A Wall That Won’t Divide, but Will Heal : A longtime Eastside activist has planned a project to bring the issue of AIDS and its rising toll among Latinos to the hearts and minds of the people in his community in a unique way.


I had a dream of bringing more awareness about HIV and AIDS to the people I am a part of and grew up with.

I grew up in El Sereno, went to Catholic school there. At the age of 18 I got involved in a political campaign, and started to work for a Los Angeles city councilman by age 20.

Since then, I’ve been an activist for over 20 years. I know my community well. I know that educating the Latino culture about AIDS is not impossible, but it has to be molded, has to originate within the community.


This project occurred to me because I am a recovering alcoholic and because, in coming out of the closet as a gay, I realized a lot of my friends were HIV-positive or had died of AIDS.

In many funerals, there are two groups of people in the church. The ones in the front, the family, say: “My son died of pneumonia.” Then at the back, the friends, they say: “He died of AIDS.”

In my recovery I’ve dealt with the issue of denial versus reality. I wanted to address this.

As a gay Latino and a recovering alcoholic, I know that you have to accept who you are.

There are just so many people becoming infected in our community, and the denial in the Latino community is so strong. I realized that in order for education to reach my people, we would need a project to tear down the denial and to create a discussion.

This project creates a comfortable setting for discussion of the disease.

We started in September, 1993. I got a group of people in the community together to share the vision. Then I went to community leaders and elected officials. I contacted well over 200 people. Ninety-nine percent--from parents at local schools to celebrities such as Culture Clash--have given a positive response.

We have the involvement of the Catholic Church. I went to an old friend who was very interested, Father Juan Santillan. He became chairman of the board of our group.


He has spoken many times of burying people who died of AIDS. He has seen the pain, the anguish, the shame of many families.

In AIDS organizational circles, the Catholic Church is taboo. But I believe you cannot restrict involvement of an institution like the Catholic Church and then think you are going to create a project for the Latino community. The church and religious institutions are part of our culture.

My board of directors are straight, they’re gay, religious, non-religious. There are men and women. There are Latinos and non-Latinos.

We are a group of people interested in saving lives and creating a foundation for people to heal from the losses of their loved ones.

We have many Latino mothers involved who have lost sons to AIDS. There is a strong acceptance of this project from them. We have started a support group for Latino families who lost relatives to AIDS. It is for those who want to share their stories and pain with other families.

The wall memorial will be built at Lincoln Park. The process of approval has begun and we have the support of city officials.


The wall will be of concrete and colored tile. There will be an amphitheater with seating. The design was done by David Angelo, an architect from the community who has designed other public monuments in East Los Angeles.

The memorial is going to have eight panels. Six will contain painted murals depicting life with AIDS in the Latino community. Two panels will contain the names of 2,000 people who died of AIDS.

The names will be submitted from the community. There is no restriction on geographics or ethnicity of the names. If someone has a loved one who died of AIDS in Los Angeles and a nephew in Chicago, then we’re not going to restrict that submission.

We’re trying to raise $350,000 to construct the wall and provide for AIDS education as we build it. The money will come through community fund-raisers.

This is not about building a wall to idolize people who died of AIDS. We are doing it for healing, for acceptance, for breaking down denial. Most important is to empower the community to take on the issue of AIDS.

We need to be respectful of people’s feelings and religious beliefs and attitudes--without compromising the goal of our project.


In September, we had 60 people marching in the Mexican Independence Day parade. It was the first AIDS group ever to march in that parade. It was one of the most powerful moments of this project. It was televised on Channel 34, on Spanish television.

In the last six years, the highest increase of AIDS in Los Angeles has been among Latino women at 168%. Latino women represent 31.6% of the total female AIDS cases in Los Angeles County.

Latino males had an increase of 95% in the last six years. As of September, they are 23.5% of the male cases.

Of all the children infected in Los Angeles County, almost 45% are Latino.

That is why this project is so necessary. We need to be able to say that AIDS can affect anyone.