I was 13 years old when my mother sat me down and told me that my Aunt Valentina had passed away. I didn’t understand back then exactly from what but I knew that she was sick and that I had slowly watched her die. When you’re a child, you’re protected from words like AIDS, dying, disease and death but sometimes this kind of protection can make us unaware to the reality surrounding us. It wasn’t until I was older that I found out the truth of how my aunt died. She died from AIDS.
Who knew that daily visits to her home would soon end up being hospital visits.
Growing up as a child in the 80’s, in Harlem during the drug, crime and AIDS epidemic was hard enough to deal with but there was a storm brewing in my family. I didn’t know what was going on but I knew that my mothers melt downs, phone calls and whispers were finally adding up. I can still remember our first hospital visit to my aunt Valentina. The floor was dim, filled with sadness and pain. Although I was too young to feel pain. I didn’t have to feel it to understand it. I peeked into every room that led to my aunts. These rooms were filled with men. Some sobbing alone in their room and others in a blank stare. I remember being prepped outside of my aunts room by a nurse and told that I wasn’t allowed to kiss my aunt on the cheek or hold her. That she was too sick and that it was contagious. When I entered the room, my Aunt looked weak and gaunt but that didn’t stop her from smiling. Almost as if she was reassuring us that everything was okay.
I would visit my aunt as often as I could and as a habit, I always peeked into each room that led to hers. Those beds would each soon become empty and eventually, so did my aunts. For many years I was afraid to talk about her death because of the stigma surrounded by the word AIDS. Now that I am a mother I want my children to know the facts vs. myths.
Did you know that:
- At some point in their lives, an estimated 1 in 36 Hispanic/Latino men and 1 in 106 Hispanic/Latino women will be diagnosed with HIV.
- Hispanics/Latinos face a greater risk of HIV infection.
- Being unaware of a partners’ risk factors may place Hispanic/Latino men and women at increased risk for HIV.
- Research shows that the presence of a sexually transmitted disease (STD) makes it easier to become infected with HIV. Hispanics/Latinos have the third highest rates for STDs including chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis.
- Some Hispanics/Latinos may avoid seeking testing, counseling, or treatment if infected because of immigration status, stigma, or fear of discrimination.
Protect yourself and others from HIV. Get the facts and share them with friends and family. We can #StopHIVTogether.
Research shows that although many Americans understand the myths about HIV and the ways that it is transmitted, they still discriminate against those who have HIV. Even though getting an HIV test is fast, free, and confidential, there are still a lot of people living with HIV that don’t even know it.
Find an HIV testing center near you by entering your ZIP code online, or texting it to “KNOW IT” (566948). http://hivtest.cdc.gov/
*Disclosure: This post is made possible by support from the We Can Stop HIV One Conversation at a Time campaign. All opinions are my own.