The Mexic-Arte Museum in Austin is featuring community altars as well as artwork by the Juan Antonio Sandoval Jr. Collection. This year, Latinos are celebrating while maintaining safety protocols. Images courtesy of: Mexic-Arte Museum
As the weather gets colder across the country and COVID-19 rates are exploding, Latinos, who are still at a disproportionately high risk of contracting the disease, are honoring the deceased in safer ways this Día de Muertos.
Some experts say Latino communities are suffering from coronavirus at dispraportionate rates because they tend to celebrate family get-togethers with extended family. This year’s Día de Muertos, celebrated in early November, will hit hard for many U.S. Latinos who’ve lost loved-ones to COVID-19, and some are finding ways to continue the tradition in the midst of the 2020 pandemic.
Featuring long processions packed with masks, puppets and marigolds, street foods, and live music, leading up to the day of celebration on November 2, Día de Muertos traces back to pre-Columbian days. It was first recognized as a way for the Aztec to give offerings for their ancestors, and today it combines ancient traditions from Mexico and Latin America for a vibrant celebration of life.
The holiday is celebrated in cities and towns across the country, and would usually include lively parades with dancers, pop-up markets with vendors, and community altars that are decorated to honor the deceased.
A ‘Día de Muertos’ altar displays water, a sugar skull, and ‘pan de muerto’ bread that is believed to call the soul of the dead. Image: Wikimedia Commons
Now, some Latinos are re-considering the public aspects of this autumnal holliday, and already museums across the country have adapted, establishing exhibitions that are socially distanced or virtual while paying tribute to the tradition of ofrendas, offerings to dead loved-ones. Austin’s Mexic-Arte Museum is presenting “La Muerte Vive,” which will be open to the public through November 22, with an option to experience a virtual tour and take part in online art activities like making sugar skulls and papel picado.
In Los Angeles, Self-Help Graphics is hosting an online celebration with Día de Muertos exhibitions, including an altar surrounded with pictures of some of this year’s major losses like Geroge Floyd, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Kobe Bryant. In New York, Green-Wood Cemetery will accept offerings from people willing to abide by socially-distanced protocols to leave belongings for a community altar.
Something found on many altars is pan de muerto, or bread of the dead. The sweet bread was used in Indigenous rituals in Mesoamerica before contact with Columbus. Today, it’s made and eaten during this time of year as a way to honor the dead. Latina wellness writer, Adriana Velez, has encouraged baking the bread and eating it, regardless of the lack of public festivities, in order to connect with those lost.
Velez wrote about different panadería bakers who are considering how the virus’ toll on the Latino community will affect this holiday. “This year is going to be different,” says the co-owner of Bedoy’s Bakery in San Antonio, Patricia Bedoy. She’s had many coronavirus deaths in her family and says this day will “have a deeper meaning,” because of the fall-out from the pandemic.
There are also alternatives for celebrating Halloween recommended by The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The public agency has encouraged practicing safe alternatives to the usual trick-or-treating. Already, houses have created candy-delivery systems like candy-chutes or slides. For those planning on staying indoors, there’s also a set of virtual Halloween events for children.
With safer alternatives, we’re still able to partake in traditional practices while in the midst of the third COVID-19 infection wave. But health experts urge everyone to continue practicing safe socially-distanced events as death tolls are likely to rise in the next few months.