When Denise Pérez and her four siblings were looking for a funeral home to handle the burial for their recently deceased father, they were pleased to find one with a Spanish-speaking staff and extended viewing hours.
“We have a lot of family in Mexico and we knew they’d be arriving throughout the evening so we wanted to have a longer visitation,” she says. “That’s common in Mexico but we didn’t realize we could find that here as well.”
The family chose Funeraria del Angel Humphrey, one of several mortuaries in southern California that have rebranded themselves to appeal to the growing Latino market in the United States.
Funeraria del Angel Humphrey, which is located in Chula Vista, California, used to be known as Humphrey Mortuary until the funeral home’s parent company, Service Corporation International, decided to change its name last year. The company also changed the name of one of their funeral homes in Escondido California to Funeraria del Angel Humphrey McLeod.
“We embrace all ethnicities, races and religious beliefs,” said Alejandro Escalera, Humphrey’s manager, when ask about the name change. “But we understood the Hispanic market is growing and we wanted to make sure they know we’re here and we understand their cultural beliefs and traditions.”
In addition to a new name, the funeral home added bilingual staff, a kitchen, and the option for extended wakes, up to 24-hours long. They also help families with the paperwork needed to ship a body to Mexico or another Latin American country. Escalera said about 60 percent of his customers are Latino.
The changes underscore how a growing number of funeral homes are trying to capitalize on the burgeoning Latino population, which grew 43 percent the last decade, from 35.3 million to 50.5 million, according to Pew Hispanic Center.
The recognition that Latinos are a market to be captured by funeral home directors shouldn’t be surprising, says Félix Gonzáles, a mortician who teaches at the San Antonio College of Mortuary Science, which has a large Hispanic student population.
“We die just like everybody else,” he says.
Gonzáles isn’t sure changing a funeral parlor’s name to a Latino-sounding one is necessary to attract Hispanic clients. But he does have evidence that some customers want Spanish-speaking staff in the funeral home they choose.
“A funeral director who lives in the upper Midwest called me the other day, looking for someone who could speak Spanish,” he says. “They were offering a starting salary of $50,00. That’s twice as much as in Texas.”
Pérez said the Spanish-speaking staff at Humphrey’s was a big help to her mother. “She definitely understands English, but she’s not comfortable speaking it,” Pérez said. “Sandra (at Humphrey’s) was a big help. She explained everything in Spanish and my mom got all her questions answered.”
Pérez was also pleased that the mortuary offered a separate room for her father’s numerous grandchildren to watch movies in while their parents attended the wake. “We had about 12 to 15 kids there so that was a big help,” she said.
Although many first-generation Hispanics are working class that doesn’t mean they won’t spend on a funeral for their loved ones, Gonzales says “They work very, very hard and stash away good money. Most of that they send back home but there are those that realize that something could happen to them here and they think, ‘If I die, I want to go back home.’”
Nancy Averett is a freelance writer based in Ohio.