In the afternoon leading up to its gala marking both World AIDS Day and its 25th anniversary, Vida/SIDA hosted a vigil and tour of its facilities throughout Humboldt Park.
The remembrance at Casita de Don Pedro, 2625 W. Division St., was led by Puerto Rican Cultural Center executive director Jose Lopez.
"When we founded Vida/SIDA, if you died from AIDS, your casket would be closed," said Lopez, standing beside an alter erected in Casita de Don Pedro's courtyard. "Think of what that means for a Puerto Rican family … People were in a state of denial."
The organization was initially formed because of the need for culturally competent care for HIV-positive Puerto Ricans. It is the only remaining organization in the Midwest focused on the needs of LGBT Latino/as.
An overall goal for Vida/SIDA, Lopez said, was devising a counter-narrative for within the Latino/a communityone that would not foster homophobiaagainst the idea that AIDS was a "gay disease."
"We started in a small storefront," Lopez said, adding that today the organization has many different initiatives.
The group next toured the drop-in space for Generation L, Vida/SIDA's program for LGBT Latino/a youth, as well as their new office space, which the organization began to occupy in October.
"At a time when other organizations are closing their doors, I'm glad we're able to expand our vision and be able to grow," said Vida/SIDA Director Juan Calderon.
Now that the Vida/SIDA offices have moved, the organization has been able to dedicate all the space in its previous building to El Rescate, Vida/SIDA's transitional housing facility for LGBT youth. The facility has been open since early 2012, and was the last stop on the Dec. 1 tour.
"We started on the top floor and moved our way down," said Calderon, who added that the facility now has about 25-30 beds. The residential portion of the building was finalized in mid-November.
Each of the three residential floors has its own kitchen, bathroom and lounge area. All of the furniture was donated, and El Rescate is still seeking donations of hygiene products and food for its residents, Calderon said.