Si Se Puede: Speaking Up as Allies to Latinx Communities

“Si se puede” or “yes, one can,” a term coined by Dolores Huerta, could be heard in speeches by Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers in the early 1970s. It’s a slogan that not only served to unify Latinx people, namely Mexican Americans, but also raised awareness around the plight of farm workers. It is still used almost 40 years later for various causes. Little did we know that a decade after the saying became popular, the world would face a health epidemic — HIV/AIDS — it had never seen before, and Hispanics would become a disproportionately affected group.

For the past twelve years, my life has largely centered on this very group, even though I myself am not Hispanic. At 14 years old, I began to take food and clothes down to a local orphanage in Tijuana, Mexico, through missionary work with my church. Almost immediately, it was apparent that I needed to learn the language if I wanted to be effective. I learned formal Spanish including reading and writing in school, while I learned what we call “street” Spanish from monthly visits to Mexico.

Later on, Tijuana would grow to become like a second home. It’s where I met my now ex-girlfriend and possibly the very place I contracted HIV. It was in this border town, a melting pot of both U.S. and Mexican culture, that I learned about life. The people, ways of life, and spirit of helping fellow humans I’ve seen in Tijuana has always inspired me. It’s also opened my eyes, educated me with real-life experiences on the plight of undocumented workers and given me a bird’s eye view on the rippling effects of poverty.

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Josh at the Mexican Cultural Institute in Washington D.C. September 2016

Although I am Caucasian, I have continually immersed myself in Mexican culture. Whether it is television, food or music, I am “Tijuanense” — Spanish slang for someone from TJ. I was given the Spanish nickname of “Juanito Perez” (a name I got after working as a painter in my early teens) among others such as “Miklo Velka” and “Güerro.” I may not be Mexican by blood but I often say I am at heart.
My love for the Spanish language and knowledge of the culture has served especially useful in my HIV advocacy. I help moderate the largest Spanish-speaking international support group on Facebook, Grupo Internacional para Personas con VIH/SIDA y las Personas Afectadas, founded by fellow HIV advocate Maria Mejia. With over 18,000 members from across Latinx America, the group has given me a unique perspective not only of HIV here in the United States, but also on the challenges faced by the Latinx community across the world. Whether it is antiretroviral shortages due to the political situation in Venezuela or a lack of one-pill-a-day treatment options in countries such as Mexico, change is necessary.

Culturally, this virus remains a highly stigmatized and hush-hush subject within the community. Far too often, the voices of Hispanics go unheard, in some cases due to fear of social rejection due to the simple act of being open about one’s status. As discussed in the group on Facebook and elsewhere, various factors that can contribute to the stigma, including male machismo, lack of education/awareness, religious beliefs, language barriers, immigration status and poverty. I have great regard for the power of these issues, informed by my personal experiences and my efforts to appreciate the diverse cultures the Latinx community. I am committed to being a strong ally.

To those of use who are not Latinx, I urge you to put the term “si se puede” to use by uniting with our Hispanic brothers and sisters to look beyond our differences and break the stigma. At a time when Hispanics make up almost one-third of new HIV infections and the alarming news that one in 36 Latinx men (and one-quarter of gay Latinx men) will become HIV positive if current trends continue, it’s more important to speak up now than ever. We must support the work of Latinx leaders to get information about treatment as prevention and pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) out to the Hispanic community. By doing so, we are not only chipping away at the stigma, but also saving lives along the way.

A battle isn’t won with a single soldier but rather with an army, a team in which each person’s role contributes to the overall group goal. It’s my hope that as an ally I can continue to lend a voice to the voiceless and a helping hand to a community that often lives in silence, alienated from the HIV/AIDS conversation.

If you are a Latinx person living with HIV or know someone who is, I would encourage you to visit the HIV/AIDS Resource Center for Latinos at TheBody.com by clicking here. If you are in search of a Spanish support group online check out Grupo Internacional by clicking here.

**This article was originally written by Joshua Middleton for http://www.thebody.com. Permission to share published content should be obtained through the original author and or Thebody.com**

Original Article Link can be found by clicking here

The Courage To Survive: Painstaking Reflections

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According to the statistics the average human being lives twenty seven thousand three hundred and seventy five days. That is a lot of days if you ask me and astonishing that it only takes one of those days to change the rest of one’s life forever. It seems in the broad spectrum of things that we have a lot of time on this earth however the reality is whether HIV positive or negative, the reality is our life here is very short. Throughout our lives we experience everything from the good, the bad, and the ugly. This life is a journey filled with ups and downs, different experiences, and moments in life we will never forget. Today June 5, 2015 marks one of those unforgettable significant markers in my life as it is my three year anniversary since being diagnosed with the human immunodeficiency virus “HIV”.

As the date approaches every year despite mentally having accepted this virus as part of my life, it still tends to bring about an array of emotions within my soul. Vivid memories of that day come back like an old black and white film on rewind mode in my head hearing those words that would change my life forever “You Are HIV Positive”. Similar to someone who suffers from PTSD, I think it is completely natural for those of us who are positive, to experience similar symptoms on and surrounding the date of our diagnosis. Although everyone copes in different ways it is a very mind boggling experience to explain to anyone that hasn’t personally went through it themselves.

The slow motion words of the doctor reading my diagnosis making it seemed like time had stopped in itself slowly roll back into my mind. The looks on the nurse’s faces drawing the blood for my confirmatory western blot test while I tried to gain the strength to stand after facing news that numbed every inch of my body come to mind. A car ride which in reality only took forty minutes seeming like the longest trip of my life flashes before my eyes. The fear of the unknown stigma that I may soon face are now in the past as the once unknown to me is now known although the fear still tries to regain the upper hand. Memories of the look on my parents face and the tears that rolled down their eyes as they found out their youngest son had being diagnosed yet again with a life threatening condition, seem so clear and vivid. The deafening sound of my ex-girlfriend as she let out an intense scream upon me telling her of my diagnosis seems to ring louder towards this time of year. The daily medicine that has become a routine for me seems much harder to swallow around this time of year.
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It’s hard to believe three years have gone by when I didn’t even know how I would make it through day one. The doctor appointments every three months serve as a reminder of the virus that resides within my body. As these appointments approach the blood vampires better known as phlebotomists draw my blood to make sure my medicine continues to function properly. HIV stigma has reared itself in my life in a variety of ways throughout these years and is an enemy I am constantly battling to defeat. As I reflect on my own life I also hear the voices of those newly diagnosed who are going through what I went through not so long ago. When tragedy strikes desperation makes its voice known in those seeking support from others living with the virus. It calls to mind the voice of a young twenty two year old male who had already been through so much searching for a shoulder to lean on from others in the same position, that man was me. Knowing that I can relate doesn’t always make it easier, I know how that day felt, and it wasn’t easy.

Although this time of year is a rough one, a time of reflecting the diagnosis that forever changed the world as I knew it; it’s also a time to reflect on the blessings that have happened. I have found within myself an inner strength, an inner love, and inner happiness that is unlike any other I have ever felt. I have worked through the grieving process and though I still have my good and my bad days, the good always outweigh the bad. I’ve been very blessed to have the opportunity to help others become educated about the virus through sharing my story and helping prevent new HIV infections across the globe. Through the international support group I help moderate on facebook (link found on right hand side of webpage) I have had the opportunity to meet those living with HIV from all over the world. Social media has opened the doors in sharing my story, fighting HIV stigma, and offering emotional support to those who are going through a such a pertinent time of life. There are only two roads in this journey and one is letting the virus define you and bring you down while the other is accepting reality but at the same time learning to pick up the pieces of the puzzle to move forward in this journey.

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Three years ago today I never knew if I could find someone that cared for me and be able to overlook my condition, I now know that is possible. It is much different to simply hear the words than watch the action take place. I am with my beautiful girlfriend who is HIV negative and fully supports me and my activism for the cause. Doubts clouded my mind if a child would ever be a possibility for me, this also came true. Although we lost our child to miscarriage I still consider myself the father of a beautiful angel baby that now resides up above until the day his parents come home to see her innocent face. So many strides have been made in the research field as well as studies of medical happening right before my eyes in the short three years I have lived with this virus. As coincidentally today is also long term survivor’s awareness day, I look forward to the continuing of these research efforts for the ultimate goal that we all await, the day of an HIV/AIDS free generation. I’m blessed to live with good health and that my antiretroviral medicine Complera continues to do it’s job.

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Although we may be far out from a cure I still continue to live life and enjoy every precious moment. Tomorrow is never promised for any of us regardless of our HIV status however one thing this virus has taught me to do is appreciate every moment of this journey. When we encounter roadblocks and obstacles in the way, they are simply tests, of our courage and strength. Giving up is the easy way out however surviving takes gull and determination and I am glad that through this process I remain a survivor. Three years and going strong with my whole life ahead of me!

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As always make sure to check out my contributor Positive Lite (link located on right) who continues to help me share my story. There are lots of other great bloggers as well as exciting things happening at Canada’s Online HIV/AIDS Magazine. If you would like to get in contact with me please hit the contact tab at top of my website for information of how to reach me. I hope everyone has a great weekend and start to the summer!