Here To Inspire

La Vida Latina



 Writing about Latino HIVers, Rafael M. Díaz says that family acceptance — as well as support from friends or romantic relationships — is key to the kind of resiliency that doubled Hernandez’s once skeletal weight and returned him to robust health. Also, Díaz says, the community involvement Hernandez has committed himself to since he made his pledge to God four years ago is an effective way to improve self-esteem and to reduce the social isolation that nearly killed him.

Today, Hernandez is a health educator at the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center, doing just the kind of work he promised he would. Even though he and his father still have their rough patches, he has reconciled with him and says he no longer blames him for the abuse that drove him to try and take his life as a teenager.

“It’s that cycle of abuse that was passed down,” Hernandez says. “He had extreme abuse. By the age of 10 he was living on the streets of Mexico City with no shoes, nothing. So I just had to put myself in his shoes and try to understand what he was trying to deal with, seeing that he has a son who’s obviously gay — kind of has this feminine side growing up — and didn’t know how to deal with it.”

Since his release from prison in 2000, Morales has committed himself to HIV education and advocacy work in Philadelphia, gathering an armful of awards for his service to the community. In 2008 he and a friend founded Proyecto Sol, an outreach program targeting local HIV-positive Latinos.

“I tell people, ‘You don’t let HIV live you, you live HIV,’ ” he says. “My life changed. I continue doing it. My only pleasure that I need is to see people smile. If I see people smile, that’s the pleasure I get — helping people.”

Anthony Soler, who also does outreach HIV education work in his free time, successfully got his mother to see the error of her ways. Not long after their heart-to-heart, she approached him as he was drinking out of a cup. “ ‘What are you drinking?’ ” he remembers her asking. “And she grabbed my cup and started drinking out of it. It made me cry, because I kind of felt like, OK, the stigma’s being broken little by little.”

Gabriel Rocha, who now calls San Francisco home and is waiting on becoming a full U.S. citizen, has participated in the 545-mile AIDS Life/Cycle benefit ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Riding through the farmlands one day, he and his fellow riders struck up a conversation in Spanish with some migrant farmworkers, who asked about the ride. “They came together and scratched through their pockets — and they give us money right there — and they said, ‘We want to support you,’ ” Rocha says. “That’s how we have an impact. That’s how we make a difference.”

“One of the things I always tell people: is that it’s all about being proactive,” Hernandez says. “Get involved, be your own advocate, be informed. And the last thing I tell them, he says with a laugh, ‘Do your taxes! Those are never going to go away. They’ll find you.’ ”

He adds, “If you live in denial, little things become bigger problems. Then they become stressors and they just affect your health overall.”

It wasn’t easy, but after keeping up his end of things with God, Hernandez says he has finally settled his bill with the I.R.S.

He’s glad he can laugh about it now.