By: Nelly Zapata Crespo
The cemetery keeper gave the group a long tour around the cemetery to see its old tombs, graves, caskets, open catacombs, and niches. It was after a rainy day, and the night was melancholically cold. Within the irony of the moment, when we continued walking, one could feel hotter as result of being around so many people. The cemetery keeper has been living there for more than 25 years. He described it as a historical place which was built in 1876, by Juan José Puig and designed by Don Félix Vidal D’Ors,the municipal architect of Mayaguez City. The cemetery was a rectangular of 655x315ft. and designed with a circular focal point on its center. This center is commonly known by the magnificent tomb (picture from the right), of a 4 year old girl who died by eating a box of matches, which is now under a big tree.
Moreover, we could also find popular tombs in the cemetery like the family tomb of Los Valdés Cobián, the founders of La Cerveceria India Inc. now known as Cervecera de Puerto Rico, currently Puerto Rico’s largest beer brewery. Furthermore, the 33 people who died at the fire of the Teatro Yaguez in 1919 and the people from Mayaguez who died at the Massacre of Ponce in 1937 are buried there. According to Millie Gil, other notable figures buried there are: María Luisa Arcelay (educator, businesswoman and politician), Mariano Riera Palmer (mayor of Mayaguez), Juan Mari Brás (founder of the Pro-Independence Movement and the modern Puerto Rican Socialist Party), Juancho Bascarán (mayor of Las Marias, fought in the Spanish American War), Alicia Moreda (actress/comedian), Baldomero Freyre, A. M. Fisher, Dora Steffens de Bischoff, and José María Moreda.
After the tour, the group sat down at an exedra (tomb with statues and benches) while the Prof. Morales read Hispano-American literature of the dead.
He narrated a few novels which he described as “interesting points of view from different valuable writers like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Jorge Isaacs, and Jorge Luis Borges”. Consequently, Prof. Morales discussed how other Hispano-American countries celebrate Halloween or the Day of the Dead accordingly to their cultural views. For example, in Argentina, the Day of the Dead is celebrated in November 2nd. They visit the cemetery during the day to find peace and to remember their loved ones. On the contrary, Chile celebrates the Day of the Saints the 1st of November. They visit the cemetery all day and all night, and celebrate with food. Nonetheless, Prof. Morales always highlights the importance of bonding and understanding other countries cultures in order to respect and value our culture.
Prof. Morales graduated with a Hispanic studies bachelor’s degree from the University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez Campus in 1978. Then, he studied Spanish Literature for his master’s degree at the University of California, Davis where he graduated from in 1980. Later, he completed his 19th century Hispano-American Literature PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) in 1987 at the University of California, Irvine. He has visited a numerous of countries around the world, including Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Peru and Europe. He’s been teaching in the University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez Campus since 1993. For him, “cultural education is fundamental to becoming a better person”.
At the literary circle, a junior student of the political science department, Mylee Velez, also one of Prof. Morales students, agreed that “living life without fear to learn and understand the world around us makes us strong and better persons”. Velez saw the literary circle as an opportunity to visit the cemetery for the first time and to see if it’s a scary place or not. For her, it turns out that “a cemetery is just a dark place like any other place, what makes it scary is the perception that we have of having dead bodies like something scary and dangerous, but if you don’t think of them, nothing happens”.
Afterwards, the group discussed stories of their own experiences with the dead. Even the cemetery keeper shared some of his stories. At the end, the group gave donations to the cemetery keeper and we thanked the Prof. Morales for that phenomenal evening.