Two major sections of Rose Hills Memorial Park pay tribute to Latino heritage. Soon there will be a third one.
Los Angeles, Ca.- Located in the City of Whittier, the self-proclaimed “world’s largest single-site memorial park” is building a mausoleum complex to honor the old Spanish missions of California and the faith of the Catholic devotees of the Virgin of Guadalupe—and to attract more Latinos.
Called Mission Hills, the new project will consist of two adobe-style mausoleums divided by a wide flight of steps that lead to a terrace with an image of the patron saint to Mexico looking over the burial chambers, according to Ernesto Morales, executive director of business development.
One mausoleum will be named Mission San Juan Capistrano and the other Mission San Gabriel after the two historic churches in the region. The terrace will include seating areas for visitors.
In recent years Morales has been traveling to Mexico to get the blessing from Catholic authorities for Rose Hills’ latest efforts to better serve Southern California’s growing numbers of immigrant from Mexico and other Latin American nations with Catholic-majority populations.
Not only did he get the official support from the church in writing, Morales also got a piece of history for Mission Hills.
“A foundation rock from the old Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City will be placed between the mausoleums,” says Morales. He adds that the image of the virgin at Mission Hills will be an “exact replica from the one at the basilica, too.”
The memorial park has ordered also replicas of the tiles in the steps of the old basilica, he added. Those pieces will be used in the stairs of Mission Hills. The new project will be inaugurated in 2014, when the cemetery celebrates its 100th anniversary.
The new mausoleums seem to be recognition of the demographic transformation of Southern California in recent decades. Latinos make up about half of the population in both L.A. and San Bernardino counties and a third in Orange County. That may be reflecting also in Rose Hills.
While Rose Hills representatives did not provide figures of the percentage of Latinos buried there, one can find many grave markers with Spanish surnames like Ceballos, Garcia, Hernandez, Lopez, Rodriguez, Soto and others. Some well-known Latinos are buried here, like Jaime Escalante, the math professor from East Los Angeles that inspired the movie “Stand and Deliver,” and actress Lupe Ontiveros who starred in “Selena” and “Real Women Have Curves.”
“We’ve been serving more Latino families in the last decade,” says Fernando Chaidez, a community service counselor. He is one of several Spanish-speaking representatives that serve Latino immigrants. He has got the job cut out for him.
Rose Hills is not your typical American cemetery. Also, it is vastly different from those in other countries that are characterized by rows upon rows of tombstones of many different styles and scarce garden areas.
Rose Hills consists of nearly 15,000 acres of rolling hills, several chapels and temples, gardens, seating areas in open spaces, a waterfall and a lake. Deer and other wildlife can be seen often on the grounds.
Changing immigrants’ perception of Rose Hills among immigrants can be a challenge.
“It’s like a park, very beautiful and one would like to be buried there,” says Rossy Santiago, 40, a Mexican immigrant who lives in the nearby City of Cudahy. She has never set foot on this memorial park. “I imagine that it’s also very expensive,” she adds.
Chaidez hears that often. “Basic burial packages start from $3100,” he says. He adds that special payment plans are available and that the memorial park has its very own in-house financing program. A recent special offered zero-percent interest plans for up to seven years and $29 monthly payments on burial purchases with a 10% down payment.
“We help people plan ahead of time to make sure the death of a person doesn’t become an unexpected financial stress on families,” says Chaidez. “Planning is important.”
The new Mission Hills section is one three with a Latino theme.
El Portal de la Paz (Gateway of Peace), built in 1930, also reflects the architecture of California’s Spanish missions. And La Loma de la Madre (Mother’s Hill) is a grotto depicting the story of the apparition of the Virgin of Guadalupe.
“We are really committed to serving the Latino community,” says Morales.