Final Reflection

The Hidalgo County Public Cemetery Project (or formally known as the Hidalgo County Pauper Cemetery Project) may not seem like something grand to some people but to others it does not only tell history of the community but holds the memories of their loved ones. The project taught me many things such as: how important all the people we identify are, the ethics applied, different types of technology used and how this impacts the community.
The people located in the cemetery were strangers to me when I first arrived and the cemetery but as I worked with my classmates I got to meet several of them, some I do not know much about but the fact that they are there was clear. The cemetery was not in good shape and that was partly the reason for us being there but people still cared and visited the cemetery that had been overcome by time and nature. It seemed like a lonely place compared to Hillcrest cemetery at its side but it was just as important.
I learned that the people buried in the cemetery were either those whose families could not afford to pay or people who died while visiting the Rio Grande Valley. There is a variety of people buried in the cemetery from children to adults, those that lived long and those that did not get to start it, all these people who have their own individual histories that connect to this one place. When the project began and that first day out there I felt overwhelm with several feelings and emotions because I did not know what direction this project would take us. Would the families be angry at us as we intruded upon this sacred place? Is it insensitive to record the data, as we take measurements of the grave markers or we read the inscriptions upon them? Is what we are doing truly going to benefit the community? I had all these other questions swirling around in my mind but the answers were not those I had expected and changed the questions entirely. The families were not angry, in fact they were happy as we helped identify their loved ones and sometimes learn more about them. Collecting the data caused a misinterpretation with visitors as they believed we were inspecting the cemetery but fear was something I felt too. I was afraid because I did not want to offend any of them as we measured, took pictures, set down flags trying our best not to disturb the graves around us as we walked among the them. The last question about the project benefiting the community, changed. At first it was how would this benefit the community but after we got approval form not only the county but several of the families it was: How to we keep the project going and improve it? I realized that the work we were doing was more important because yes this was for the living but it was also for the dead, giving them back their identities that had been obscured by time and nature.
I was usually in charge of measuring the grave markers, but it did not matter if you were the one taking the picture of the marker and offerings, taking measurements, converting those measurements, recording the names, date of death and birth and any other information. All of these required us to get close to the graves and made sure that we did our best to collect any information we could in order to identify who was buried there. I did not get to use all the technology that was present for the project but based on the experiences of my classmates and Dr. Rowe it was a time-consuming process that will be worth it in the end because it will allow us to create a map of not only the cemetery but of each individual grave. There were times that there was nothing other than a homemade grave marker that indicated there was someone buried there but there was no name, dates or anything but the maker and sometimes some offerings. This meant we had to do more research and find the peoples’ records. As the class came to an end we discussed how to improve the project using different resources to broaden our pools of information and connect it back to the community.
After the Day of the Dead everyone noticed the cleaned graves and the new offerings making the place seem brighter, making us happy and excited as we revisited the graves. This showed that the people we were working to identify were still being celebrated but also reminded us that there were some graves that still needed to be recorded and by the end hopefully have enough to find family members that have been searching form them or do not know about them because of the passage of time. I think that those involved wanted the cemetery to look like those around it (like Hillcrest), with vibrant green grass to match the brightly colored flower offerings.
There are many questions surrounding the relationship between the different cemeteries given their proximity to one another and whether boundaries were crossed. The Hidalgo County Pauper Cemetery is supposed to be free but there are some people that say otherwise, all these things tie back into the history of the place and the communities that lived during those times. As we uncover more than just identities of the people buried there but the history of the cemeteries as well as they intertwine with the lives and death of different people.
The Hidalgo County Public Cemetery project still has a lot of room to improve and is still growing. My class was the first to experience this project but it will not be the last and it was just the beginning as more of the community gets involved and information is uncovered. The cemetery is slowly changing as graves are rediscovered, identities reestablished and families are reconnected.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *