by Scott Hudson, NTMN class of 2018
“Affirming Abundance: Mexican American Culture, Abolition, and #LandBack,” Dr. Priscilla Ybarra’s excellent presentation at our June 2022 chapter meeting, served as a springboard for a working field trip to Campo Santo de Cemento Grande. Dr. Ybarra emphasized the power of storytelling in engaging with and protecting the natural environment. To put this perspective into practice, one could hardly find a better opportunity than spending time at Campo Santo. The day was divided between hearing from members of the Martinez family on their history in West Dallas and removing invasives from the cemetery. This built on a Class of 2022 project to partner with the community and create a monarch waystation.
Held to be the first Latinx cemetery in Dallas, this historic West Dallas cemetery is over 100 years old and is located in the old Eagle Ford community. The community centered around producing cement, material for the literal building of Dallas. The Trinity Portland Cement Company donated land for the cemetery. It is believed that the first people buried there were victims of the flu epidemic of 1918, many of them children. Some 200 cement company workers and their families are interred there, with the last burial in 1946.
The morning began with a welcome and discussion from several members of the Martinez family on what the cemetery means to their family and their culture. They have family interred at Campo Santo and have been instrumental in caring for it. Blanca Reyna presented the family with a ceremonial shovel bearing the phrase “Quisieron enterrarnos pero no sabían que éramos semillas” – they wanted to bury us but did not know that we were seeds. Getting to visit with key stakeholders Henry Martinez Jr., Victoria Ferrell-Ortiz, and Don Tereso Ortiz was a special treat.
Next came the careful and respectful work in the cemetery, removing invasive privet and sumac, treating stumps, and caring for the gravesites. We were all grateful for cloud cover that kept temperatures down a bit. Special attention was paid to the dozens of native pollinator plants placed by the new class project, as well as their recently seeded wildflower area. Between the existing host and nectaring plants and seed still to sprout, this habitat is well on its way.
A picnic lunch wrapped up the morning. Much of the lunchtime conversation centered on the privilege it is to serve at Campo Santo and to be engaged with this community.