HIV Crisis on the Texas-Mexico Border


let’s go back to the day that you found
out what’s the first thing that went through your mind am I gonna die I I
really thought I was gonna die growing up no one ever mentioned HIV to
me like it wasn’t in the schools it wasn’t the conversation held at home
like I said I grew up I’m latina I grew up in a Catholic household and we’re in
Texas it’s an abstinence-only state and so that conversation wasn’t had with me
or many of my peers do you think in this community that there is an HIV crisis oh
yeah waita cries yeah it’s a crisis right now the number one group getting
infected disproportionately a young gay and bisexual men known as men who sex
with men 24 younger I could have avoided this you know I never had any classes
that taught me to protect myself or anything so I’ll just going for my
parents is a pent up gave me a whole talk that if you’re gay you’re gonna get
beeps and that stigma is so alive and thriving in the valley my name is Paula Ramos and this is Latin
ex the word Latin ex has been given a lot of different meanings in the media
but at its core it stands for all the people within the Latino community who
struggle to fit into one identity which covers a lot in this series we need to
document the most pressing racial political sexual and cultural issues
facing one of America’s fastest growing demographics so we’re here at the us-mexico border
and Brownsville where we are is one of the 34 permanent checkpoints and what
you see is this right you see a blend of two cultures two identities two
languages two countries Brownsville itself is ninety percent
Latino a lot of people a lot of immigrants come here knowing exactly
what they’re stepping into they have hopes and dreams ambitions the one thing
they don’t know is that in Brownsville in this entire region there’s a huge HIV
epidemic particularly among the Latino community the Rio Grande Valley is one
of the most politically contentious regions in the country it also happens
to be a place where HIV is affecting increasing numbers of queer Latinos
according to the CDC HIV diagnosis decline in the u.s. from
2011 to 2015 yet rates of new HIV infections for
Latino men who have sex with men have increased in the Rio Grande Valley
specifically eighty five percent of people who contract HIV are Latino and
seventy five percent of new cases are male but why we wanted to meet some of
the people being affected by this crisis and learn more about the unconventional
means they are using to do something about it
Joey vadas also known as Beatrix Lestrange started a program called drag
out HIV in 2017 to use drag as a platform to confront social stigma
head-on hi my name is Jo : Elias I am a
community organizing coordinator for by the AIDS Council and I am also trying to
as beatrix estranged so if you’re like in brownsville says
heaven XP i like will do that happy now right yes especially here in downtown
bronzo on one end you have the international bridge that goes into
Mexico and then here you have a little Mexican restaurants like family-owned
yeah literally that goes on every point debacles on everything
if you come to Brownsville Texas you’ll have buckles in every corner no that’s
something I love about the city it’s like I feel like every corner we turn
into it’s like a celebration of our culture especially even here in town
like even in terms of religion and faith and spirituality yeah like you’ll have
like the immaculate like the cathedrals and then you have like the 80s the bull
any custom or spiritual spaces that are based on like traditional Mexican folk
healing so there’s like literally a little bit for everyone here so the
spoiler there’s my building there are so many people that are dedicated to
helping our community here in the valley but I feel like there definitely is a
crisis especially because in communities of color if you’re queer bisexual your
risk for HIV is significantly higher because both of the communities that
don’t have access to proper sexual education or access to reproductive
health care or health insurance you know facing all these kinds of barriers that
essentially prevent them from even knowing how to take care of themselves
I’ve had situations where I’ve had younger people coming to get tested who
don’t even know what the term vagina is on a young age but they are still having
sex right so it’s that bad what’s the story behind drag-out HIV how was it one
drug raid HIV was kind of born out of the work that I had been doing in the
community you know what what if we did this kind of program where we get to
train other drag queens to do what I do teach them that like drag can be more
than just nightlife once we put the call out we recruited a series of nine drag
queens and then those nine Queens were given the opportunity to participate in
like four different trainings and workshops to learn about different
issues affecting the valley the directive it’s work is essentially
the same thing as a work as a tester or someone who’s doing risk reduction in
our offices it’s just in a way that’s a little bit more accessible for people I
had already been doing like amazing events for different nonprofits
pretty much like a year into that someone from Bali AIDS Council reached
out because they were interested in hosting a series of RuPaul’s Drag Race
viewing parties but what the intention of having testing staff on-site and do
like a community outreach event at the same time and they were basically
looking for someone to host and that’s why I met Oscar Lopez when I first heard
doing this work I was borderline homeless didn’t really have a lot going
on I don’t have a degree but he definitely saw something in me and he
would definitely give me that opportunity we’re going through the
valley AIDS clinic to get a sense of what is causing the HIV epidemic here in
this region oh and the Rio Grande Valley to understand why Latinos are
predominantly affected by this one of the first things that you notice is that
there’s no signage at all that this is an AIDS clinic there’s no evidence
whatsoever in the streets that you’re walking into an AIDS clinic we have to
be discreet about who we are to protect our clients so Westbrook clinic is the
name of the clinics that we operate and that’s because just having the words HIV
or Sita or or AIDS on anything er yeah it scares people
it makes them worry about who will see them coming in here when you say here
where are we like what are we seeing right now so this is our largest of all
of our sites of our three sites so we have an in-house pharmacy we have
in-house x-rays in-house dentists in-house mental health care and therapy
we developed that way because we learned the hard way that when we referred them
out to other clinics other doctors inevitably somebody would notice them
that recognize them through a remember or somebody would accidentally
help them or even in some cases purposely do so just out of ignorance
that we’re working to to make a difference to change things to make it
better Oscar grew up in the Rio Grande Valley
and has been working in the public health field since the AIDS crisis of
the 1980s HIV affected me personally because when I was living here in the
river valley when we first started to see people died from aids-related causes
my job then was to offer condoms to go out to the community to get people to
take care of their themselves in their health but my job also after work was to
recover the bodies after they died because the funeral homes wouldn’t bury
them so that forever changed who I became and have you noticed a difference
since thirty years ago is this still the same deal down the valley that you saw
back then or have things changed in a lot of ways and a lot of unfortunate
ways it’s still the same in terms of the homophobia the stigma of the disease
people are afraid to tell their family members the the way women are treated
and and and not respected and they’re not cheeseball do you think in this
community that there is an HIV crisis particularly among Latino men oh yeah
wieszczyk right yeah it’s a crisis right now the number one group getting
infected disproportionately a young gay and bisexual men known as men who sex
with men 24 in younger this does impact women that I want people to realize that
our Latino men are disproportionately infected by HIV here for the valley for
example one out of every four young Latino males will be come HIV positive
in their lifetime within the next two years so religion is obviously such a
big part of Latino culture right even walking down this hall you see crosses
don’t I see we’d kind of mighty yeah right behind me so it’s it’s it’s
present how does religion how would you say religion is playing a role and sort
of fomenting these these stigmas it continues to perpetuate that the norm is
wait til you get married that being heterosexual is ideal that anything else
then heterosexual is an abomination you’re bringing a disgrace upon the
family do the associate being at least in Latino culture being queer with
having HIV yeah that one equals the other so it is late denisita exactly and
you get what you deserve for for breaking all those rules that you know
our family does not and take a listen to your stomach and no
stomach issues is nausea vomiting diarrhea constipation stomach pains or
anything and appetites good oh please my name is Michael I’m 26
I’ve lived here my entire life I’ve been positive for about three years one on
three years was Jill did you tell people immediately or did you wait no I waited
about two days because I let it settled in with myself first I made peace with
it first before I told anybody on the first person I told was my best friend
then the second person I told was my mom did you tell your father I told her yeah
here’s what third person I told him and he felt like failures because they had
like warned me because it kind of gave me a whole talk that if you’re gay
you’re gonna get babes and that it would all come down to this would you say
among latino gay men and Latino bisexual men um do you think people are taking
care of themselves do you think people take the steps to come to these clinics
I don’t think everybody does my I mean some people are scared to run into
somebody they know I mean I I would sometimes feel scared I would I would be
scared to come over to the clinic because I’d be scared to see Daniel and
I wouldn’t want them to think anything of me or he’s having sex or anything are
people open about their HIV status are people even open about their the fact
that they’re gay there are a few people who are open about their HIV status but
that’s very few there’s not a lot of people that I know that are positive but
I assume there’s they’re out there you know Brownsville is a place steeped in Latino
culture and I can see why many Latinos feel at home here but then there’s the
undeniable machismo and while stigma surrounding queer identity and HIV isn’t
always obvious it’s still felt by many in the community we stay Campion Sally
they look Latino surveys I think I saw a guy in a bulimia sequentially ya know looking at him I wanted to know more about what it’s like
to be clear in the valley Sebastian who’s also known as Luna
Lestrange started using drag less than a year ago as a way to empower the
community through education so now where are we driving towards right now we’re
going to my grandma yeah we’re going just gonna go have like breakfast I
guess are they do they know about yes as you were growing up how did you
wouldn’t we were extreme most of the time like when I was growing up I
couldn’t understand because it was about to like boys like I was always used to
like an girl okay so then when was the moment that you decided to stop hiding
it after I came back from the army I got yeah yeah yeah and then I was like you
know what – like I don’t need to hide Who I am
especially because after I came back like three four months later I started
doing jog so what do you feel like when you put on drag when I put on like Luna
it’s like a whole process because that first is still Sebastian they’re still a
little boy underneath but as soon as like
transformed into Luna I feel like so much power it’s an amazing idea to talk
about the issues and drug because people are gonna listen they want to hear what
this big monster it has to say you know that way so you’ve always had a you’ve
always been close is that how you would describe your relationship very very
close yeah it’s kind of like we’re like stuck together from like II still don’t
believe oh yeah I’m like a big mama’s boy it’s just a bond that we have and
Erica you know in a lot of Latino families there’s always this expectation
right that the Sun not get Dean I guess had much all right that they have to
sort of grow up to be these not very exactly he’s much us is that sort of the
vision you had of Sebastian when he was a kid
no it was like whatever makes him happy that’s gonna make me happy do you think
that’s something that most Latino families think no a la cultura the you
know me I can Oh siempre es de que no a silver one tiene que ser hombre y tiene
que se las velas como era la paz pero and luckily I do peer circle of me
Horace lo que la our Feliz my Oh Sara me Feliz
you know it’s also a llama let’s have a menos we work on it see she put you on
rocky come where our VidCon costume yeah Guerrero
condo Marcia drug yeah yeah neither go Neela drag out HIV
have you been there with him no no they’ve never seen me perform I was like
it’s at night and they’re like morning people
mm-hmm you’re late almost were like a buoy nearly as here is okay okay sin
tienen el el impacto que está teniendo lo que él está siendo si como no tengo
esta effect on a la comunidad y Saluki cuando yo tenía la da de l i7 que por
atras mu normal antes normal Chevy lava media Maria de la rose’ ax y Los Dinos
ambient a second estaba la hospital que él tenía HIV each Athenian ago la Vida
Houston oysters Xavier que que él era a let’s say int efika kimono Maremma sex
wallow siempre lo you can see that the perfect marriage le haut no it’s just oh
yeah la ronde yamir mother of the day is notice it because like a lot o you see
toys yeah poor sucker yeah yeah so see post
overzealous Ramirez que no que por que no she open her on her toes yeah
ustedes no area viendo VV Durst experience yeah like como se puede
cambiar de su se puede cambiar en la manera como estamos Joey Sebastiaan
al-haram poco más con la gente a breeze más un poco elemental edad de como Dyson
del machismo Dec todos podemos un poquito se habla de esto aqui Ayanda
Kiera scar okay Rivero can you so we’re in mcallen which is actually
one of the poorest cities of America but it’s in this most unexpected background
that we’re about to go to drag out HIV which is a party that brings together
the community to empower them to motivate them and to inspire them to get
tested I do expect this to be more than just a party and actually a space we’re
really important conversations are taking place how long does it take to go
through this whole process standard beer trucks phase takes like an hour and if I
have time I’ll like go and do detailed work but stuff like drag our ATVs like a
passion project so I want to make sure that I try to look my best but I also
want to make sure that I make time for all the other stuff like running the
show and making sure the queens are on time and making sure the DJ’s on time
and making sure the space is comfortable for the queens that everyone has what
they need so tell me a little bit about what happens outside of this room what
is born walking it’s a fun way to do HIV outreach and prevention okay I mean
that’s not really that clear it is because people feel so much more
confident or they let down their wall one day see a drag performer because
sometimes being in an office in a clinic seeing all these like sexual health
messages that can be like overwhelming for people but if you’re at a bar it
just makes it so much easier for these little process and even if you’re not
here for the octave as part of it at least your senior drug show but
hopefully you left with something more than just this is just a drag show
well many Latinos who are HIV positive are still hesitant to talk publicly
about it I met one person living with a disease
who was willing to speak up about the challenges and barriers he faced my name
is Adrian Castellanos people call me Adan I’m 25 years old I’m from the Rio
Grande Valley I’m an intersectional activist and I’m HIV positive these are
all kind of taken at different times this is after I found out what what went
through your mind how do you do find out so I had been sick a few months leading
up to before I found out and they got to the point where one day I got home from
work and I collapsed at home like I just I couldn’t walk anymore my mom found me
and so she drove me to the hospital and the next day the doctor came in he kind
of like paused for a second and I was like what’s going on and he said you has
a positive for HIV but he said your HIV has progressed so we’re diagnosing you
with AIDS basically my muse is so much that he don’t like I was on my way up
why do you think it took you so long to know that you were HIV positive yeah the
health literacy level in the area and I think just in the state in general it’s
really low these conversations aren’t happening on top of that this is a
really poverty-stricken area and so I couldn’t afford to take time off of work
to go and get tested for a lot of people I think everywhere but especially in
this area a lot of people it’s either do you want to be able to put food in a day
or just continue being sick and hopefully deal with it later
explain to me how exactly how you’re turning this experience right in your
journey into empowering other people you know I I’ve been really fortunate to
have a really strong support system you know my family is on board and I’m able
to say like yeah I mean should be positive and I’m gay and I’ve been
through these things and I’m still here but I know that not everybody is lucky
to have that and so that’s kind of why I do the work that I do and I put myself
out in such a public way because we need to we need to have that conversation
it wasn’t happening before so I’m gonna do it
how’s everyone doing yeah makes a nice father please since I got HIV supports
all one who knows her status raise your home’s if you don’t know your status or
if you’ve been questioning your status because maybe you hooked up with someone
or you know whatever happened our team I beli AIDS Council is here for you wait
who hears on prep prep is the pill that you take once a TA that helps prevent
you from becoming infected with HIV if you’re exposed so if you didn’t know
that now you do until the thing is even if this message isn’t for you tonight
take it home to someone that you know because maybe they need to hear from
someone close to them and maybe hear that person tonight so again thank you
guys so much for being here who’s ready for some fucking drugs make some noise when you’re queer brown and Latin X
you’re constantly made to feel like you need to apologize for it I’m doing dry
it’s your way of taking all that power back and not having to apologize for who
you are to me your clinic is present everywhere in the valley is that
something that you imagined 30 years ago that this clinic could become such an
important support system for so many beyond these walls back then there was
no chance to imagine because we were just about saving who he could and
burying who had passed but I do believe that there is a greater purpose for us
and what we’re doing now and what we’re seeing is all these wonderful young
empowered individuals they’ve got their own support groups they’ve got their own
organizations up and running and we have to as a community as a whole support the
LGBT community on the us-mexican border so that we can survive and we will
survive and everybody gets the bail out of their house stops being afraid stops
being embarrassed and can’t test it just open up the little door listen we’ll
take care of the rest these potatoes tonight by Beatrix
estranged it’s been a pleasure and an honor being here
sharing the space forever you guys are loved you are important
you matter thank you for being a part of this journey it’s been a pleasure please from the outside the stats the stigma
the culture went to an HIV epidemic that sees no hope but the second that you
actually step into this town you realize that the valley is actually at the
forefront of change and that’s because there’s a group of Latin acts that are
using the most unconventional platform to change people’s minds right to open
people’s eyes so I I do feel optimistic about the way that the valley will
continue to be at the forefront of change you

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