AUSTIN (KXAN) — On a wall near the corner of 5th St. and Congress Ave. in downtown Austin is a “somber” reminder that there are human lives behind the numbers of COVID-19 deaths.
“We represent 50% of the cases, we’re 52% of the hospitalizations and we now represent 50% of the deaths so there have been 427-430 people in Austin-Travis County that have died of COVID and Latinos represent 50%, so that means 217 Latinos from our Austin community have died as a result of COVID,” Paul Saldaña said.
Saldaña is the coordinator of the Austin Latino Coalition. For the last 26 weeks they’ve been operating as a volunteer Latino task force, he said. The group has implemented plans for the bilingual, culturally-sensitive public and educated them about COVID-19 prevention. The CDC says there’s increasing evidence some racial and ethnic minority groups are being disproportionately affected by COVID-19.
The numbers Saldaña stated carry with them the weight of many emotions.
“Sad, frustration, anger, angst — all of those things. You know, we’re in the middle of Hispanic Heritage month and instead of celebrating the accolades and accomplishments, achievements of our Latino community, were mourning the deaths of 217 people from our community,” he said. “We’re saddened by that and so this mural is supposed to be a representation of that sentiment for us.”
The mural reads:
mas de 200 de nuetros
abuelos, abuelas, padres, madres,
esposas, esposos, hijos, hijas,
tias, tios, primas, primos,
amigos queridos, han sido
Translated into English, it states: “In Austin, more than 200 of our grandfathers, grandmothers, fathers, mothers, wives, husbands, sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, dear friends, have been victims of COVID-19.”
Saldaña penned the words.
“Unfortunately, that number is going to continue to go up. And so the words in the mural, basically, are supposed to humanize it and touch people individually because so many people in our community have lost… family members, and even people within our own coalition have lost family members, and so it’s been very devastating.”
He hopes it grabs the attention of those in charge of the city.
“[The mural will] serve as a stark reminder to those in a position of influence, who are making these policy decisions, to say 217 people from our community have died, from our Latino community, that’s unacceptable.”
El Pasoan artist Christin Apodaca painted the mural. It depicts a female Día de Los Muertos face with yellow and orange flowers flowing out from her hair. Tiny skulls can be seen in many of them. The art is meant to honor the Austin-area Latinos who died from COVID-19. You can see stages of the mural on her Instagram post.
“I was extremely honored and excited when Mexic-Arte asked me to paint a mural for them. They wanted a piece to highlight Latinx people and the impact that COVID-19 has had on our community. I’m from El Paso, Texas, and I’m happy that Mexic-Arte and Austin welcomed me as one of their own. With this piece I want people to be aware of the pain and sadness that COVID-19 has caused to our Latinx community. El Paso, Austin and all over the world, COVID-19 has greatly affected people of color,” Apodaca said in an emailed statement. She returned home after completing her work.
A canvas of comfort
Jill Ramirez commissioned the mural. She’s the CEO of Latino Healthcare Forum. Her late husband Sam Coronado, local artist and co-founder of the Mexic-Arte Museum, passed in 2013. With some of the leftover funds from his art sales, Ramirez put it into the wall.
“He would want me to use that money for this… to support the Austin Latino Coalition,” she said.
The Austin Latino Coalition knew their friend Silvia Orozco at the museum was doing something for Día de Los Muertos, so they approached her with the mural idea. The coalition funded Apodaca to do paint it. They hope to humanize the numbers.
“When you see a press conference and people tell you how many people have died, how many people in the hospital, how many people on ventilators, and they just refer to people as numbers, right? So, it’s a human being. How do you relate to a number rather than to a face, rather than to a name, rather than to a family? We knew those numbers, there were people behind those numbers. It was a person that died and their whole family and friends say, ‘We just feel like those numbers needed to be represented somehow.’“
Many of those families are grieving in an “very non-traditional way,” Ramirez said.
“Usually, you get to see your loved ones when they’re in the hospital passing. It was really, really sad for both them, who they knew they were transitioning, and their loved ones, knowing they could not even be in the room or talk to them that way.”
She considers some of the deaths unnecessary.
“I think if people knew what they had to do to be safe, they would have done it… if you were to put them all into one single file [line] and you see each one, you could see that it had tremendous loss to our community. It’s tremendous, not just because they’re not gonna be around for family gatherings, to be there to help people out, but a lot of our families lost people who are like their main caregivers, the people that make the money… It’s a huge loss for our community.”
But, in the end, Ramirez wishes it’ll bring solace.
“We want and hope this mural brings some kind of comfort and peace to what they’re going through emotionally and be able to grieve as a community, collectively with us.”
At night, the mural has a virtual effect. More than 200 butterflies fly off the mural. Each represents one Latino who has died from the coronavirus in the Austin-area. The Mexic-Arte Museum is located on the corner of 5th St. & Congress Ave. You can learn more about the museum on its website.