UCLA organization raises HIV / AIDS awareness in Latin American community at holiday event

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Art and community wellness merge for downtown Los Angeles Día celebration of los Muertos.

Marking the observed holidays from November 1 to 2, Grand Park will host its ninth annual Downtown Día de los Muertos event. As part of the 12-day celebration, park visitors can visit art installations, altars and community workshops in the park. An altar featured in the park, operated by the Los Angeles Music Center, was created by UCLA organization, the Los Angeles Family AIDS Network, with the Latino Outreach Understanding Division. Their altar, which highlights the impact of HIV and AIDS on women and Latinos, is meant to create a discussion about HIV and AIDS, said Natalie Sanchez, alumnus and director of LAFAN.

“Let’s not put these taboos on people affected by HIV and actually share some truths,” she said. “This will lead us to meaningful conversations about HIV and women. “

In Los Angeles, Latinos make up the majority of the population, Sanchez said, so Latinos make up the majority of the population. majority of people living with HIV in LA too. However, she said, within Latin American families there is often too much silence around the topic of sex, which leads to fewer conversations about the resources available for safe sex, such as sex. HIV testing.

In addition, HIV-positive women and children face greater disparities in the amount of care and resources available to them, Sanchez said. At the height of the HIV / AIDS epidemic, women and children infected with the virus have been largely ignored, so she said LAFAN aims to emphasize that women with HIV can still live long and healthy lives and receive treatment.

“HIV is very stigmatized,” Sanchez said. “It is very difficult for women, in particular, to openly express their HIV status. We hope to say that there is a community; there are resources available for women.

[Related: Grupo Folklórico de UCLA to release online Día de los Muertos video performance]

The altar of collaboration between LOUD and LAFAN is the result of a workshop the two groups organized for HIV-positive women, said Caroline Contreras, president of the LA chapter of LOUD. The women were invited to the workshop to make flower wreaths, but Contreras said then that they decided to do something bigger from the workshop and participate in the Día de dos Muertos celebration of Grand Park as a way to educate Latinos about HIV.

As part of the event, free and confidential one-minute HIV tests were offered for the Noche de Ofrenda event on Saturday, she said. The organizations held a volunteer-run table and prepared to answer questions about HIV and help people learn and find medical resources. The organizations’ message to the community is that HIV does not discriminate, Contreras said, and that with increased sensitization, the rate of infections may decrease.

While Contreras and Sanchez conceptualized their altar design together, she said the physical structure was built by artists Joe Baykun and Ben Werfel. The base of the altar is tiered like a cake, and the top has a female skeleton with a wreath of marigold flowers holding a bread basket, Sanchez said. A staple of the altar are the candles placed around it, which she says represent each of the new female HIV diagnoses in 2019 in LA County.

“(The altar) represents beauty; it represents femininity, ”Sanchez said. “She is carrying the bowl of bread, and it is such a motherly gesture.”

The altar will also display photographs of celebrities and their loved ones who have died of HIV, Sanchez said. People can also bring their own photos to the altar. Sanchez said she plans to honor her best friend’s aunt, who was infected with HIV through blood transfusion, by displaying her photo on the altar.

[Related: Biologist Flossie Wong-Staal remembered for pioneering HIV research and treatments]

Along with LAFAN and LOUD, other local organizations such as the East Los Angeles Women’s Center and the Community Power Collective present their own altars. Grand Park Director Julia Diamond said Día de los Muertos is an opportunity to address broader issues related to health and wellness, especially after the level of loss suffered during the COVID-pandemic. 19.

“COVID-19 has exposed health inequalities in new ways,” said Diamond. “Black and brown communities have been hit hard by COVID-19 in terms of the scale of the losses, and they have also exposed so many vulnerabilities in our health and public health system. “

20 altars are in attendance at Grand Park for the event, created by organizations such as the East Los Angeles Women’s Center and the Community Power Collective. (Antonio Martinez / Daily Bruin staff)

Visitors can also learn more about the participating organizations by scanning QR codes at each altar to hear audio clips detailing the organizations’ backgrounds, she said. Additionally, there is also a community altar in the park, which she says allows people to mourn anyone they’ve lost. To honor these lost loved ones, Diamond said visitors are encouraged to bring photos, flowers or keepsakes to the community altar. Attending the community altar gives the community a way to feel connected to each other, she said.

“Even though (Día de los Muertos) is not a tradition that people lived growing up or that they had in their homes or communities, it is a beautiful tradition,” said Diamond. “It’s deeply moving even in its simplicity.

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