Little Project. Big Feelings.

by Kate Whidden, Class of 2018

The NTMN Chapter Workday on January 17 in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and legacy brought together 25 Master Naturalists to be a part of a dedicated commitment to better serve the communities of North Texas. NTMN were invited by the West Dallas Community to El Campo Santo de Cemento Grande to help restore this sacred and historical space. The long-term goal is to continue building relationships with the West Dallas Community, establish a Monarch Waystation at the cemetery and have El Campo Santo de Grande as a NTMN project.

Master Naturalists at the workday

Photo by Alan Lusk. Click on the photo to visit the photo album from the day.

With the volunteers milling around the entrance of the cemetery, it was clear that this wasn’t the typical “grab your loppers and get to work” type of NTMN event. Our Day of Service at the Campo Santo de Cemento Grande began with speeches: reflections from leaders in the West Dallas Hispanic community who shared their deep feelings about the importance and sanctity of the cemetery and those buried there.

This helped all of us to see the cemetery as it once was: larger, remembered, and valued. Their remarks reminded us that though long deceased, the people buried there had once been a vital part of Dallas, loved by their families, integral to the city’s development, and deeply connected to their place of birth in Mexico. It awakened in me this idea that the tiny cemetery, surviving in the shadow of 21st century suburban sprawl, had survived against all odds, quietly waiting to not just be acknowledged, but honored.

Passing through the entrance, it was challenging to know where to begin. There was so much privet to clip, and so many weeds to pull! I got to work in one particularly infested area, quickly amassing a pile of privet branches to be hauled away. Fellow volunteers chatted quietly nearby as they worked, yet I was happy to be working alone for the moment. Call me crazy, but I wanted to try and feel the vibe of this little patch of land, and those for whom it was a final resting place. In an active meditation, my thoughts cycled through basic concepts of caring and compassion, and of gratitude for having been invited in.
The hours passed. As we all made progress and moved from one area to another, I eventually was working next to Laura. And then Esther joined us. We fell into easy conversation about plants and insects and enjoyed getting to know more about each other. My solitary meditation gave way to the pleasure of community. I laughed out loud at one point, and quickly checked myself. I didn’t want to be disrespectful. “No te preocupes,” I felt the departed saying to me. “It’s so nice to have company.”

So there you have the musings of one naturalist who has perhaps an overactive imagination. But it’s hard not to foster connection at these sorts of events, with both the living and the deceased. With both what is, and what was. And from there – with what could be.

It’s easy to picture this historic cemetery with less privet and more milkweed and basket-flowers, making it the focal point of an active community, both winged and legged. “Pasa adelante,” I feel the departed saying to us. “It would be so nice to have more company.”

What is El Camp Santo d Cemento Grande and Adopt-A-Cemetery Constellation? “Campo Santo” translates as “Holy Field” and is a traditional term used by many LatinX and Hispanic communities to refer to a cemetery. The use of this term dates back to the 16th century during the establishment of missions in the Americas. Nowadays, the terms Cementerio or Panteón are more commonly used, but many older generations still use the term “Campo Santo.”

The area now known as Pinnacle Park, was once known as Cement City because it included villages for the cement company workers – Campo Grande, Campo Chico and Eagle Ford. Cemento Grande was the company town for the Mexican Immigrant laborers of Trinity Portland Cement and provided housing from 1909 – 1959. The company donated land to be used as a cemetery in 1909. A historical marker was placed on the site in 1991. Learn more.

What is the Adopt-A-Cemetery Constellation? The aim of the Adopt-A-Cemetery Constellation is to create a cohesive, integrated plan which outlines a shared vision for how cemetery landscapes can transform into natural habitats statewide, broadening migratory wildlife corridors. It will be a tool to coalesce like-minded environmental groups to participate in projects that could include cemeteries throughout Texas. Learn More.

Not Just a Day of Observance In 1983, thanks to the relentless efforts of Mrs. Coretta Scott King and Stevie Wonder, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill establishing the third Monday in January as a day to honor the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, leader of the Civil Rights Movement.

In 1994, President Bill Clinton signed the Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Holiday and Service Act, which reconsecrated this holiday as “A Day of Service” to encourage all Americans to engage in volunteer service in their community on MLK Day and throughout the year. Learn More about A Day of Service.

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