“When we were little kids in the ‘80s, it was a tradition passed down from my parents,” he said.
The land is unmarked and informally named, but it has been referred to as the “Mexican cemetery” for more than 100 years, according to obituaries dating back to 1919. Hernandez said some of his late family members are among the 161 people reported to have been buried there. Hernandez said his review of records showed the majority of the deceased were farmers, cotton-pickers and railroad workers in the 1900s.
This cemetery borders Pecan Grove Cemetery, located off SH 5 between Industrial and Harry McKillop boulevards. But because the little cemetery is not part of Pecan Grove’s property, Pecan Grove is not responsible for maintaining it.
It is unclear who owns the plot of land, which is exempt from taxes because of its designation as a cemetery, according to Collin Central Appraisal District’s online records.
Maintenance of the Mexican cemetery depends on family or community members who feel like helping. But after nearly 20 years away from McKinney, Hernandez said he returned this August to find the cemetery had been forgotten.
“No one even knows it is here,” Hernandez said.
Several headstones lay broken and dilapidated. Some are entirely covered by dirt. Others are exposed after years of erosion. Shrubs and fallen tree limbs cover entire grave sites. And on others, the faded names—Perez, Ramos and Ayala—are still visible.
Out of the 161 people who are said to have been buried there, nearly 60 of the gravesites are unaccounted for, he said.
"When I came out here, it just looked terrible,” Hernandez said. “It was depressing, and it was sad.”
Hernandez said it was then that he decided it was time to make a difference.
“[McKinney] was built off of the blood, sweat and tears of the people who are buried here,” Hernandez said. “It is only right to restore it, preserve it and give it the integrity it deserves.”
He started by approaching community leaders to see how they could help with cleanup.
Collin County has agreed to pitch in and will start clearing debris from the land in January. By March or April, a new fence should be put up around the cemetery, and proper signage should be in place, Hernandez said.
There is very little recorded history of the land, but those involved are looking to make its history known, said Amy Rosenthal, McKinney Main Street program director. She said she believes the cemetery qualifies for a historical marker.
“We don’t really know too much about the stories of the people who are here, but what we would love to do is [find out],” Hernandez said.
Hernandez has big dreams for the cemetery. He would like to establish a 501(c)3 charitable nonprofit to help maintain the cemetery and preserve its history. He said he also plans to start a website and a Facebook page to share the stories of those buried there.
There is a lot of work still to be done, he said. But Hernandez believes that with the help of the city, the county and the community, his dreams for the cemetery will come true.