I was working on another story for D Magazine—on boxing gyms in Oak Cliff—when I heard of Campo Santo de Cemento Grande. Inside Casa Guanajuato’s boxing gym, among the murals of the Virgen de Guadalupe and idyllic landscapes serving as reminders of home, among the musty heavy bags hanging from the ceiling and faded photographs of old boxers inside cheap frames, there was a picture of Eladio R. Martinez. The Martinezes were one of the original Mexican families in Dallas, Tereso Ortiz, founder of Casa Guanajuato, told me. Around a year later, when I set out to write about them, Eladio’s youngest brother and last surviving sibling, Henry, had recently passed.
I first met Henry Jr. in the Jaycee Zaragoza Recreational Center. He invited me there to have breakfast. Homemade tortillas, refried beans, huevos con chorizo, pan dulce, coffee. Several times a week, anyone can eat a free breakfast there. It is, as Henry Jr. explained, part of the legacy his father left.
While we ate, I explained what I wanted to write. About his family and Campo Santo de Cemento Grande, the cemetery where Eladio lies beside his mother, sister, and uncle. I told him how through his family and that small graveyard, I wanted to tell part of the history of Dallas. About the laborers—Mexicans, in this case—who made cement, the literal substance that helped make Dallas into a modern city. It was dangerous, and at times deadly work. In some cases, the negative health effects did not appear until years later, after living around and breathing in those chemicals.
He agreed. He thanked me for keeping alive the memory of his community. And as he drove me around West Dallas and what once was Cement City, he spoke of what certain landmarks—some historical, others sentimental—meant to him and his family’s history. Campo Santo de Cemento Grande remains especially important. “Before my dad passed away, he said, ‘son, I just want to tell you one thing, take care of my family’s cemetery. That’s very, very important to me.”
It’s where Henry Sr. spent hours at a time. It’s where he wanted to get buried. It’s where his son, Henry Jr., still hopes to bury him. It’s where an unknown, or ignored, part of the area’s history is buried. It’s why I wrote about the Martinez family and the people like them who had—and continue to have—an important, difficult, and under-appreciated role in making Dallas what it is today.
Read it today. It is online now.