Working for the Hidalgo County Pauper Cemetery Project

In the course of over twelve weeks, working vigorously on data collection and method reflection, I have learned so much about archaeology in the context of community development and public engagement as a goal rather than a component to archaeological fieldwork. Taking into account the roles we play in this project such as initiators and engagers of public outreach proves that there is a goal to be met that involves other groups of interest.

By publishing posts online to our Hidalgo County Pauper Cemetery Project website, we allow the public to freely interact with team members involved in the process of data collection for this semester. Giving community members an inside look of the methods we intend to execute in the coming years for achieving public engagement as well as recover valuable records for these burial grounds.

After completing the readings for this semester, I have learned the importance of archaeology in a community setting. Understanding the role in which archaeologists and other specialists play when collaborating with the public. As mentioned by Jameson in Purveyors of the Past, “Because the archaeological record represents the heritage of all people, archaeologists have the responsibility to communicate with the public about the nature of archaeological research and explain the importance and relevance of archaeological research.” This quote expresses the importance of awareness that should be allowed to all of a community when working through and for the heritage of peoples.

However, the narrative should not be written out for the archaeologist who is advocating for the heritage conservation of a community as the focal point to this overall organized development. After much reflection of the beginnings in archaeological research from the 1950s, we as scholars and specialists of the study, should establish the stakeholders of a public works project to the rightful owners. As mentioned by Anna S. Agbe-Davis in Archaeologist in Communities, “Communities provided flora within which people could assert their needs, and legitimized the authority necessary to create change.”

The Hidalgo County Pauper Cemetery Project is first and foremost in effect to establish proper representation of the Pauper Cemetery in Edinburg, Texas. With a small portion of information pertained to the majority of these burials and an obvious lack of maintenance denotes the neglect in which people of this community and the Valley, overall face. Segregation is displayed on the layout of this burial site when noting the location of the sections at Hillcrest Cemetery. The Cemetery is still active today with a historical landmark located to the Southeast of the cemetery that is decades old and still under respectable conditions. Unlike the Pauper cemetery and the disconnected portion of the property called Restlawn, also known as the African American cemetery.

With the efforts and partnership of Hidalgo County, the Hillcrest property managers, and the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, we as a team are able to come together and deliver solid field work that will partake in the overall contribution for social change in South Texas (The Valley). This project aims not only to represent the lost names of this cemetery through deep research into archival record retrieved from various sources such as public/hospital records, background and medical information, and even archival record from funerary and mortuaries. By widening the spectrum of voices in this project, we are organizing this project that can satisfy all needs of the people.

What I find to be so promising for this public archaeology project is the mentality we all share for the fieldwork and collaboration associated with the location and community. By implementing digital tools such as KoboTools to record data, set up a website for active discussion and public awareness, and complete data recovery through external sites such as FindAGrave. Opening our means of resources by a wide range so that we can collect as much information to complete the data portion of this project successfully.

Before we set out to begin data collection, broadcasting and networking was discussed in class for the purpose of recruiting interested parties to also collaborate with the team. Examples such as writing to The Monitor and setting up city hall meetings was mentioned a couple of times and I found it to be very effective. These steps alone are to already be expected as an archaeologist who initiates the involvement of heritage site management. In order to successfully preserve heritage and historic sites, we as members of the project must reach out onto the community and invoke the necessity to involve local engagement onto these sites. For these local bodies are the true factors that will provide successful preservation and a positive outcome for the community, as mentioned in Uzi Baram’s “Community Organizing in Public Archaeology” (12).

Understanding local politics, heritage site preservation and what it means to the community of Hillcrest Cemetery, the HCPCP will surely work with the needs and goals expected in order to successfully organize this project where the people of this site are the true stakeholders. Looking into the case at East Bradenton mentioned by Uzi Baram’s “Community Organizing in Public Archaeology”, Baram clarifies that engaging with the community to become more involved with the preservation of heritage leads to a more secure future (16).

Overall, what this course has taught me as an undergraduate in the Anthropological field of study is that archaeology can be a very crucial tool in assessing a better future for humanity, even at a small scale. Looking to the past does not only have to allow reflection but also cause of change, more specifically, social change. I am beyond grateful to have been given the chance to get my hands dirty on-site recording data at the Pauper Cemetery. Not to mention the service learning hours being granted for our time out on the field is also noted so that I can share this bit of experience with others in attempts to promote this career path in which I am proud to take.


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