North Americans have turned Latino hospitality into a colloquialism used mainly in passing. Mi casa es su casa is slang that’s spoken with humour and rarely any real meaning in the north. But to the staff at the Centre for Spanish-Speaking Peoples (CSSP), it’s a mandate.
“This is always your house, and we welcome you with open arms,” said Daniel Garcia-Herreros, HIV Men’s Outreach Co-ordinator at the CSSP, to the crowd that attended a community forum on Jan 26.
Members of Toronto’s Latino gay community filled the centre at 40 Wellesley St E to hear news of the first radio program to focus on queer Latinos living with HIV and HIV prevention in Ontario’s queer Latino community.
“This is a pilot project we are visualizing now. This is why we invited you all,” said Gerardo Bettancourt, CSSP Community Educator. Bettancourt has been working to realize the project for the past two years.
“I like projects related to community building. Since I was a kid I liked communication,” said Bettancourt.
Community is the key word. Bettancourt has conceived and instituted many of CSSP’s programs: Mano en Mano, Guys Like You, a film night and others. They all focus on queer Latinos living with HIV and on HIV prevention and are backed by an energetic and supportive staff.
With a $12,000 grant from ViiV Healthcare, in partnership with Shire Laboratories, in the pipeline, CSSP plans to launch its 14-week pilot project in late March. The program is scheduled to be a half hour show airing every two weeks, and CSSP wants Ontario’s queer Latino community to be involved in the process.
Celeste Joseph, a counsellor at CSSP, started the evening by outlining some of the problems queer Latinos face in Ontario, such as language barriers, depression and isolation. She said the CSSP’s goals for the radio program are to reduce stigma and isolation and provide information on community events and HIV prevention.
“We have to find a balance between identifying problems and finding solutions,” said Joseph. “These are ideas that we want your opinions on.”
Suggestions for names, times, dates, live shows, podcasts, pre-taped shows and themed shows were bounced around.
“It can’t be one way. It has to be interactive or you’ll lose my attention within 15 minutes,” said Ricardo Gormont. “If someone asks me if I’m going to listen to a pre-taped show, no way.”
“I see your point, and I advise you to join the advisory committee,” said Bettancourt.
Questions were taken seriously and with goodwill.
Bettancourt and his staff stressed that the program is not meant solely for Latinos in the GTA; it is geared to queer Latinos anywhere in Ontario.
Irania Ledesma, office manager at the AIDS Committee of Durham, shared her vision for the radio show via email after attending the meeting.
“One of the key pieces is for our Latino clients to know they are not alone and there are resources available for them in their language. Probably not in all communities, but the radio show will serve also as an indirect support resource for those individuals who are isolated due to geographical circumstances and emotional issues,” said Ledesma.
As the crowd shared their thoughts and ideas, different dialects and accents floated around the room: Mexican, Central and South American, Spanish zeta and anglicized Spanish.
All those present at the meeting spoke Spanish and were there for the same cause: to create a productive and successful radio program.
“The [radio show] project is targeted towards Latino PHAs in Ontario, but it could serve as a source of information for anyone, anywhere in the world,” said Ledesma via email.
“This is a start. Nothing is written in stone. The story is ready for the writing,” said Garcia-Herreros.
To join the advisory committee for the radio show, attend the first meeting on Feb 3 from 3 to 5pm at the CSSP, 40 Wellesley St E. If you’re interested in working on the radio show, a training workshop will be held at the CSSP on Feb 18 from 2 to 5pm.