More than 100 people attended Vida/SIDA's (Life/AIDS) candlelight vigil and parrandaa traditional Puerto Rican holiday caroling and musical processionto commemorate World AIDS Day in the Humboldt Park neighborhood of Chicago Dec. 1.
Vida/SIDA's Bartolo Hernandez de Jesus HIV/AIDS Initiative, a project of the Puerto Rican Cultural Center (PRCC), has a mission that is, according to its website, "[t]o educate, advocate and empower Chicago's Puerto Rican/Latino community by promoting culturally responsive health care/resources that enable health affirming behaviors and attitudes."
The vigil began at the Institute of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture (IPRAC) and ended at a public-art project, "La Casita de Don Pedro." A Navi-Arts holiday art market and an exhibition the institute's day care center sponsored also took place at the IPRAC in conjunction with Vida/SIDA's World AIDS Day event.
The commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, Dr. Bechara Choucair, was among those who spoke, noting that the number of new HIV/AIDS cases has significantly decreased over the last few years, However, he added that the decrease has been less prevalent in the Latino and African-American communities, especially among the youth populations.
Jose Lopez, executive director of the PRCC, said, "Here we are commemorating and honoring those who have lived and died of AIDS. We do it in an atmosphere of celebration because something very wrong happened in the early days of the epidemic ... There was a stigma with people who had AIDS and died of the disease. In the past there was a correlation between someone dying of AIDS and the stigma that they were gay. We needed to change that completely.
"There is the double challenge of dealing with AIDS and also dealing with homophobia in the community. We commemorate World AIDS Day but we also have to think about stigmatization but more importantly that we get away from the idea of tolerance. We are beginning to talk about acceptance. That we can accept our brothers and sisters however they choose to express their human right to their sexuality."
After the remarks at the IPRAC, the parranda led a procession to "La Casita," visiting a number of businesses along Division Street to bring awareness of World AIDS Day to the Humboldt Park community.
At La Casita," members of Generation La Vida/SIDA program led by and for LGBTQ youthspoke. Anthony Ruiz, Mario Mundo, Eric Amaya, Gustavo Varela, Joshua Padilla and Justin Kelly represented Generation L at the event.
Dianna Manjarrez, Vida/SIDA's director of prevention services, noted that Vida/SIDA was chosen by Be the Generation Bridge to bring awareness of HIV vaccine research to the Latino community in Chicago.
Interested persons can visit www.prcc-chgo.org/category/vidasida and www.facebook.com/vidasida for more information.