Friday, September 23, 2011

Day of the Dead

One of the first places we went in Culiacán was the Jardines del Humaya Cemetery, where the casualties of the drug war go to live large after they're dead. You can tell you're getting close when you pass the flower shop named after Jesús Malverde, the so-called patron saint of narcotraffickers. Open 24 hours, because you never know when you might have to hastily bury a body.

One of the first things you notice at Humaya are the weatherproof plastic banners flying over some of the more modest graves. It seems to be that if someone can't really afford to really bling out their tombstone, their family will erect a brightly-colored photographic tribute. Since these wind up on the cheaper graves and the cheaper graves are all lumped together, the effect is sort of like the world's most depressing MySpace page.

Wandering around the graves for a while, we started to wonder if Humaya was restricted to men between the ages of 18 and 39, but in fact they just make up an insanely disproportionate share of the city's dead.

"When I die, bury me under an image of my Jeep Grand Cherokee with the 23-inch rims!"

The kid on the right may be dead, but he's throwin' gang signs in Heaven.

One thing they should probably teach wanna-be hard guys on their first day of Narco Orientation is: If you think there is even a remote chance you're going to die in a hail of bullets someday, make sure your family has at least one really good picture of you.


The super-awesome part of this one is that, if you look at the dates on the cross (1907-1989), it's pretty clear this isn't even this guy's grave.  He just moved in.  Because that's the way this shit goes down. You got a problem with that, old man? I didn't think so.

We realize it's not just a kid's cartoon, but the SpongeBob mausoleum is still probably going to seem regrettable after a few years.

But the reason to visit Humaya (if you're a pack of gringo journalists, anyway), is to gawk at the so-called narco-mausoleums, clustered together in the closest thing the dead have to a gated community. Most of these places are bigger than our first apartment.

Some are bigger than our current abode.

The person who lives here is dead.

These places tend to have some combination of the following: airconditioning, bulletproof glass, purified water, satellite tv, parking, kitchenettes and other things you wouldn't imagine a dead guy needing. (We assume most of these amenities are for visitors rather than the dead, but if we were ever to be buried in Culiacán, we'd at the very least insist on airconditioning, and possibly a dehumidifier. Eternity is a long time.)

AC units.

Most lack a name on the outside, but contain little (or not so little) shrines to the occupants.

This one was decorated for Independence Day.

But while most of the Mexican economy has slowed over the past couple years, burying Sinaloan men in their 20s and 30s is a booming business. Luckily there's a lot of empty land on the back end for it to grow into.


Crazy Rita said...

The stuff you dig up to write about never ceases to amaze me.

Richard said...

The dead of Culiacan are all over the news lately: AFP did a video report on this cemetery last week, though they missed the plastic banners. BTW, "perpetual care" is not the norm in Latin American or European cemeteries, and quite likely there was... er... "turnover" in the space with the marker from 1989. Or, as my family does in the United States, we just put the ashes of late arrivals in the same grave as our previously buried relations in the family plot.

Burro Hall said...

Not sure "dig up" is the choicest phrase here, Rita.

Dave said...

I think the Humaya cemetary was briefly covered in Geographic a while back, but your coverage puts them to shame. Good piece!

John Olson said...

Well though I travel Mexico more frequently than almost anyone else I know I never had an urge to join the narco crowd. But now when I see how I might pass Eternity in such opulent splendor I must admit it has a sort of misguided appeal. I mean, I'll be lucky if I get an urn for eternity.

Midwesterner in Mexico said...

While usually I feel like your posts cover topics that I may be at least slightly versed in after 2 years in MX, today I second the "where do you find this stuff" sentiment. This was fascinating.... in a unique, terrifying way. Here's hoping your Culiacan coverage a safe, distant, pro-all-cartels manner.

Burro Hall said...

Thanks Julie. I'd love to take credit for genius here but, as Woody Allen put it, 80 percent of success is just showing up.

Anonymous said...

Is it safe to visit that cemetery?

Burro Hall said...

As long as you're not responsible for having put any of the young men there, or associated with anyone who was, it's pretty safe. We didn't feel at all threatened, and we were running around the place with a tv camera.