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Cemeteries of Ambivalent Desire

Unearthing Deep South Narratives from a Texas Graveyard

By Marie Theresa Hernández

Publication Year: 2008

Growing up as the daughter of a funeral director in Fort Bend County, Texas, Marie Theresa Hernández was a frequent visitor to the San Isidro Cemetery, a burial place for Latino workers at the Imperial Sugar Company, based in nearby Sugar Land. During these years she acquired from her father and mother a sense of what it was like to live as an ethnic minority in Jim Crow Texas. Therefore, returning to the cemetery as an ethnographer offered Hernández a welcome opportunity to begin piecing together a narrative of the lives and struggles of the Mexican American community that formed her heritage. However, Hernández soon realized that San Isidro contained hidden depths. The cemetery was built on the former grounds of an old slave-owning plantation. Her story quickly burgeoned from one of immigrant laborers working the land of the giant sugar company to one of the slave laborers who had worked the sugar plantations decades before, but whose history had been largely wiped out of the narrative of the affluent, white-majority county. Much like an archeologist, Hernández began carefully brushing away layers of time to reveal the fragile, entombed remnants of a complex, unknown past. A professional photographer as well as a scholar, Hernández provides visual images to spur the reader’s imagination and anchor the narrative in historical reality. She mines interviews, newspaper accounts, and other primary sources—interpreted through her own rich sense of place and time—to reconstruct the identity of a community where the Old South, the wealthy New South, and the culture from south of the border all comingle to form an almost iconic symbol for today’s America. In this complex and nuanced, self-reflexive ethnography, Hernández interweaves personal memory and group history, ethnic experience and class . . . even death and life.

Published by: Texas A&M University Press

Series: University of Houston Series in Mexican American Studies, Sponsored by the Center for Mexican American Studies


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p. vii

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pp. ix-x

This book reflects the influence of a number of individuals. The most significant of these is my father, Jos

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Introduction: “A Land Right Merry with the Sun”

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pp. 1-13

In 1903 W. E. B. DuBois wrote The Souls of Black Folk, in which he describes a “land right merry with the sun,” where “children sing and rolling hills” are full of plenty. The highway of the King passes through this place of bounty, yet on the side of the beautiful road there “sits a figure veiled and bowed.” ...

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Chapter 1 Cementerios

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pp. 14-34

What is encased in the tomb, grave, or monument stretches from the individual who has died to the descendants of those who buried her. Stories of their relationship parallel the larger story of the land that holds the cemetery itself. The dead do not exist in isolation. They remain not only in their graves but also in the imaginary of all those connected with that piece of land ...

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Chapter 2 The Manifested Destiny of History

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pp. 35-53

Michel de Certeau explains that, before we can know what a “history says about a society,” we have to study how “history functions within it.” The “historiographical institution” (which in Texas could be the Texas State Historical Association or the Institute for Texan Cultures) permits “one kind of production and prohibits others”; ...

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Chapter 3 The Colonel

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pp. 54-84

In the foyer of B. F. Terry High School once hung an oversized oil portrait of a Confederate officer, the handsome Colonel Benjamin Franklin (“Frank”) Terry.1 County people greatly admire his numerous exploits and acknowledge his importance to the successful economy of Fort Bend. ...

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Chapter 4 River of the Demonic

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pp. 85-109

In 2005 the last Fort Bend County acreage available to developers was sold. The Texas Department of Corrections sold most of its county land. Master planned suburban developments will soon be built, and the Brazos River bridge on U.S. Highway 59 is being expanded. The old Brazos Bottoms will decorate the new communities. ...

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Chapter 5 The Warrior

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pp. 110-143

During the 1950s and 1960s a dramatic image of an Aztec warrior holding his dying (or sleeping) lover circulated in thousands of calendars distributed in Texas. In the scene he looks noble, distinguished, and powerful. He is taking a moment to hold an irresistibly beautiful woman who lies in his arms with her eyes closed. ...

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Chapter 6 Litigation

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pp. 144-164

Twenty years after Garcia broke up the Richmond Drive-In, two developers bought land from Sugar Land Industries with plans to build the Sugar Creek subdivision, an exclusive area for residents with six-figure incomes. By 1970 the land had more value as lots for new homes than it did producing cotton and sugar cane. ...

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Chapter 7 Re-Membering in the Land of Oz

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pp. 165-184

The Sugar Land Town Square, built in the new millennium, evokes an eerie resemblance to the yellow brick road in Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz. It has a path of bricks about four feet wide that meanders from the fountain in the middle to the front steps of city hall. The trail along Baum’s yellow brick road is full of adventure and tragedy. ...

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Conclusion: Monticello in Texas

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pp. 185-194

When I spoke with Fort Bend County district attorney John Healey in 2002, he recommended that I locate a copy of Fort Bend County, Texas: A Pictorial History, by Sharon Wallingford.1 It was a helpful suggestion since very little history has been published on the county. ...


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pp. 195-218


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pp. 219-230


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pp. 231-239

E-ISBN-13: 9781603443876
E-ISBN-10: 1603443878
Print-ISBN-13: 9781603440264
Print-ISBN-10: 1603440267

Page Count: 252
Illustrations: 17 b&w photos.
Publication Year: 2008

Series Title: University of Houston Series in Mexican American Studies, Sponsored by the Center for Mexican American Studies
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OCLC Number: 680627947
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Cemeteries of Ambivalent Desire

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Subject Headings

  • Mexican Americans -- Texas -- Fort Bend County -- History.
  • San Isidro Cemetery (Sugar Land, Tex.).
  • Sugar Land (Tex.) -- History.
  • Fort Bend County (Tex.) -- Historiography.
  • Fort Bend County (Tex.) -- History.
  • Fort Bend County (Tex.) -- Ethnic relations.
  • Ethnology -- Texas -- Fort Bend County.
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