Cementerio de Nueva Esperanza Posted on November 6th, 2011 by

The hills are alive with the bright colors graves. Millions of graves ranging from piles of stones to full-out cement altars with stairs, as people have been able to afford. It started out as an appropriation of unused land, the squatting dead, so to speak, and it has become a veritable unplanned city of the dead. In a way that very much reflects the informal nature of most of Lima, the Cementerio de Nueva Esperanza in Villa María del Triunfo, has become the largest cemetery in Peru (or in the world? Can’t remember. It’s up there). Apparently now people have to apply for permission to bury there, but I wonder how many do, and what’s the point?

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For our Peruvian Social Reality class, we visited the cemetery on November 1, Día de los Muertos. Thousands upon thousands of people were coming to the cemetery to remember their loved ones. Clean and repaint the grave, lay some flowers, share the dead’s favorite foods with them, take a swig of beer, pour a swig on the grave, light candles, spend some family time together. It’s not so solemn of a place as we think of cemeteries being in the U.S., but neither is it disrespectful. Wandering musicians and dancers sell their services, playing and dancing for the dead. Bible-readers will read verses, loud enough to wake the dead I dare say.

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Among the students, much of our discussion while we were there, and afterwards, focused on whether we should be there at all. It’s a public space, nobody would turn us away, but most of the people were there to be with their loved ones, which particularly in the States we tend to think of as a private thing. But there were enough people there that it was definitely not a private event, and I’d like to think that anybody is welcome. Different than tourists, who in a worst-case scenario might take silly pictures by graves and comment on the quaint ceremonies of the locals (isn’t tourist a loaded word?), we came as students, trying to respectfully learn and understand.

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We had similar doubts about taking pictures. It’s awkward to take pictures of strangers, and more invasive than just observing. But on the other hand, as Ella pointed out, it was a special occasion worth taking pictures of, worth documenting. It’s too many people to ask each time if I can take a picture, and that takes away from the candor. A lady covered her kid’s face as I took a picture…I deleted that one. Other people asked me to take pictures of them, so I did. And otherwise, I just tried to snap photos discreetly.

That’s all till next time,














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