Four years ago, Samuel Lopez saw three Latino men waiting to be served at the Toronto People with AIDS (PWA) Foundation. After watching them wait for hours without being attended to, Lopez approached a PWA worker.
“I’m going home and I need to know that they are going to be served,” said Lopez. After being asked to tell the trio in Spanish that they would not be helped, Lopez reiterated his point. “I can help you tell them they’re going to be served. You can tell them they’re not going to be served. It’s easier for you to do that. It’s not easy for me to do, considering they look like me.”
That was the beginning of a new journey for Lopez.
In 2006, Lopez and Claudia Medina formed Latinos Positivos (LP), a group for HIV-positive Latinos and Latinas, to avoid such incidents.
With more than 100 members across Ontario, 80 of them in Toronto, LP has, in a mere four years, grown from providing support, information and translation services to holding educational conferences and social events and making films about their experiences.
“Latinos Positivos is for the Spanish-speaking community with HIV, for their friends, their families, their partners, for anyone that needs help,” says Lopez.
With funding from PWA, the AIDS Committee of Toronto (ACT), Community One Foundation, Abbott Laboratories and other sources, LP has developed capacity-building initiatives to help community members help themselves.
“The case used to be that you [doctors, social workers, activists, community and family members] were working for people who were dying. That’s not the case anymore. You are now working with people who are living, and living longer than they thought they would,” said Lopez.
LP meets once a month in the Village or at people’s homes to discuss the group’s current situation and future plans. ACT provides a space for a support group to meet twice a month. PWA has given LP a venue to run their programs twice a week.
Things have changed from the days of people being left out in the hall.
Positivo does not only mean being HIV-positive. It means moving forward and doing so by thinking and acting positively. Hard work and dedication are balanced by social gatherings and celebrations.
“Social life is important in everyone’s life to get away from their reality,” said Lopez.
On May 23, Latinos Positivos crowned their new queen, Joaquin Ramirez (aka Tiffany Kidman), a refugee from El Salvador recently granted status in Canada, and the new Lady Latinos Positivos, Ingrid Betancourt.
Speaking with pride, Lopez said of Ramirez, “It takes guts to say ‘I’m proud to be HIV-positive. I have no shame, nothing to fear, and I’m proud I’m doing something to spread the word about protecting yourself.’”
For more information about Latinos Positivos, visit their blog site: latinospositivos.blogspot.com