Preserving Austin’s Mexican-American history through cemetery cleanup

Local

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Hidden away by overgrown weeds and litter is San Jose Cemetery II. It’s one of two cemeteries established decades ago to serve as the final resting place for Mexicans and Mexican-Americans in the Austin area community.

The cemetery is located between Posten and Ella lanes along Hoeke Lane, just south of the East Riverside and State Highway 71 intersection. For decades, the cemetery has been neglected.

“To see the cemetery in the condition that it is, I can go one of two directions,” Joaquin Rodriguez, one of the descendants of the families buried at the cemetery said. “I can be sad and overwhelmed by how much work needs to be done or I can do something about it.”

Rodriguez is in search of a great uncle. A man he first learned about after he started tracing his own roots and looking into this ancestry. Rodriguez, who was adopted, wanted to know more about his biological family.

“This is personal for me,” he said.

He and other descendants, as well as community leaders, are working to make sure their loved ones are no longer forgotten.

“Nearly one-third of Austinites are Latino and quite frankly we don’t have enough historic preservation sites that are dedicated and recognize the history of Latinos in Austin,” Vanessa Fuentes, Austin City Council Member for District 2 said. “That’s why San Jose Cemetery II is so important to the community.

Saturday, descendants will gather to clean up the cemetery for the first time. It’s the first step in hopes of preserving the cemetery and eventually getting a historical designation to protect it for generations to come. They’re asking for volunteers to join and help. The cleanup starts at 8 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 23 at San Jose Cemetery II at 2512 Hoeke Lane. Those who would like to attend are asking to RSVP with Rodriguez by email at atxhispaniccemetery@gmail.com.

Home Depot is partnering with the group and will provide equipment and volunteers to help. There will be some tools available but they are encouraging community volunteers who have yard care tools such as weed whackers, machetes, mowers and chainsaws to bring them. Rodriguez said Torchy’s Tacos, Starbucks and H-E-B have also partnered up with the group to provide food and drinks for volunteers.

They ask those who would like to attend to wear long-sleeved tops, pants and tennis shoes.

“It is the history of Montopolis, the history of Del Valle,” Rodriguez said. “This is Austin’s history.”

Council Member Fuentes said the current owner, a descendent of the families buried at the site, has agreed to a trusteeship, this will help with the long-term operation and maintenance of the cemetery. A community member has also assisted with filing the formal notice with Travis County. That notice guarantees the site’s legal protections by notifying any potential developers that there is a cemetery at the site.

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