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Why a Central Valley funeral home helps farmworkers return to their native country after death

Ryan Reade, the owner of the Reade and Sons Funeral Home, poses in front of a wall display of different caskets
Esther Quintanilla
Ryan Reade, the owner of the Reade and Sons Funeral Home, poses in front of a wall display of different caskets

KERMAN, Calif. – Henry Enrique Reade and his wife, Irene, opened their funeral service business in Fresno in 1992, and quickly learned how much mortuary services were needed by the farmworker community.

In 1999, the funeral home held services for a dozen farmworkers who were killed after their work van slammed into a semi-truck on a country road in Fresno County.

Nearly all of the workers were later transported back to Mexico for burial. Since then, the farmworker community has regularly turned to the Reade and Sons Funeral Home.

In February, it was asked to take in seven men who had died in a crash and help get them ready to return to Mexican states like Guerrero and Michoacán. The men were farmworkers on their way to work at a vineyard near the community of Firebaugh.

“It’s a big deal to trust your loved one to any funeral home,” Ryan Reade, who took over the business after his father Henry died in 2020, told KVPR. “But to have that trust to say ‘We got seven men who passed and we want to try to get all seven with you,’ that's an honor.”

The Reade and Sons Funeral Home primarily serves the farmworkers of the west side of the Central Valley. Their slogan reads: "The funeral home for farmworkers."
Esther Quintanilla
The Reade and Sons Funeral Home primarily serves communities on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley. Their slogan reads: "The funeral home for farmworkers."

In 2018, the Reades opened a second facility in Kerman to give the rural agricultural community in the San Joaquin Valley easier access to their services, Reade said. The building, painted a soft cream color, sits in the heart of the city – across the street from the local Catholic church.

The funeral home presents itself as: “la funeraria de los campesinos,” or “the farmworkers’ funeral home.”

Funeral home follows lengthy process to send the dead abroad

On average, the funeral home sends more than 60 people to different countries for burial each year. Reade says there’s a strict protocol they follow to ensure they can transport the dead.

That includes registering a death certificate and embalming the body. The funeral home then registers what is known as a disposition permit which states what will happen to the person's remains, and their final resting place.

A small bouquet of lilies and roses sits at the front of the chapel in the Reade and Sons Funeral Home in Kerman.
Esther Quintanilla
Lilies and roses sit at the front of the chapel in the Reade and Sons Funeral Home in Kerman, California.

The completed documents are then sent to the county clerk for authentication. Once notarized, they’re sent to the Secretary of State to obtain authorization for foreign use. The documents are then translated before being sent to a consulate office.

“All this has to be exact for [the consul] to put a stamp on it and say, ‘You can now ship this person into our country,’” Reade says.

The funeral home then books the flight, and contacts a local facility to ensure the remains arrive safely to its destination. The process usually takes up to three weeks, but Reade says it’s important to pay attention to details.

“We want to make sure it's right the first time, because we don't want to hold the family up,” Reade says.

The base cost for transporting a deceased body starts at $5,500, and can vary due to flights and other requests from the family.

According to Reade, a large portion of the funeral costs for the seven farmworkers were donated by the community through different fundraisers.

Giving the community a space to grieve

On a recent Sunday afternoon, hundreds gathered at Kerckhoff Park in downtown Kerman to say their final goodbye to the seven farmworkers at one of those fundraisers.

A famous song – Un dia a la Vez, meaning One Day at a Time – from the Mexican supergroup beloved by farmworkers Los Tigres Del Norte radiated through the air.

The ballad talks about what comes after tragedy: “Yesterday has passed, and tomorrow isn’t promised. Just help me to live one day at a time,” the singer says.

“Farmworkers get a bad name. [People] don't realize what a role they play in our world.”
Ryan Reade

Dozens danced along to the music, and waved candlesticks in the air – some with tears in their eyes. The memorial service came a day after a Catholic mass was held at Kerman High School where the bodies of all seven men were present.

These moments of remembrance ushered the men home, where their families were waiting to hold funerals. Videos online later showed loved ones in Mexico carrying caskets through dirt paths and into homes, while others tossed confetti and rice over them.

While some funerals can be somber events, Mexican tradition often celebrates even the end of life.

Reade, the Kerman funeral home owner, says everyone has a way to grieve, and his funeral home sees it all. He even remembers a time when the nearly silent chapel erupted into a giant celebration with beer, dancing and a live mariachi.

The chapel inside the Reade and Sons Funeral Home in Kerman holds all kinds of celebrations of life
Esther Quintanilla
The chapel inside the Reade and Sons Funeral Home in Kerman, California, has seen many types of services.

“This place was jumping,” he says. “I was worried that [the police] was going to show up and shut it down.”

In a separate occasion, a family requested a horse belonging to a dead loved one attend the memorial service, too.

“That's how they honored their loved ones, you know?” Reade said. “For other families, they come in and it’s just quiet. To them, that's how they're going to pay their respect.”

These services are special to Reade, and show his father’s legacy continues. An obituary for Henry Reade wrote that the older Reade always strived to find ways to help farmworkers pay for funeral costs. It was a community he cherished.

“Farmworkers get a bad name,” the younger Reade said. “[People] don't realize what a role they play in our world.”

Esther Quintanilla reports on communities across Central California, covering a variety of stories surrounding the rich cultures in the Valley, farmworker issues, healthcare, and much more. She previously reported through the Central Valley News Collaborative, a partnership between the Fresno Bee, Vida en el Valle, KVPR and Radio Bilingüe.
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