In the Garden of the Dead.
At the tombs of the Americans in Mexico City.
The Mexico City National Cemetery is not a Mexican cemetery. It is an American one, and American sovereign territory at that. Hardly an acre in size, the small and verdant oasis in the great metropolis of Ciudad México holds the remains of several hundred fallen soldiers of the United States. Most of them arrived here on a mission to conquer the great metropolis — and did. Some others are present as well: through the first decades of the twentieth century, American veterans who died in Mexico were entitled to burial here. So the Cemetery holds not just the fallen of the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848, but veterans of the Civil War and the War with Spain. It also holds at rest some of their wives, and heartbreakingly, some few of their small children.
Among the Civil War veterans in the cemetery are men who fought in Confederate service, and whose tombs are marked accordingly. They too were entitled to burial here, as American veterans: the generation that fought and won that war, and its children, and its grandchildren, were vastly more generous, moderate, and wise than their descendants today. On the eastern wall of the cemetery there is the resting place of a valorous U.S. Colored Trooper — and nearby rests an exiled Confederate general. A great nation welcomed them together in memorial and rest, and what used to stand as an example of our best selves now exists as quiet reproach to what we have become.
A man and his family, a wife and two small girls, were the only visitors present with me. We spoke — I was curious why a Mexican family would spend its day visiting the graves of past conquerors. It is for the education of my girls, he said, and one of them shyly tried her English with me, to her father’s delight. I told them of my ancestors in that war: of Georgia-born William Clayton, a fourth-great grandfather who fought with the Illinoisans at Buena Vista. I told them too of José Mariá Eduvige Ydrogo, a third-great grandfather — a Mexican, not an American, but one who offered his services as a muleteer for Zachary Taylor’s army, likely in Buena Vista’s aftermath. For this, a betrayal of his country, he was sentenced to years of hard labor in a hellish Veracruz prison.
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