by Eddie Gonzalez
I am going to tell a tale on a not so young lad, and as you can see, that is I, an immigrant, born in Mexico, Guadalajara, Jalisco, but being here since I was four years old definitely makes me a true citizen of the this amazing country. I am an open book, and believe that we write each chapter of our lives, as we go through different phases. This particular chapter scripted is about a moment that affected me internally.
Unfortunately, I cannot talk about my trip to America because I was way too young to remember, but I can say the journey that we take– known as growing up, builds that same emotional wall we want so desperately to cross over.
I would like to share that own border I created making my feelings illegal, not only to myself, but to others. This body provides the virus that attacks the body’s immune system, specifically the CD4 cells (T cells)—yes I am HIV positive. I am not ashamed to say it because this new lifestyle has transitioned me into a better person, and as much as I’d like to share a story about coping, and how I received the news, as well as disclosing it to my family, I’d like to leave that for another occasion. I rather focus on a taboo that imprisons us in a roller coaster emotional ride—stigma.
It took me two years to open up about my status, and when I did, I finally broke loose from that concrete holding my feet down, making it hard for me to walk—and without walking we cannot run—and without running we cannot fly—fly to that internal freedom.
I knew I had let out a personal demon of seclusion, and was proud of that step I had taken. Mainly because my only goal was to continue helping others, give a message of hope.
My childhood had its ups and downs, with a wrecking ball smashing my innocence any chance it could—if only the hash-tag me too was a thing back then, then my growing up would not have been a wreck itself. With that said, I’d like to point the importance for me to take that chance in disclosing my status. I wanted to serve as an example, and help my community still smuggling-over through their-own river of emotions, like a lost colonist arriving to a new land. In better words: understanding this disease they did not truly understand.
In 2013, I took the initiative to present an idea to a coordinator of a Catholic Youth Organization, and was sold head-on, not because we had a special brotherhood relationship, but he knew this was something different to engage the newer generations coming in to this organization.
The plan was to fight the stigma and discrimination that surrounds HIV involving the Catholic Youth groups by creating a platform to recruit as many people, young and—well not so young, to join the AIDS WALK.
We built our own Suicide Squad, not because we were considered psychotic villains, we were simply a crazy bunch taking the challenge to fight a taboo that even our institution was not too understanding. It was an amazing league on a way to do justice. We constructed a work plan, and created, “Píntalo de Rojo”, a campaign to educate our Latinos and begin to end the stigma wrapped around HIV.
I had written a short play, “Estigma Seropositivo”—Stigma Seropositive– a play that dealt with the stigma twirling around HIV. I scripted personal issues I had to face in the process of being positive, at work and with the family.
I thought everyone was on the same page as I was, but I couldn’t be more wrong. Don’t get me wrong the campaign was working beautiful. The younger generations of the youth groups were willing to cooperate. We were signing up close to twenty people a week. In three months we managed to get around two hundred folks to join our group, “Píntalo de Rojo”, for the Aids Walk. We definitely were the largest group marching proud, fighting for a cause; end stigma.
The process leading to the walk was my long hard road to hell. I learned first hand how stigma warped around HIV can affect someone. I can remember that night a sharp knife was pierced through my heart, repeatedly. And I mean that metaphorically—
I was in the darkest corner of my house, behind my laptop, in a trance that us writers can understand. Only we know that once we start pouncing our delicate fingers through the letters of the keyboard, to create words that are formed into sentences to build paragraphs inventing a creative and vivid illusion, we cease that moment to be only us, and our world, nothing else.
So there I sat, writing away a new story, listening to the rebellious harmonized music of rock, the genre that wants to make you head bang like a rebel without a cause, and go shit crazy— Rock is the emotion, that strength that loses you in a sense that makes you feel you belong to something.
I was in my dungeon of creation, at the same time enjoying a fine glass of wine to help my thoughts escape from reality.
Everything was crumbled like a helpless cookie, spreading its crumbs all over the place so it would not be put back together. My friend paid me a surprised visit, and without sugarcoating he simply said we had to cancel the theatrical play we were to present, and the only reason the campaign was still in full action was because it was too far in the game to stop it.
The reason was that the older members, in their 40s/50s, who had already moved on and had a family, filed a complaint on the entire concept of the campaign and the play itself. They accused me of promoting LGBT, when in my script it never mentioned anything of same sex couples, they even had the audacity to actually say that my messages were to persuade people to go and have AIDS because it was okay; I was being attacked due to the fact I was advising on safe sex—because unfortunately in our Catholic religion we are told that the use of condoms is a sin.
I don’t mind disclosing my status, and share my story to anyone, because I believe serving as an example is the best way to lead a broader education, but the actions concocted by the other members of the group hurt me in unimaginable ways. They made feel dirty, and regretful in coming out of the HIV closet.
I do believe that their intentions might’ve not meant to be harmful; they were simply protecting a belief they thought was correct. Unfortunately, us who are stigmatized feel oppressed and unwanted. When this baby of mine was trashed, I felt I myself was not accepted, and their false accusations did not make any matters better.
I zoned into my own little world, building a wall around me, to keep everyone out with no visible way to cross over my border. My heart was being poisoned by the darkness of depression, bruising any cheerful emotions, and the knots in my throat did not let me cry out for help.
I was back into a life I had struggled to escape. I once again was that young immigrant fearing for even existing. I was illegal to everything that made sense, and I loathed it. Their actions made me feel unsafe and ashamed. I had already been in that path of sadness, and it wasn’t beautiful. If I considered myself a true American, being 100% Mexican, I knew I had to fight for my equal. I could not stay in the oblivion because falling deeper into my hole I will lose.
I had distant myself from those who truly cared, and I couldn’t let them down, but most importantly, I could not let myself down—I believe in me, and that was my strength.
I knew some shit was hard to swallow, but I could not just sit back with my arms crossed deepening in sorrow. I stood up, and yelled, “NO MAS”, no more. I am the architect of my own life, and I had to build a strong present, for a broader future.
I cannot be angry to those who do not understand HIV. It is my will to educate in hope they understand. I am willing to walk in their shoes, if they walk in mine, swapping our paths for a brief moment, so they can understand what circles in my mind, and I can understand theirs. Maybe if we see each other’s pain we can come to an understanding.
Yes, I am HIV, but I am a human being. A good friend, who is like a brother, gave me this message I saw as hope—“No one knows the angel living in your heart”—and that’s true, it is up to us to show how big our hearts can be, through our actions. I created a slogan that helps me personally, “Si eres positive… no se puede ser negative”. “If you’re positive you cannot be negative.”
I want for everyone to understand that once we break the stigma, HIV/AIDS will be no more, and that is something worth fighting for.