On Dec. 1, The Puerto Rican Cultural Center-Vida/SIDA celebrated its 30th anniversary and acknowledged World AIDS Day with an anniversary gala at 3949 Gallery on Chicago's Northwest Side. Despite the cold and rain, the event was packed with guests who were treated to a full buffet dinner, music and dancing from a live band, several performances, and a silent auction. The keynote speaker for the evening was outgoing Illinois Congressman Luis V. Gutierrez ( D-4th District ).
After an opening red carpet and cocktail hour, emcees Jesus Hernandez-Burgos and Aliana Leyra Lalique greeted the guests and started the evening. Puerto Rican Cultural Center Executive Director Jose E. Lopez spoke about Vida/SIDA's important role in the Latinx community during the height of the AIDS crisis.
He said that in 1988, many in the community refused to address the crisis despite an atmosphere of shame and fear with widespread deaths and the anti-Latinx tradition of holding funerals with closed coffins. Lopez said, "We started Vida/SIDA because everyone has a right to express themselves, and we wanted to celebrate the lives of people who are living with and have died from AIDS
"Many in the community did not want to deal with the crisis, but we insisted on confronting it. The name 'Vida/SIDA' translates in English as 'Life/AIDS.'"
Amid thunderous applause, Congressman Gutierrez said, "We are celebrating 30 years of healing and growth in the community. It feels good to see the growth in our community." Gutierrez went onto speak about being an activist alongside Lopez and Gutierrez's own successor, Chuy Garcia, decades ago in the 1980s; he then spoke about the present administration and the continued fight for human rights: "Why do Black lives matter? Because of Medgar Evers and Martin Luther King [Jr.], who laid down their lives for the fight. They matter because Black people are responsible for me being here. We're all in it together; we work on civil rights regardless if you are trans, Black, Puerto Rican, Muslim."
On the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina and the Trump Aadministration's response to it, Gutierrez said, "We are the richest, most technically advanced country in the world. Did we act that way with Katrina? Did we act that way with Puerto Rico?" He closed out his words by saying "I am not retiring from being an activist. ... When there is still a fight for rights, you cannot rest."
As the program closed, staff members and founders were recognized for their service to the community through Vida/SIDA. Later, guests were treated to a rousing performance by Humboldt Park band Orquesta Leal.
Sponsors for the event included Howard Brown Health, Norwegian American Hospital, Gilead, Nellie's Puerto Rican Restaurant, Dr. Milady Velazquez D.N., and The AIDS Foundation of Chicago.