Thursday, July 9, 2009

Del Norte
Photos of a Dying Tradition

Hilltop Cemetery

In my lifetime Mexico has transformed itself from being an exotic country down there somewhere, to being the neighbor that moved in to stay. The folks caught up in the anti-immigration and English-only movements more and more appear like King Canute ordering the tide to halt. Good luck, guys.

Hilltop Cemetery

And hang in there on the picket line. You won’t starve. A taco wagon will be by at any moment.

Hilltop Cemetery

Like your part of the world, the Mexican-Americans have transformed mine. Taco wagons are only the most visible benefit of having an admixture of people from south of the border. Having the opportunity to begin to learn and use in real time another language is perhaps even more important. Not to mention that we’ve been able to enrich our holiday traditions with the additions of Cinco de Mayo and Day of the Dead. Any culture that can talk the whole nation into celebrating two new holidays — take that, St. Pat’s Day — has a strong grip on the popular imagination.

Why, it’s as big as pizza!

Hilltop Cemetery

The first Mexican-American grave we noticed was that of Roger Santanus at the quintessential, Western cemetery, Lone Pine , on Smock Prairie outside the tiny hamlet of Wamic, OR. I’m sorry I don’t have a picture of Roger’s grave, but it was a long time ago. We noticed it, though, because it was the most colorful grave in the cemetery, which was otherwise a typical somber graveyard. Roger’s grave, on the other hand, was festooned with gaudy faux fleurs that drew your eye immediately. I only had to see it once to know that those people had a whole lot more fun at the cemetery than my folk did. We were satisfied with a sprig of flowers or a tiny flag, but the Santanuses were not content with such modesty bordering on forgetfulness. Roger was definitely not forgotten and was evidently still a part of their world.

Hilltop Cemetery

Ever since Roger, I’ve had my eye out for the gaily bedecked grave and have in particular sought out Mexican-American graves, hoping for the same exuberance the Santanus Family demonstrated. Alas, I have not often been rewarded. In the spirit of disclosure, I’ll confess to never having been south of Santa Cruz, CA, so I’ve never seen a Mexican cemetery live, but I’ve seen enough photos to know that, as a rule, Mexicans lavish a lot more attention on their graves than do Americans. Day of the Dead itself in Mexico is spent celebrating in the graveyard. As previously noted, I was hoping to run into more Mexican-American graves on my swing through central and southern Oregon, those regions being home to big agriculture and lots of immigrant labor, but was disappointed there, too. One finds, of course, the graves of many Mexican-Americans all through the state, but for the most part their graves aren’t especially distinguished from those of their neighbors, save for names and occasional writing in Spanish.

Hilltop Cemetery

The one major exception to that rule is Hilltop Cemetery outside Independence, OR, in the heart of the Willamette Valley. For a long time I wondered how come no other Oregon cemetery contained an extensive collection of Mexican-American folk grave memorials; but as it appears that truly none other does match Hilltop for its collection (I haven’t visited most of the cemeteries in the far eastern part of the state, but I’m running out of options here), the question is not why don’t the other cemeteries have them (folk memorials), but why Hilltop does?

Hilltop Cemetery

For that I have no answer. Someone’s going to have to dig up relatives of the people buried there and ask them.


Hilltop Cemetery

In any event, if you want to get a taste of a Mexican cemetery, however attenuated, here in Oregon, Hilltop is your answer. That may even hold true for Washington, as well, though I haven’t begun to comprehensively cover that state.

So, don’t lose faith; we still have Yakima.

Hilltop Cemetery

8 comments:

Janet Iles said...

What fascinating folk memorials. Thank you for sharing them with your readers.

dustbunny8 said...

I think this is why I love Dia de los Muertos so much.Our loved ones are always with us,not forgotten.The way they care for there graves reflects that.Thank you for sharing it with us.

Deez said...

This was an awesome post with some great picture. Now doubt my Mexican-American brethren know how to decorate. And some of them taco trucks make a mean taco. I always believe that if you're able to order in Spanish then your food is made better. I'm sure it's a myth but not one I want to test...lol.

I still have your banner ready when you're ready for it. Let me know. Email or blog comment will do...thanks

Dead Man Talking said...

Thanks all,

I've already plugged it enough, but it is a fun cemetery.

Deez, I think I'm closer to ready to think about the banner. Just got my computer back from the shop again today.

Anyway, what do I/you/we have to do to effect the transfer? This is way beyond my technical scope, so you'll have to lead me through. By the way, I prefer the one with the bullet holes.

And again, it's such an honor that you've done this for me. My humble thanks.

Johan

crow said...

We drove around in a local cemetery one Sunday that happened to be Father's Day. Many Hispanic families were picnicing at their loved ones' graves - there was even a small mariachi band at one. Not so many decorated graves, but a wonderful, joyous atmosphere.

Deez said...

First save this pic...

http://i148.photobucket.com/albums/s15/deezms/Blog%20Banners/DeadHorseBannerBulletscopy.png

Then go to your blog tab "layout" From there you'll see "Blogging a Dead Horse Header" to the right of that is a link that says "Edit" click that. Once you do you'll see an option to upload a pic as your banner. Choose the button "Instead of" as well. That should do it. It may need some resizing once it's up. Just leave it there and let me know if it does.

Dead Man Talking said...

Hi Deez,

I'll try it this weekend when I have diddling time.

Hi Crow,

Where is your local cemetery? I love the idea of a mariachi band. Kay and I once visited a San Antonio cemetery on an Easter Sunday, and that was something else. I could imagine a mariachi band there, but we were there early in the day. One of the more impressive parts was the many blocks worth of "cascarone" sellers leading up to the cemetery. Cascarones are hollowed out eggs, stuffed with confetti, sealed with a bit of colored paper, and then brilliantly painted. The custom is to smash them over each others head during the celebration. Sounds pretty pagan to me.

Dead Man Talking said...

Yo Deez,

As you can see, I posted the new banner. Looks great! But could use some centering. How do we do that?

Johan