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TV Reviews : A Sensitive Documentary on AIDS and Latinos

Sunday’s simultaneous broadcast of “SIDA Is AIDS” (“SIDA es AIDS”) on PBS and the all-Spanish Univision network is neither the first collaboration of this type between English and Spanish-language networks, nor the first on the dreaded disease.

But the one-hour documentary, which airs locally at 7 p.m. on KCET Channel 28 and KMEX Channel 34, is clearly among the best for the sensitive way it addresses the cultural taboos that have prevented an honest appreciation of the epidemic’s dangers in the Latino community.

The co-production of Sylvan Productions and KCET’s Latino Consortium starts by translating the epidemic’s magnitude with an alarming statistic: Latinos comprise only 9% of the U.S. population but account for 14% of the AIDS cases.

Drawing upon Latino health professionals, the program goes on to debunk the myths about how AIDS is transmitted and how it can be prevented. The program’s sober hostess, Univision’s Teresa Rodriguez, succeeds at this task by presenting the compelling stories of six AIDS patients living in Newark, N.J., Miami and Los Angeles. (Nearly all interviews are conducted in Spanish, which explains why Univision’s version carries a greater emotional impact.)

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A recovering intravenous drug user who contracted the AIDS virus in a Newark shooting gallery explains how the illness has caused him to re-evaluate his machismo and use a condom. A Miami health professional talks about Latinas who have contracted the virus because they were too afraid to upset family harmony by demanding that their promiscuous partners use condoms.

A Los Angeles patient painfully recounts how her late husband’s refusal to admit his bisexuality will cost her her life.

Each story shares a common purpose. They are intended to start a dialogue between AIDS patients, family members and health workers inside the home and church, two Latino institutions where frank discussion of sex is often encumbered by shame and fear.

The producers of “SIDA Is AIDS” must also be lauded for encouraging viewers to copy the program for further education efforts.

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