In February of 2019, I first found out about the historical Jackson Ranch Church Cemetery during a local history program at McAllen Public Library. As part of their Black History Month celebration, the program ventured into the past of the Jackson Ranch as part of the Underground Railroad leading into Mexico. Prior to that, I had no knowledge of this and, of course, I was intrigued!
Read this article from Texas Standard for more about the Underground Railroad leading south.
When I found out my nephews were studying the Underground Railroad in class, we made plans for a road trip to find the cemetery. I’m not the best at following directions and the maps I found online confused me when my GPS took me in circles. My mom would call me norteada because I’ve always had a broken internal GPS, lol! If I were to describe the location I’d say its somewhere in the middle of Pharr, San Juan, and Hidalgo near the Rio Grande River. Waymarking.com has real directions that may help you reach the destination though at waymarking.com/waymarks/WMJYPR_Jackson_Ranch_Church.
Once there, my nephews and I came across a peaceful protest in the cemetery grounds with tents spread throughout and generations gathered in a communal space, ranging from elders performing spiritual ancestral rituals and children sitting by bonfires. The day was cold and it was sprinkling on and off. At first, because I was confused, I drove past the place but my nephews were adamant they wanted to know what was happening.
We were greeted at the entrance by a U.S. veteran who explained why and what they were protesting. He asked us not to take pictures of the protesters and described how the crowd included several indigenous gente from throughout the nation joining local folks as they brought awareness to the community about how the border wall would actually run across the cemetery and disturb human remains, several were unmarked Native American remains and others were the remains of several Jackson ancestors. It was also one of the first black cemeteries in the Valley.
We were welcomed to be part of the experience and the kids and I were overwhelmed with what we learned. We listened to heartbreaking prayers and when I peeked at them, I noticed my nephews sobbing. Back at home, Mami was on her deathbed and the chants had such an effect on us, we couldn’t help but to feel the energy in our souls. And when we finally walked away, my nephew whispered “Don’t disturb the bodies.” My heart broke.
I underestimated them as children and didn’t think they’d comprehend the seriousness of the situation.
This video clip was filmed when we were back in the car.
The threat for the wall disturbing the remains loomed into the 2020 presidential elections. In March of 2021, I asked my apa to join me for a trip back to the cemetery to see where the wall stood now that construction had been delayed or cancelled. As you can see from the images below, the wall surely almost came to split across this sacred space.
Most of the pictures had to be taken from a distance as stepping onto the cemetery was prohibited. These images were taken from different angles and I tried my best to give you a glimpse of the area.