Views of San Pedro
The three pictures below illustrate the variety of grave decorations used at San Pedro Cemetery. The majority of the decorations used are silk flowers, and most of the individual gravesites are bordered or framed in some way. Frames can be made of cement, bricks, wood, metal, or any readily available material. Crosses have been the predominant type of grave-marker used in Mexican American cemeteries; unfortunately, many crosses are made of wood and have deteriorated or decayed. You also see many images of the Virgin Mary (including the Virgin of Guadalupe and the Virgin of San Juan), and what we would consider modern headstones.
Crosses are one of the defining characteristics of Mexican American cemeteries. They come in many forms and use many materials. These three crosses are made of stone, cement, and tile. The "clover" style of cross has a Spanish influence. Crucifixes, or crosses with the image of Jesus, are widely seen in the San Pedro cemetery. The most common form, however, is the mosaic tiled cross. Tiles are usually very colorful and occasionally an image, such as the black cross, may be inset along with the other tiles.
Images of Catholic saints and virgins are another defining feature of Mexican American cemeteries. One of the most popular is the Virgin of Guadalupe. She is considered to be a national symbol of Mexico, and continues to be very important for Mexican Americans. Her image can be seen in the from of statues, plaques, and engravings. Some are painted in life-like colors. The sacred and secular items and images found decorating gravesites, such as crosses, crucifixes, saints, candles, flowers, and photographs, closely mirror the home altars and shrines constructed by Mexican Americans.
Descansos are commonly found in Mexican American cemeteries. Here we see the remains of the wooden structure that used to shelter both the deceased and the mourners during the final rites. Based on the community's oral recollections, the descanso was completely enclosed in the back, but was more like a porch or carport in the front. Simple wooden benches lined the sides, which had wood shutters, and a simple wood platform in the middle held the coffin. In the past, wakes or all-night vigils were usually held in the deceased's home, and rosaries would be recited either at home, at church, or at the descanso. The final prayers were held at the cemetery right before the burial.
On November 1st and 2nd- Dia de Todos Santos and Dia de los Difuntos (All Saint's Day and All Soul's Day)- days when Mexican Americans remember and honor the dead by visting and decoratin their graves, a Catholic mass would sometimes be offered at the descanso.