Each of us has a connection, direct or indirect, to a life taken by COVID, a collective mourning needlessly caused by this government’s inhumane response to the pandemic. For the loved ones of the 300,000 who’ve died from COVID in the U.S., this will be the first holiday season without them. The photo above captures that reality for one family, los Urquiza.
When 65-year-old Mark Urquiza died from COVID, his daughter Kristin, a young queer Latina from AZ, wrote an “honest obituary” (#honestobit). In it, she placed blame directly where it belonged: on politicians. Her dad was a Trump supporter and died three weeks after AZ Gov. Ducey, like other GOP governors, lifted the state’s stay-at-home order in May. His only pre-existing condition, Kristin said, was trusting Trump. In the obituary, she wrote:
“His death is due to the carelessness of the politicians who continue to jeopardize the health of brown bodies through a clear lack of leadership, refusal to acknowledge the severity of this crisis, and inability and unwillingness to give clear and decisive direction on how to minimize risk.”
The obituary went viral. Despite the raw grief of losing her father and despite a nation cloaked in lies, Kristin started a movement, Marked By COVID, and has been speaking truth to power ever since, capturing the world’s attention, amplifying the stories of other victims of COVID and pushing for safer public health policies.
Her story has similarities to that of another young Latina, Laura Serna, whose activism was also fueled by grief over the unjust death of her father. In 2016, a week before Christmas, 73-year-old Francisco Serna, who showed early signs of dementia, was returning home from an evening walk when he was killed feet from his home by police in Bakersfield, CA, one of the deadliest police forces in the nation. Police thought he was holding a weapon and shot him five times, killing him. When they opened his clutched hands, he was holding a crucifix. The DA later deemed the shooting “justified.” Laura has been fighting for justice since, saying “I want my father to be remembered for the change we want to see in Bakersfield.”
Then there is the devastating story of Honestie Hodges, a 14-year-old Black teen who died from COVID, just a few years after Michigan police handcuffed her at gunpoint outside her home. The incident sparked national outrage, and 11-year-old Honestie advocated for herself, asking of police, “If this happened to a white child, if her mother was screaming, ‘She’s 11,’ would you have handcuffed her and put her in the back of a police car?” Officers were never held accountable. Honestie survived police, but she didn’t survive COVID. In the U.S., youth of color make up only 41% of the youth population but account for 75% of all pediatric COVID deaths. Systemic racism took young Honestie’s life.
We know structural racism is what fuels the conditions that make Black and Brown folks the most vulnerable to everything from a pandemic to police. It is Black and Brown communities that are overwhelming essential workers, putting their lives at risk for those privileged enough to work from home. It is Black and Brown communities most exposed to air pollution, making them vulnerable to respiratory diseases. It is Black and Brown communities lacking access to equitable healthcare, causing underlying conditions that put them at high risk to COVID. And it is Black communities most impacted by doctors’ racial biases.
We know too many stories of how racism kills our gente in different ways; a multitude of life, love and loss behind each statistic. That is why it’s crucial to support women like Kristin and Laura, who muster the courage to transform their grief into a fight for justice.
To honor their fight and the lives lost, please take a moment to think of them of their families during this time, and please consider donating to support Marked By Covid’s efforts at markedbycovid.com/donate