Friday, February 19, 2010

The Mexican Cemetery

Malakoff, Texas is located in the northeastern Piney woods of the State and is the former site of indigenous population groups, an estimated 30,000 carved head known as the “Malakoff Man,” and curiously is also known for slightly credible “Bigfoot” sightings.
Yet another feature that compels this post is the Malakoff Cemetery in which a fence divides the final burial grounds of Mexicans from the town’s past and current non-Mexican populations. The area in which the cemetery is located was the home of the Malakoff Fuel Company that employed Mexicanos, Blacks and others in its coal mines during the Great Depression and into the 1940s.
Seeking cheap labor, the Company had recruited Mexicans not only from within the state such as my mother’s family but also from Mexico. As an enticement the Company town that skirted the coal mines and consisting of small tin shacks housed its workers and their families. Raised with the stories and cuentos of my tios and family that resided in the Company town until it closed, compelled this first stop of my Texas sabbatical research trip.
Whether from natural deaths or from the dangerous conditions of coal mining, the Company had dedicated several of its acres for the Malakoff Cemetery. Yet into the present a fence divides the Mexican side from the non-Mexicans resting in the Cemetery. While the segregated cemetery is a reminder of times past it also reaches into the present.
The non-Mexican side for example remains cared for and well tended. A handsome pavilion offers a bit of relief from the inclement weather. Yet as of yesterday the Mexican side remains isolated, primarily neglected and without a pavilion that the Anglo side retains. In contrast, the Mexican side has a collapsed picnic table “decorated” with surrounding debris around its base. Tending the cemetery in fact has fallen to the descendents who mined for the company whether they reside nearby or great distances from Malakoff. It is a reminder of how Mexicans were identified, regarded and treated.
Concretely the cemetery serves as a reminder of current times where U.S. employers seek Mexican laborers as in the instance of the earlier coal miners. Once recruited however the workers witness discriminatory treatment. In some instances federal law protects the employers who hire them. Finally, the cemetery offers a glimpse in time where social construction theory proves invaluable.
Specifically, on the far edge of the Mexican cemetery tucked away in a corner, rests the isolated graves of three young children all under the age of five with the last name of Saldana. Their mother Maude O’Donnell Saldana also rests alongside their graves. While Maude may have had a choice of burial grounds her long lost Saldana children tell us otherwise. They along with their mother speak volumes on how race is socially constructed.
In sum, the Saldanas are a reminder of how important the past remains. Yet they along with the totality of the Mexican cemetery also highlight how much work remains.

Guadalupe T. Luna

1 comment:

  1. Maude Donnelly Saldana was my father, Daniel Donnelly's, mother. I believe she had 10 children, three who died very young. We are very proud of our Mexican, Irish and German heritage. Maude was German and Irish. Her mother's maiden name was Demerrit,(German). She married our grandfather Sabas Saldana. They moved to Dallas in 1940. L. Saldana


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