It’s been a tough few months for Latinos as we’ve been among the hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic.


In Austin, it’s hurt to lose several prominent community leaders, such as Lois Villaseñor, co-founder of Mission Funeral Home in East Austin, who died at 87 from complications related to the coronavirus.


Adding to our grief, several community titans have also recently died for reasons unrelated to COVID-19. Community activist Johnny Limón and Rosalio "Rabbit" Duran, whose East Sixth Street bar became a Chicano politics hub, are among those leaders whom we will miss.


It’s been hard to process all of these deaths, but my hope is that we can find solace in paying forward the lessons these leaders have taught us.


» RELATED: ‘Consistency is what’s key’: Austin Latinx musicians on representation, solidarity


As we wrap up Hispanic Heritage Month on Oct. 15 and begin looking at how to pay tribute to departed loved ones during Day of the Dead, I hope that we can take some time to honor the contributions of so many whom we lost this year but whose legacies will continue.


Community altars


Día de los Muertos, which can be traced back to pre-Columbian days, embraces the circle of life. In Austin, festivities begin as soon as October, leading up to the holiday on Nov. 1 and 2.


The Mexic-Arte Museum’s Viva la Vida parade will be noticeably absent this year because of the pandemic; it’s the city’s largest and longest-running Day of the Dead festival. However, you can still enjoy the annual Day of the Dead exhibit featuring vibrant community altars in memory of loved ones. Before visiting the museum, make sure to review its new health protocols, which include wearing a face mask and social distancing.


Featured altars include one paying homage to Latino victims of COVID-19, plus an incredibly poignant altar honoring the life of 68-year-old Adelaido Bernabe Urias, a beloved North Austin ice cream vendor who was killed this summer after an attempted robbery. Austinites rallied in support of his family in the aftermath of the tragedy.


A special tribute to Mexican President Venustiano Carranza is also on display to commemorate the 100th anniversary of his death. Carranza, one of the leaders of the Mexican Revolution, died in 1920. Austin’s Mexican Consulate also created an altar for the exhibit to remember deceased Mexicans, including beloved actor and comedian Manuel "Loco" Valdes.


An altar especially meaningful to the museum honors internationally renowned Guatemalan Mexican muralist Rina Lazo, who was awarded the museum’s lifetime achievement award in visual arts in 2018. Lazo was a former assistant to famous muralist Diego Rivera who then became a master painter herself. She had been working on the mural "The Underworld of the Mayas" for 10 years and completed it before her death last year. The mural will soon be housed at the Mexic-Arte Museum.


» RELATED: Mexic-Arte Museum to house mural by former Diego Rivera assistant Rina Lazo


Check out the Day of the Dead exhibit at the museum from now until Nov. 22. If you prefer a virtual experience, keep your eyes peeled for the exhibit’s online opening reception at 5 p.m. on Oct. 1. For more reception details, visit mexic-artemuseum.org.


Also in October, museum passersby will be able to view a Day of the Dead-inspired mural by El Paso artist Christin Apodaca dedicated to Latinos who have died of COVID-19. The artwork, supported in part by the Austin Latino Coalition and the Serie Print Project, will be visible at Fifth Street and Congress Avenue and feature augmented reality elements that viewers will be able to see on their phones.


If you make the museum trip to Congress Avenue, don’t miss the powerful concurrent exhibit "ELA 25: Intersección: Choque & Alivio," or "Intersection: Shock & Relief." The annual exhibit formally known as YLA (Young Latinx Artists) is turning 25 and has updated its name to ELA (Emerging Latinx Artists). The latest exhibit celebrates the last 25 years of exhibitions.


Celebrate Day of the Dead from home


Día de los Muertos festivals are more than fun ways to celebrate a holiday. They offer opportunities to deepen your understanding of rich customs, expand your cultural horizons and, perhaps more importantly, create empathy. When we begin to learn more about one another, I believe we can build stronger bridges among communities.


A silver lining of having the annual Día de los Muertos festival, produced by the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center, go virtual this year is that it gives a chance for folks who wouldn’t typically check out the festival a way to participate from home.


Details for the virtual Nov. 1-2 event are still in the works, but organizers say that attendees should expect an interactive experience featuring everything from performances to Day of the Dead makeup tutorial videos to altar contests.


Leading up to the big day, you can begin preparing your own altars at home with the help of the MACC. Around mid-October, the cultural center plans to share an online how-to video focused on making home altar decorations including paper flowers and sugar skulls.


Families will be able to swing by a drive-through pickup at the cultural center to collect a free goodie bag of supplies. Priority will be given to families with children.


Keep an eye out for more festival details as they become available at facebook.com/AustinESBMACC.