Usually, honest, accurate portrayals of Latinos, people with HIV, or gay people in media are few and far between. But a new book, Compa'eros: Latino Activists in the Face of AIDS by Jesus Ramirez-Valles (University of Illinois Press), shares the hopes, fears, dreams, and lives of 80 Latino gay, bisexual, and transgender, HIV-positive Latinos. Never before has a book documented the unique perspective of gay Latinos with HIV. Here, we highlight a few voices from the book.
Gregorio learned he had HIV, only after heading to the emergency room to treat a persistent cold. '[My cold] got so bad that I eventually started having breathing problems. I asked my roommate to take me to the hospital' I woke up three or four days alter. I had all sorts of equipment around my body. I had a tube going through my nose that even left a mark in my nose. I saw two of my best friends standing beside me. I cried. At the same time, it was comforting to see them...The doctor had called my family and told them my condition was severe and that I could die' Then a medical student told me, 'you have a type of pneumonia that is common among people with HIV. You know you're HIV positive, right?' I told him, 'no.''
'The impact was such that I thought about suicide; to throw myself out the window. But I think what kept me and gave me strength was my mother. Even in the worst of times, I have been close to my mother.'
Ram'n came down with candidiasis, an infection that frequently causes white patches in the mouth. 'I thought it'd go away in a few days. But it didn't. I got scared. I went to the doctor. I saw her face changing. 'You got AIDS,' she told me. My world fell apart. 'How much life I got?' That was the first thing that came to my mind.'
Ram'n spent all night crying and thinking about his future: 'What am I going to do?' 'When am I going to die?' 'My children are so little.'
Ram'n chose to talk to his two teenage children individually. He first talked with his daughter. 'She cried like Mary Magdalene. But she told me she loved me and supported me.' It was a little more difficult for his son than his daughter.
'My son took it differently. He was serious and didn't say a word. I felt very bad, like the whole world had collapsed. I cried and then fell asleep. Next morning, he comes to me. He hugs and kisses me. [He said,] 'I'm sorry, but I didn't know what to say. I don't know what to tell you. The only thing I can say is that I love you, and you can count on me.''
'My mother accepts me, and she loves me,' Jacobo says. 'She knows I'm HIV-positive and supports me, even though she is getting very old, she comes from a rural area and had very little education. Right now, she is a very important part of my life. She encourages me, 'son, we all are going to die. When? We don't know. So trust in God and ask him to guide you and to help you go on.''
During one of his hospital stays in Chicago, Jimmy met a man who told him about the services provided by the organization. Jimmy was interested in going but afraid of walking in alone, so he asked the man if he could take him. Jimmy went and since then has participated in a social support group.
'I met many people; lots of people who have been living with this for many years,' Jimmy says. 'Some of them have lived with this for up to 15 years. I realized that I wasn't alone. I also realized that I was wasting my time with those depressions. The compa'eros helped me' They encourage me and give me hope.'
'When I became positive, I thought I'd die in two weeks,' Marc says. 'I'd go out and see people on the streets but they had no value for me anymore. I'd be crying all the time, thinking I was about to die. [My boyfriend] helped a lot. I had nothing. I had no job, and he told me, 'don't worry, you'll have what you need while we figure out what to do with this illness.' I felt very supported'without it, it would have been devastating for me.' Marc then found a support group for Latinos with HIV through the AIDS Foundation of San Francisco. 'I felt like I was the only person who was [HIV] positive,' he says. 'When I went to the group, I found a lot of friends. Some of them were actually friends of mine, who had never told me they were positive, too. We'd be very careful about our privacy.'
'When I first came out, I was like this HIV-positive poster child,' Jack says. 'I was young, and nobody was speaking in [my hometown] about being positive. So people started taking notice of this young Latino boy that was positive and wasn't afraid to say he was. Any opportunity that presented itself, I was on it.'
'When I became HIV-positive, of course, part of me lost control,' says Renato. 'Mentally I was sure'I was 23'I was never going to make it to 30. So I decided I had to do everything that I wanted to do in my life. I learned French, I got certified in scuba diving, I joined a gym. I started going back to Puerto Rico all the time. I spent a lot more time with my friends and developing the close friendships, and I got a boyfriend who was also HIV positive. It has been a blessing. Everyone that I knew from that era, when I was 23, is dead. I feel an incredible gift that I'm alive. It has made me much more aware of the beauty of living. My spiritual life has really brought me a lot closer at a spiritual level than I think I had been before. My consciousness for social justice I think is influenced by HIV so much and all the things that I'm doing are really a product of HIV.'
From Compa'eros: Latino Activists in the Face of AIDS. Copyright 2011 by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. Used with permission of the University of Illinois Press. This material may not be reprinted, photocopied, distributed or reposted online without the written permission of the copyright holder.