Latino HIV campaign features community faces and stories

    If you’ve flipped through local newspapers, social media feeds, or walked around North Philadelphia over the last few weeks, you might have noticed some unusual ads featuring some, well, usual situations.

    “I like to call them ordinary moments,” explained Louie Ortiz, creator of POSITIVO, a city-backed campaign with a new spin on being Latino and HIV positive.

    The five different images, now posted in shops and on street corners around North Philadelphia, feature black and white photos of people doing regular things: sitting on the subway or in park a park. Hugging someone. Smiling.

    But the shots aren’t of models. They’re of community members like Nancy Santiago, who was photographed cooking in her kitchen with her daughter.

    “To me, my message for my poster is here, I’m HIV positive and HIV doesn’t have a certain race — white, black, purple or whatever. And here’s a grandma,” said Santiago. “She’s infected, but she keeps going. She keeps looking good!”

    Turning positive into something positive

    The self-described queer Latino group, GALAEI, spearheaded the campaign with a $66,000 grant from the city’s health department. It launched in early September at the Feria del Barrio.

    Rafael Alvarez, also featured on a poster, says it was important to participate so people saw their neighbors, their friends and could identify with the ads. He wanted to push back against the stereotype that Latinos are homophobic and reject people with HIV.

    “Perceptions are reality,” said Alvarez. “And if the perception of a community is negative or labeled in ignorance, then that’s what’s going to be the reality.”

    Ortiz, the project’s creator, says that was the thinking behind placing a bright pink plus sign with the word “Positivo” or “Positive” in the top left corner of the posters. “We wanted to re-appropriate the term positive so when folks hear it, they can hear hope.”

    GALAEI’s executive director, Elicia Gonzalez, hopes that will translate to more people getting tested for HIV, which is transmitted through sexual fluid, blood-to-blood contact and breast milk. Alvarez worries about HIV’s disproportionate impact on Latinos and the higher infection rates.

    “Latinos are testing later, so that by the time they go in for a test, they’re more likely to have AIDS within 12 months,” says Gonzalez.

    Ortiz and his son are in another poster, which includes the message, “I am positive that my son is every reason for me to know my status.”

    Creating dialogue

    Now a month in, neither Santiago nor Alvarez have regrets about being faces of the campaign.

    “I have not had not one rejection,” said Santiago. “When they [people I knew] saw me, they said they couldn’t believe I had HIV because I don’t look like somebody who has HIV. What’s a person supposed to look who has HIV? Dying? No, you’re not. I’m living to 100 if I can.”

    Alvarez says people he worked with joked he was famous right after the campaign launched. One reaction from an old friend still resonates.

    “I received a text from a friend asking me if I was HIV positive. I hadn’t talked to him in like 10 freaking years, and that was the thing he sent me,” says Alvarez, who’s HIV negative. “It was really important for me to be like, ‘well, what does it matter?’ I take care of myself, but you know, that could happen to anyone.”

    While the posters have all gone are up, GALAEI plans to run the campaign through the end of the year.

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