A few weeks before the University of Georgia reopened campus in August, it lost a member of its community to COVID-19. Ana Gabriela Cabrera Lopez, a 32-year-old worker in Brumby Hall, tested positive on July 15 and died nine days later.
The university failed to acknowledge Cabrera’s death, despite her being the first person in the UGA community to die from COVID-19. As reports of her death surfaced, news outlets sought confirmation of her cause of death from UGA in July and August. Spokesperson Greg Trevor said the university would not comment on Cabrera’s death out of “respect” for her family.
Nevertheless, UGA and Athens community members gathered to remember Cabrera alongside her family and friends with a vigil and procession across UGA’s campus. Hosted by the Athens Immigrant Rights Coalition, the Latin American and Cultural Studies Institute, the UGA chapter of the United Campus Workers of Georgia and several students, a group of about 30 participants walked from Brumby Hall to the Hunter-Holmes Academic Building and on to Casa Amarilla, the LACSI campus home on Hull Street, to pay their respects for Cabrera on Oct. 23.
“Gaby is one of the people who made the university run every day and to whom we’re all indebted,” said Leanne Purdum, an AIRC member. “And while I didn’t know her, in the process of working on this schedule, we’ve learned about how loved she was and how much she is missed.”
While the event was “bittersweet,” Cabrera’s cousin Lili Orozco said she and her family appreciate the UGA community’s continued thoughts about Cabrera. “It’s not that we’ve learned to live without her being here. It’s just that we’ve somewhat become accustomed to accepting the fact that she’s not going to come back,” Orozco said. “Walking up and seeing all of her photos just brought a rush of emotions. It’s heartbreaking remembering it all, but it’s so nice to see that people showed up.”
On the second stop of the procession at Hunter-Holmes, a few speakers shared Ana’s story. Emigrating from Michoacán, Mexico, Cabrera moved to Athens when she was 12 years old. “She was an important member of our community, and she mattered,” Purdum said. “It’s important to note she loved UGA. Every time there was a football game, she would dress up in red and black colors to show her pride [in] this university.”
Amy Ross, a geography professor at UGA involved with LACSI, extended her sympathy to Cabrera’s family and shamed the university for its inaction toward COVID-19. “We are so sorry for your loss, and we’re here because we want ni una más—not another one,” Ross said. “Our leaders ask us just to carry on and take more casualties, and this is wrong. The pain that Ana’s family is experiencing today and we share with them is, indeed, a feeling that is percolating throughout our family as more and more people are affected by the reckless, dangerous, disgraceful behavior of this university.”
While Cabrera called Athens home, she hoped to move to Chicago one day. Outside of work, Cabrera enjoyed spending time with her family, Zumba dancing and makeup. “She was a person with a long life ahead of her,” Purdum said. “She had hopes and dreams, and she went home every night to a family that loved her.”
Kimberly Perez, an artist and student at Cedar Shoals High School, designed a banner to encapsulate Cabrera’s journey from Mexico to Georgia to Chicago. Depicting prominent Athens and Michoacán buildings and the skyline of Chicago, the banner was hung from the top of Hunter-Holmes.
The procession ended at Casa Amarilla. On the front porch, there was an altar with candles, letters, photos and sugar skulls to remember Cabrera. People who knew Cabrera—and those who didn’t but were touched by her loss—wrote letters to her and others whose lives were taken by COVID-19. Taking a glimpse into Cabrera’s life through the materials left on the altar, the vigil’s participants took turns leaving letters and flowers in her memory.
“I really miss her, and this is nice what you’re doing for her and her family,” said Cabrera’s younger cousin, Charlie.
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