Descansos, an assignment


EL PASO, Texas — I suspect that descansos, or roadside memorials, exist all over the United States and, for that matter, all over the world.

Still, their presence here on the U.S. / Mexican border conveys a special significance for the Latino community. This is a culture intensely religious and fervent about family that does not relinquish its children, fathers, mothers, or grandparents readily.

The composition of our local descansos varies widely, ranging from machined metal plaques to elaborate concoctions of garish flowers, nostalgic photos and the ubiquitous crosses.

Ultimately, descanso symbolism, whether religious or secular, is implicitly heartrending: This marks the geographical location where a soul has escaped a broken human body.

This semester I gave my journalism students an unusual assignment. Find a descanso that intrigued them, and track down the story behind that roadside memorial. ­ For many, this task proved daunting. Relatives were not easily located, or once found, were reluctant to dredge up painful memories and speak on the record of their loss.

Thus, the descansos stories that appear on are exceptional—a combination of luck, talent and hard work. Each has been selected by the editors for its capacity to provoke curiosity, and to elicit the emotional poignancy necessary of all good storytelling.


Heinz Duerkop's own bicycle memorializes his place of death at George Dieter and Pocahontas. (Francis Regalado/

Heinz Duerkop filled our neighborhood with happiness

EL PASO, Texas — One year and five months ago—on Fathers Day—Heinz Duerkop was riding his bike on George Dieter and Pocahontas in El Paso, Texas.

He was struck from behind and killed.

The police conducted an investigation, but to this point no arrest has been made…

A sign remembering Adrian Navarro is located at Country Club Road. (Beatriz Castañeda/

Standardized descansos

EL PASO, Texas — On Dec. 29, it’ll be three years since Grace Talamantes last saw her daughter.

However, each time she passes by the intersection of Montana and Hawkins, where a blue-tinted aluminum panel sign imprinted with a message “Please Don’t Drink and Drive In Memory of Valerie Talamantes” marks her daughter’s last moments, she is reminded of Valerie…

A white cross memorializes the place where Martin Cano and his friend, Adrian Navarro died after a car accident. (Mariel Torres/

Martin Cano – Living too fast

“I didn’t think it was correct for Martin to drink at such a young age and I would tell him ‘mijo, calm down, you’re living your life too fast,’” Carolina Cano, Martin’s mother recalls…

4 thoughts on “Descansos, an assignment

  1. Tom, what a wonderful journalism assignment. The stories are compelling and well-written. Congrats to you and your students. Zita

  2. Nice Job Tom, Dr. Carmichael and I have been collecting images and narratives of descansos in El Paso and from all over New Mexico. There’s some material written on the topic, although much needs to be done. Great contribution!

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