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Article: Joe Sanchez on Changing Latino Funeral Traditions

Apr 30, 2015

If you haven’t had a chance to listen to the FuneralProChat podcast with Joe Sanchez on changing funeral traditions, a portion of the interview was recently published in American Funeral Director. Joe has been working in the funeral profession for more than 12 years. He is a director at Legacy Chapels which is one of the largest funeral homes in Texas. In this podcast interview, Joe is interviewed by Steven C. Turner about services he has handled in the past and Legacy’s distinctive approach to funeral service. From putting a casket on the back of an 18 wheeler for the funeral procession of a truck driver to decorating the casket of a nurse with Band-Aids, the directors at Legacy have found success through innovation and creative thinking. The funeral home has a very strong Aftercare program allowing the staff to stay connected to families in the area. They were also the first in their region to offer pet death care.

Funeral Pro Chat is a new podcast series where funeral professionals discuss funeral trends, news and customs. The goal of Funeral Pro Chat is to inform and enlighten funeral professionals on a range of subjects that interest them. American Funeral Director will periodically provide edited excerpts from the podcasts to spur the discussion on topical issues affecting the industry. Funeral Pro Chat is now also available on iTunes.

Funeral service, it’s not a job, it’s a calling.

Steven C. Turner chats with Joe Sanchez about the changing face of Latino funeral traditions and how we can better serve Hispanic families.
Steven C Turner: Greetings. I am Steven C Turner and I am honored to have as my guest, my friend, Joe Sanchez from Mission, Texas. Joe is a funeral director at a very innovative, cutting-edge funeral home called Legacy Chapels in Edinburg, Texas. Before we chat about Latino traditions and Legacy, tell us a little about yourself, Joe.
Joe Sanchez: Thank you, Steven. I’ve been in funeral services for over 12 years. I entered this profession as a calling, to truly help other people. I went to Commonwealth Institute of Funeral Service in Houston, Texas and I’ve been blessed to work with some fine professionals in my career. I like to think that every day is a learning opportunity, so although I feel seasoned, I feel like I’m learning something every day. I try to do as much research as possible to learn about changes in our profession. Our area is predominately Hispanic, a lot of the funerals in our area are third or fourth generation. I am a fresh newbie to funeral services, first generation.
Steven: You’re also a new breed of funeral director, Joe. For example you utilize social media a lot.
Joe: I possess a passion for my profession and I am very vocal about it on social media, I’m always talking about something funeral related without sounding morbid and freaky. On social media, for example, we have quite a bit of followers that really engage with us and are not afraid to ask questions about death and dying. So, for a region that is Hispanic, where death is very taboo, I break the barriers. We’re so blessed to be able to be innovative, to do personalized services; doing things very differently.
Steven: How do you do services differently?
Joe: We use the memorial blankets quite a bit and other unique memorials to honor a life well lived. We tailor the funeral to the decedent. I had a funeral for a man who owned a farm and we brought his tractor here and put his casket on the back of a flat 18 wheeler. It pulled him to church and we had truckers drive instead of a hearse. Doing things like that is what really helps people with closure. We’re always doing something different. This is what sets us apart, even if it’s just a memorial service. We did a service for a lady that had quite a lot of dogs that she’d rescued and we had all her dogs here for the actual funeral service to say goodbye.
Steven: Do you offer pet services?
Joe: Legacy is also the only place in the region that offers pet services because it used to be taboo. Hispanics would say, “Why would you spend money on a dog?” But you’d be surprised that when we are able to offer our service for someone who lost a cat or a dog or a pet, it really helps people with closure. I have two dogs and I think if one of them was to die, I would be devastated. We offer this service to our community to help say goodbye and I think that’s what is important.
Steven: Legacy does a lot of community outreach also. I remember Breast Cancer Awareness month and the huge impact your funeral home made.
Joe: Yes, Steve. We have a huge, 16 by 8 electronic sign outside and we are about to start a campaign on Don’t Drink and Drive. We’ve always trying to help. Just because we provide funeral services, doesn’t mean we buried your loved one, now goodbye. Our services don’t stop there: Breast Cancer Awareness month was October and we put together an event, to benefit a local chapter that helps ladies with mammograms and wellness care. We’ve got to be proactive in our community. We’ve got to have healthy lifestyles and we’ve got to encourage that. We’re always posting things in our social media and we talk about health- eating right, drinking lots of water, exercising. Here are some steps for hand washing; here are some steps to prevent having a heart attack or stroke. We don’t just focus on funerals. And I think people see that, our personality is there and we are just blessed. We are at the right time; funeral service is evolving every day. A lot of people don’t want to try new products and ideas, but we are always looking for something new to do and that’s what truly sets us apart.
Steven: Legacy truly is unique. Now, let’s discuss some basic differences and commonalities between African-American funerals and Latino services. What exactly are you seeing today, Joe?
Joe: I’ll be honest with you, Steve. We are not really following a traditional dialog in funeral services anymore. Our profession has changed like any other profession. We are located in South Texas by the Mexican-Texas border; we have a lot of families living in the area from countries just south of the United States. African-Americans have very little presence in my area, only 2% of the population. The Latinos are very traditional in the sense that we have the Mariachi for every funeral. Cremation was something not very popular within the Latino community or the memorial service and now it’s something that a lot of families are doing here. We are providing receptions after the funeral on premises too. We went from Latinos that never, ever did cremation-period, to now accepting it.
Steven: There are also religious differences too. I know African-Americans are mostly Baptist or another protestant sect and most Latinos are Roman-Catholic. Has it changed here?
Joe: It has. There are a lot of immigrants living here now. Not everyone now is Roman-Catholic. We have a lot of different religions in the area. We have serviced a lot of members from the Seven Day Adventist Church. That religion itself brings different cultures from South America, Columbia, Peru as well. Many Filipino communities are Catholic, some are Episcopalian, it really just depends. I also noted that a lot of families really don’t engage too much now with the religious service and that’s where the celebration of life with a non-traditional religious service fits in. It still commemorates life.
Steven: I know that in the African-American communities funerals are called home goings and they can be an elaborated service raging from the stirrings scene of the Gospel Choir to the Preacher or the Reverend and the shouldering of the casket by the pall-bearers.
Joe: Absolutely. We’ve seen that with various social media outlets that talk about the differences in their customs. It is truly very beautiful and different, something we are not very accustomed to. I know Hispanics will do things very differently, where everybody will be drinking alcohol during the rosary service. It’s a celebration with loud music, Mariachi singing and people are saying goodbye. I think that’s also very fitting and very much accepted in our culture.
Steven: I know your passion is funeral service but you also feel that you have a dream job at Legacy from your Facebook postings. Let’s chat about that for a while. Why is Legacy so unique?
Joe Sanchez: Legacy is one of the largest funeral homes in Texas. We have a ten acre, 20,000 sq. ft. facility. Every part of our operation is five stars and all staff members here are very passionate about what they do, whether is the florist or the bookkeeper. We spend 18 hours a day here sometimes and we really are family. It’s a new, modern facility, open three years. We’ve been accepted by our community and we have a personality, a brand of caring and people sense that.
Steven: Joe, you are known for your very personalized services. I remember a service you did for a nurse and the casket was the color of her scrubs and the guests put band aids on her casket along with their loving comments.
Joe: It’s very popular in the Hispanic community is to put flower pillows on the casket as everyone is saying goodbye. I opted to use band aids because she was a nurse. It felt like the right thing to do. We spoke to the family and the cemetery and they absolutely loved it. That photo went viral in different social media outlets. We really make a difference to these families. We’ve proactive and we do things differently.
Steven: Great story, Joe. I also understand that you have a kitchen, a coffee station and a fully stacked bar.
Joe Sanchez: Yes, we are one of the only funeral providers in the United States with a full service liquor license. This has been very useful for receptions. Our families like the idea of having wine and food during the service or after the funeral. We are able to accommodate all their needs. We meet or exceed all state guidelines and even our technology is cutting edge. The bar has a touch-screen iPad, our wait staff have iPads and they are able to respond immediately, so everything here runs very smoothly.
Steven: How is that received by your clients and the families? They must love all the conveniences.
Joe: It’s wonderful. It’s a one stop shop. We have the finest stationary items and other memorial items for funerals on site. Families never have to leave here to order flowers. That’s something very rare in our area, to have a flower shop inside a funeral home, but it’s been accepted very well.
Steven: I know you had spoken earlier saying that cremation is accepted now in the Latino community. Can you talk about that? How it’s changed?
Joe Sanchez: We educate people about having cremation including the memorial service. You have to bring the actual body present for the funeral Mass and then you can do cremation, afterwards. Also, if someone is going to be cremated afterwards, you need to bury the ashes, you cannot scatter them. Families that are traditional will follow what their Catholic priests say they need to do and others will bypass the church and have the service at the funeral home because we don’t want to upset the priest. No one wants to upset the priest and sometimes we have to set our religious differences aside and just follow the rules.
Steven: How would you like to be remembered, Joe? What would your legacy be?
Joe: I want people to remember that I was always a caring individual and that I inspired other people to enter our profession. I want to be remembered as a funeral director, a person you can go to, to learn something, someone you can go to for help. I want to be remembered as that type of caring person.
Steven: Joe, would you like to share your contact information with our listeners?
Joe: Absolutely. We are from Legacy Chapel, in Edinburg, Texas. You can visit us online and my direct line here is 956-618-5900 or you can shoot me an email We are also on all social media.
Steven: Joe, I want to thank you very much for chatting with me today. You can find me on Facebook or

Click here to listen to the full Podcast and hear the interview in it’s entirety.

Funeral Pro Chat is a production of Burban Turner Media

© Nancy Burban 2014

About The Author

Jess Farren (Fowler)

Jess Farren (Fowler) is a Public Relations Specialist and Staff Writer who has been a part of the ASD team since 2003. Jess manages ASD’s company blog and has been published in several funeral trade magazines. She has written articles on a variety of subjects including communication, business planning, technology, marketing and funeral trends. You can contact Jess directly at

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