Tempe (AZ, USA): Historic Guadalupe Cemetery

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Surrounded by a 1980s middle-class suburban neighborhood in Tempe, the very colorful Guadalupe Cemetry looks a bit out of place.  And that is exactly what it is, as the cemetery is separated from the Yaqui community it serves. The town of Guadalupe has been moved a few miles south.
Originally the Yaqui Indians come from the Yaqui River in Sonora, Mexico. When Porforio Diaz defeated them, the Yaquis were sent down to the jungles of Yucatan. But during the Mexican Revolution, the Yaquis joined up with Pancho Villa. When Villa’s army was defeated, the Yaquis headed to the United States for safety. They arrived at Arizona around 1890 where they were granted territory in 1904 but had to move again some miles south to what is now the Town of Guadalupe. Their cemetery was allowed to stay at the initial location and is in use up till today. In Arizona, the Yaqui have been able to revive their cultural and spiritual practices; in which large extended families, the Spanish language, and a unique form of Catholicism (Spanish and Indian traditions) come together. This is also very much visible at the site of the cemetery.

The flowers, the colorful wall painting, the crosses, and flags stand in strong contrast with the dry colors of the desert land. I was not only intrigued by the contrast in color but also by the mix of care – abundant signs of grave visits –  and decay – due to the sun and strong winds – that runs through the whole plot. It made quite an impression.

The cemetery’s most active day is the Day of the Dead when people gather to pay respect, conduct ceremonies and clean their ancestors’ plots and leave grave goods. Some graves also had rich Easter decorations – both Christian holidays are strongly linked to death and afterlife. 

All photographs are taken by Claudia Venhorst, May 2018.

For more background info please read: Guadalupe’s Buried Past by Leah S. Glaser 

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