For many Latinos, virus deaths loom over Day of the Dead

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Ofelia Esparza, 88, from East Los Angles, has brough fresh marigolds, often called "flowers of the dead," and placed them next to pictures of family members who died in 2020, at an altar for Day of the Dead, titled "2020 Memorial to Our Resilience," at Grand Park in Los Angeles, Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020. Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos, the annual Mexican tradition of reminiscing about departed loved ones with colorful altars, or ofrendas, is typically celebrated Sunday through Monday. It will undoubtedly be harder for Latino families in the U.S. torn apart by the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

PHOENIX – Matilde Gomez wants her mother, Gume, to know how much she appreciates her love and sacrifices. So, she's putting her feelings into a letter.

Only Gume Salazar will never get to read it.

Instead, it's going on a table in Gomez's home in Arizona that's dedicated to her mother, who died of COVID-19. It will sit alongside fresh flowers and Salazar's blouse on Day of the Dead, a holiday that Salazar actually didn't care for much.

“I would think she would be OK with it,” Gomez said. “She would see this as a way for me to heal."

Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos, the annual Mexican tradition of reminiscing about departed loved ones with colorful altars, or ofrendas, is typically celebrated Nov. 1-2. It will undoubtedly be harder for Latino families in the U.S. torn apart by the coronavirus. Some are mourning more than one relative, underscoring the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on communities of color. Adding to the misery, people can’t gather for the holiday because of the health risks.

Gomez's mother and uncle died of the virus a month apart this summer. The siblings in their 50s had no underlying health conditions. Gomez only spoke to her mother on the phone once before she died in a California hospital. On top of that, Gomez, 41, was diagnosed with breast cancer this month. She decided not to schedule surgery until after Day of the Dead because she wanted to honor her mother properly.

“I want to celebrate her memory in my household with Dia de los Muertos,” said Gomez, who lives in the Phoenix suburb of El Mirage. “She’s never going to be forgotten.”

Day of the Dead usually revolves around an altar in the home or at a graveside of photos of the dead, their important belongings and even favorite foods. They often are adorned with marigolds, which are believed to draw the souls of the dead.