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The COVID-19 pandemic has brought death and sorrow to every Texas community. But the coronavirus has perhaps inflicted one of the deepest wounds on the Hispanic community. Infectious disease expert Dr. Peter Hotez told the Texas Standard earlier this year that we are witnessing the “historic decimation of Hispanic communities” in Texas. That means this will be a Día de los Muertos like no other.

As a tribute to those we have lost, Texas Standard has a special ofrenda, a tribute or offering, as we head into this year’s Día de los Muertos holiday. It’s a celebration of life as we remember those who have gone before us in the tradition of this intrinsically Latino holiday in which the music, food and colors our loved ones enjoyed in life inform the ways we remember them.

Caroline Covington, Wells Dunbar/Texas Standard

The Dead

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As overwhelming as the loss of life has been during the pandemic, some experts say there has been an undercount of COVID-19 cases among Latinos in Texas.

Rogelio Saenz is a professor of demography at the University of Texas at San Antonio. He told Texas Standard that he noticed problems with COVID-19 case data when he began collecting it in March. He set out to track the spread of COVID-19 in Latino communities.

“There were a lot of problems originally, given the way Latinos are identified,” Saenz said. “And then, a lot of states, what they were doing was not separating Latinos from the white population.”

In June and July, when COVID cases spiked after economies began to reopen, Saenz says he noticed that Latinos were disproportionately represented among the dead in California, Arizona and Florida.

“But Texas kind of lagged behind, and that got me suspicious,” he said.

When he dug into the data, Saenz found that many who died were not being identified as Latinos. In fact, 93% of those who contracted the virus were not identified by race or ethnicity.

Saenz decided to change that, tracking ethnic identification and racial data himself.

“I am extremely thankful for journalists who were really getting the story out back in March and April because it was very obvious that this was a great devastation, and there tended to be extremely limited information on Latinos,” he said.

For Saenz, attaching identities to numbers is an important way to address the impact of the pandemic on Latino communities.

“Behind these cold numbers really lies people who are just being devastated, families that are losing loved ones,” he said.

Saenz says 30% of Latinos in Texas between the ages of 19 and 64 lack health insurance, and that the state is “extremely stingy” when it comes to providing health care, education and housing to communities that need it. He said the pandemic’s effect on Latinos in the state is an indicator of the lack of a safety net.

“I think that it is communities of color, particularly Latinos and African Americans, that are dying from COVID here in Texas, in particular,” Saenz said. “Texas continues to be the only state where Latinos account for more than 50% of the deaths.”



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Video: Making Pan De Muertos



Executive Producer: Laura Rice

Host: Joy Díaz

Editor: Terri Langford

Audio Editor: Leah Scarpelli

Reporters and Producers: Jill Ament, Kristen Cabrera, Joy Díaz, Reynaldo Leaños Jr., Laura Rice


Digital Editor: Caroline Covington

Digital Producer: Shelly Brisbin

Social Media Editor: Wells Dunbar

Photography: Michael Minasi, Gabriel C. Pérez and Julia Reihs

Special thanks to: Technical Director Casey Cheek