Rio Grande Valley ‘Bearing Witness’ Initiative Puts Faces And Stories To COVID-19 Victims

“We were very intentional about how we wanted to help the community find different ways to heal.”

By Kristen CabreraMarch 8, 2021 5:00 pm, ,

Over half a million people in the United States have died from COVID-19. They were someone’s father, mother, grandparent, sister, brother, friend. In short, they were members of our community.

The “Bearing Witness” initiative at the Museum of South Texas History in Edinburg is partnering with the McAllen Monitor newspaper to honor those who were lost.

Melissa Peña is exhibit coordinator. She says they started archiving official documentation of COVID-19 last March.

“We took a look at that,” she said “and we’re like, Okay, 50 years from now, a hundred years from now, when someone’s doing research, and maybe even 20 years from now, someone’s doing research, this is what they’re going to see, but it is not telling you the story. It’s very cold; we need to humanize it and tell personal stories because each of those numbers represents a person.”

Francisco Guajadro is the muesum’s chief executive officer.

“We want people to understand that they had a certain spirit, they had a certain meaning and they were important to their families and to their neighbors and to the community. And so we interviewed a number of people, Melissa and I. We recorded those through Zoom and that’s going to go in the archive,” he said.

Guajardo wrote the articles about 22 victims of COVID-19 after passing them through Peña and their families. The publishers of the local paper agreed to publish their stories, one a week, for 22 weeks. He says they were some of the most-read articles.

“We were very intentional about how we wanted to help the community find different ways to heal,” he said.

Guajardo said when the project started, one of the deputy editors at the Monitor told Guajardo the number of COVID-19 deniers who were writing letters to the editor had started to dwindle.

“What happened is that deniers were confronted, is what he said, with names and faces and stories,” he said. “And so we thought, Wow, that’s great. And so we continue to do it for another four or five weeks because, you know, we needed to really participate in shaping the discourse.”

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