through my participation in the project, I learned to use several new tools, such as Kobo Toolbox, the app where we recorded the data that we collected from the tombstones: measurements, inscriptions, descriptions of its condition, etc.

I am doing a minor in anthropology and was hoping to get experience in different areas of the field. I chose this class because of the opportunity to get more hands-on experience with archaeology. I had taken Discovering the RGV, but that class was more interdisciplinary, including perspectives from history, anthropology, biology, and geology, so I wanted to focus more on the anthropology aspect through this class. Through the HCPCP, I was part of an archaeological study and participated in the data collection process. This data collection enabled us to retrieve and preserve information from the past.

Also, I had the opportunity work with other people on preparing our presentation for the Engaged Scholars Symposium. It was fun to collaborate with my fellow classmates, as it provided us an opportunity to interact more closely with each other and to share our perspectives of the class and of the work we had done on the HCPCP. At the symposium, we took turns in speaking about our poster, and we were happy to explain to others what we had worked on and the methods that we used. To our surprise, we won for best poster, and we were proud of our effort and our contribution to the symposium.

Furthermore, the HCPCP had a direct impact on our community, and that was perhaps my favorite part of the class. Our work enabled members of the community to connect with their deceased relatives in a way they had not been able to before our work. Knowing that that would be the result of our work added personal meaning to the project.

Looking forward to the future directions of the HCPCP, I believe there are more opportunities to engage the community and raise awareness about the work that we are doing. Community engagement could add more perspectives to the project and perhaps give us different lines of inquiry. Furthermore, as we were able to finish the primary data collection this semester, we will have more opportunities in the following semesters to analyze the data and continue mapping the cemetery. Thus, I am proud to have been a part of the Hidalgo County Public Cemetery Project over the course of this semester, and look forward to seeing the continued progress of the project.