Dia de Los Muertos in the midst of COVID-19

Hispanic Heritage Month

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Latino communities across the country have been hit the hardest by COVID-19. In Travis County, where Austin is located, Latinos account for half of deaths but only account for about 35% of the population, as of the end of August.

Austin Travis County COVID-19 Public Dashboard data shows Hispanics account for 50% of the COVID-19 deaths. Data date: 08/28/2020

“It’s very sad because we are at the forefront,” said Sylvia Orozco, the co-founder and executive director of Mexic-Arte Museum. “We are the cafeteria workers, janitors, construction workers. We are the artists. Many of us cannot work at home.”

This year, for Dia de Los Muertos, Maria Eugenia Ramirez is remembering all of those in her community who have died of COVID-19.

“Dia de Los Muertos is a tradition that goes back centuries, so you have a mixture of pre-Colombian traditions with Catholic traditions,” Orozco said.

Decorative skulls fill the altar. (KXAN Photo/Candy Rodriguez)

Ramirez is preparing a special ofrenda, or, as she puts it, “An altar is honoring someone, paying homage.”

Ramirez put the altar together to honor people like Patty Hernandez a local school cafeteria worker, and school crossing guard, Roberto Mata.

“It is a table of sorts that has gifts and things for the dead come back,” Orozco added.

The altar is filled and lined with decorative skulls to represent loved ones along with their favorite food and drinks as well as personal belongings.

A salt cross purifies the soul, papel picado symbolizes the wind, vibrant cempasúchil flowers attract the spirit and candles light the way.

“I want people who see this altar and think, ‘Wow, how pretty,’ to realize who it represents and who we are honoring,” Ramirez said.

Maria Eugenia Ramirez is remembering all of those in her community who have died of COVID-19. (KXAN Photo/Candy Rodriguez)

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