A Priest, An Editor And A Mariachi Player Talk Life In The Rio Grande Amid COVID-19

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Hector Guerra, right and Juan Carlos Sanchez, from El Mariachi Continental, make their way to a funeral service in Donna, Texas on Aug. 21.

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Father Roy Snipes and mass attendees make their way to the Rio Grande where they will be releasing memorial wreaths with the names of the asylum-seekers that died trying to reach the U.S. in Mission, Texas.

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Miguel Lupercio violinist in El Mariachi Continental, waits for the funeral attendees to arrive at the cemetery where he will be playing in Donna, Texas.

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El Mariachi Continental plays during a funeral service at a cemetery in Donna.

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The editor who oversees those obituaries is Veronica Diaz, design chief for AIM Media Texas, which owns the McAllen Monitor, the Valley Morning Star and the Brownsville Herald.

«A year ago, I’d say we would average maybe seven to 10 death notices daily. Now, after COVID, we’re looking at an average of 25 to 30 death notices. And last week we had 100 death notices in one day. That’s a huge increase,» says Diaz, 46, looking up from the computer screen on her dining room table, where she works remotely. Her terriers, Maggie and Rocky, keep her company.

The surge in deaths has meant more work for a page designer.

«I spend a lot of time fixing errors, making sure their names are spelled right. There’s always the question — is this the right photo? Is it supposed to be color or black and white? Am I supposed to crop it? I mean, it’s given us a huge increase in stress dealing with all these obituaries.»

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Veronica Diaz, layout editor at the Valley Morning Star, poses for a photo at her home in Harlingen, Texas.

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Father Roy Snipes pictured at La Lomita Chapel in Mission, Texas, Friday, June 28 honoring the lives of migrants who died trying to go north. These days he’s officiating funerals for COVID-19 victims.

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Father Roy Snipes pictured at La Lomita Chapel in Mission, Texas, Friday, June 28 honoring the lives of migrants who died trying to go north. These days he’s officiating funerals for COVID-19 victims.

Veronica G. Cardenas/for NPR

«This is what I signed up for and this is what I’ve always done, 40 years a priest, and I’ve always prayed to do a good job and not to be robotic or perfunctory,» he says. «But now this is like a tsunami.»

«I’ll end up the day thinking, ‘Dadgum, maybe I’ve got the virus! I feel sick and tired.’ And then I’ll maybe take a shot of Old Crow and get to bed and I wake up rarin’ to go in the morning, thanks be to God.»

  • COVID-19
  • Rio Grande Valley

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