I’ll admit to being confused. When we stumbled on this cemetery, we knew we were in the vicinity of Chuichu, but when I went to find it on a map or learn more about it, it seems that it’s known as Cocklebur Cemetery (according to Google Sky), and Chuichu South Cemetery or Southside Cemetery (according to which obituary you read). And although not far from Chuichu West Cemetery, it’s in a different city. [The term city in America doesn’t quite mean the same as it does in Europe.] That said, the graves seem to be in two sections so perhaps each has its own name but so little is written about either of them that it’s hard to figure out.
Like Chuichu West, those who lie within the boundaries of Chuichu South Cemetery are mainly Tohono O’odham. But their graves tell stories. Not by their tombstones or crosses but by what’s been left with them to accompany them on their journey.
Douglas Frederick Rubio died in November 2017. He was buried at sunrise. The baseball, the guitar, the miniature football on his grave all spoke of what he loved while alive. And according to his obituary, he loved listening to all kinds of music, his favourite baseball team was the Chuichu Reds, and he was also a Cardinals fan.
Bradley Michael Norris had a dream – he wanted to graduate high school and then go to college to be a small business major. The epitaph on the back of his gravestone is a reminder to us all. His obituary speaks of ambition and dreams, a strong sense of community, and a love of chicken scratch music.
The social dance music of the native people of southern Arizona, waila (also known as chicken scratch) is a hybrid music style in which polkas, cumbias, two-steps, and other old world dances are given a Native American twist.
The graves made for some interesting stories. They reminded me a lot of Liz Handy’s five-object self-portrait. And it was here that it dawned on me what I’d found so odd in Chuichu West: the body seems to face the cross with the details of who’s buried there on the back side of the cross. Imagine if you tilted the whole grave forward, the body would stand on the cross, which would be face down in the ground.
With so much biographic detail missing, the size of the crosses seemed to relate to age. And their placing, to families. A particularly heart-wrenching grave was that of a child who died the day he was born. His family still bring birthday presents.
The only gate to the cemetery, other than the one leading in from the main road, has an upside-down horseshoe pinned to the top, a sure sign that for those lying inside, their luck had finally run out.
It’s a beautiful place, a simple testimony to full lives lived in a community of people who care. A haunting reminder of the juxtaposition of life and death.