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.
And hang in there on the picket line. You won’t starve. A taco wagon will be by at any moment.
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!
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.
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.
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?
For that I have no answer. Someone’s going to have to dig up relatives of the people buried there and ask them.
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.