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Fronteras: South Texas writer remembers loved ones lost to COVID-19 during Día de los Muertos

A Día de los Muertos altar assembled by the Cásares family.
Oscar Cásares
A Día de los Muertos altar assembled by the Cásares family.

More than 700,000 people have died of COVID-19 in the U.S. Five Texas counties are among the top 20 in the nation with the most virus-related fatalities.

The sombering pandemic death toll serves as a backdrop for Día de los Muertos, the Mexican holiday that celebrates the lives of lost loved ones. Its origins date back 3,000 years ago to the Aztecs and it’s become increasingly popular in the U.S., particularly in Mexican-American communities.

That includes those along the Texas-Mexico border, which has seen some of the harshest effects of the virus. Brownsville-native and writer Oscar Cásares is familiar with the grief caused by the pandemic. He penned about the loss of his cousin, Beto, in his 2020 Texas Monthly article, “This Year, Our Family’s Día de los Muertos Altar Will Memorialize Those Who Died From the Coronavirus,” which also detailed how the pandemic robbed the communal comfort many seek when grieving from loss.

“That part of it is so consequential to the [grieving] process and eventually to the healing, of the letting go, at least physically as much as we can,” Cásares explained. “And that, too, had been stolen from us with the pandemic.”

Cásares’ essay will be featured in a forthcoming Texas Monthly collection, “Being Texan,” which explores what it means to be Texan through essays, stories and recipes.

Cásares will also make an appearance at this month’s Texas Book Festival, happening virtually and in person in downtown Austin from Oct. 23–31. He will also be collaborating with the Agarita Chamber Players for an in-person performance of Postcards from the Border on Oct. 15 at San Antonio’s Carver Community Cultural Center.

Norma Martinez can be reached at norma@tpr.org and on Twitter at @NormDog1
Lauren Terrazas can be reached at lauren@tpr.org and on Twitter at @terrazas_lauren