Machismo Keeps Too Many From Facing AIDS Facts


Eddie Gonzales loves everything about his Mexican American roots, with one exception.

He hates machismo, that domineering male attitude that is winked at by Latino traditions and culture. It can be the bane of lesser souls. When confronted with something unpleasant, the typical macho reaction is to steamroll it, or to ignore it.

That’s why Eddie hasn’t told his father that he is HIV-positive. He’s kept the truth from him for four years.

“He’s eventually going to find out,” says the 27-year-old L.A. native, “after he’s a little educated and ready to talk about it. My father’s pride gets in the way of my having a more solid relationship with him.”



When it comes to AIDS, a lot of Latinos aren’t ready for the truth. They don’t want to believe it can happen to them.

But it does.

Eddie, who talked on the condition that his real name not be used, is part of a tragic story that activists and leaders within L.A.’s Latino community have acknowledged but aren’t geared up to face: The deadly disease is hitting hardest these days among straight and gay Latinos.

Since the epidemic surfaced in 1982, 23% of the nearly 5,000 cases of AIDS reported in Los Angeles County involved Latinos, but the numbers have dramatically increased in the last three years. Latinos made up a third of all AIDS cases reported in 1992. And, the largest ethnic group of youngsters infected with HIV in Los Angeles County--41%--is Latino.

To drive the point home, activist Richard Zaldivar and others last week announced plans to raise funds to build a memorial to the Latinos who have died of AIDS. The eight-panel monument, patterned after the Vietnam War memorial in Washington, D.C., would contain the names of the more than 2,000 Latinos who have succumbed to the disease in L.A.

They’ve picked Lincoln Park as the site. It’s a place Latinos can’t easily ignore. The park is home to two important landmarks in Latino L.A.--El Parque de Mexico, which honors several Mexican revolutionary heroes, and Plaza de la Raza, the city’s leading arts center on the Eastside.

Eddie, who lost four friends to AIDS recently, understands the significance of the proposed location of “The Wall--Las Memorias,” as the proposed monument is called.


He used to visit Lincoln Park, but never with his father, who always seemed to be too busy.


Eddie grew up in a traditional Mexican American household in which his parents encouraged him to go to college and succeed in a chosen profession. That was easy enough. Today he’s a successful executive in music publishing.

But he was also expected to settle down and raise a family. He’d known since his early teens that he was gay, but he’d never acknowledged it to his parents, fearing their reaction.

One day, knowing it couldn’t be swept under the rug anymore, he told his mother: “If I do settle down, it won’t be with a woman.”

The disclosure shocked his family, leaving some members struggling to understand how it could have happened.

His father took it the hardest. The two could barely speak to each other without getting into an argument. The chill lingers.


“He doesn’t call me unless he’s in the mood to,” Eddie says. “It’s very rare that he calls.”

The despair over his family’s reaction didn’t compare to what he felt when he learned 4 1/2 years ago that he had tested positive for HIV--the result, he admits freely, of unsafe sex.

Depressed, he started to use drugs and alcohol, going off the deep end, he says. Some friends and family members, including his mother, rallied to his side and helped him get back on his feet. Don’t let family pressure and expectations stand in the way of happiness, one uncle told him.

“It made me feel very good to hear that,” Eddie said, “especially when I found out that he was gay, too.”

Today his health is relatively good. He shows no outward signs of the disease and is able to work comfortably. Yet the specter of AIDS is never far away. Four friends have died from it recently, and it has not escaped Eddie that his name some day might be among those included on the proposed memorial wall.

For now, though, he’s just hoping his father and a lot of other Latino parents can come to grips with AIDS.


“My father exemplifies the machismo thing in our culture. Being a man came first in my family,” he says. “This wall won’t go up if the Latino machismo doesn’t come down.”