In Harlem, some of the nation’s oldest funeral homes are owned by immigrants from Central America. This Black history across the five boroughs outlines incredible stories of immigration from the Caribbean Islands and greater Latin America. This project asks important questions of how and what ways have these African Diasporic identities served as the foundation of funeral homes and how then can this aid for better understanding of ritual and last rites and the impact of COVID on these cultural practices. Funeral service workers, then, can offer critical insight on differences in funeral practices, mourning customs and rituals within Afro-Latinx populations.
Funeral service workers, then, can offer critical insight on differences in funeral practices, mourning customs and rituals within Afro-Latinx populations.
Funeral Director Dorrence Benta from Benta Funeral Homes in Harlem NYC stated that she had to turn down families due to the sheer volume of requests in NYC. Mental health burnout from staff was at an all-time high.
Black death care workers who had to travel into work as first responders were more susceptible to contract the virus as the rates were disproportionately higher in Black communities. This was especially true in uptown Manhattan and the Bronx (with the Bronx having the highest hospitalization and death rates out of the entire city).
This project purports that to understand, first, how COVID-19 in New York City impacted black funeral homes means exploring how the high amount of calls overwhelmed their system. Black funeral homes had to work with hospitals/mobile morgues in the nearby area to ensure documentation and bodies were received in a timely manner. Second, how distrust and frustration within black communities correlates with the 2-week waitlist for funeral service, evident by the negative spotlight given by local news channels at the time.
New York City was ground zero for COVID in 2020.