Living La Vida SIDA

After his younger brother died of AIDS, Joseluis Partida dedicated his life to warning people about the disease. But the politics of being gay and Hispanic made it tougher than he ever imagined.

Schadoff distributed the spots along with other shorts about AIDS to Cable Positive members, which is just about every major service in the country. Almost all of them rejected the PSA with the word "maricon" as too harsh. But on World AIDS Day in December 2000, Grupo Vida's spot with the teen-agers aired on, among other channels, MTV, VH1, Comedy Central, Lifetime and the Sci-Fi Network, as well as Spanish-language outfits such as Telemundo and Galavision.

It was an impressive national debut for a fledgling Dallas organization. Grupo Vida still awaits its 501c(3) status; the IRS has sent Partida a letter to inform him that approval of the application to be a nonprofit organization is pending, which delays the interest of current potential donors. Right now, the group operates--and Joseluis is living--on a month-to-month basis, with a combination of his savings, free-lance production manager jobs, a mortgaged home in Arlington and donations from large corporations, small independent businesses and the odd free dinner or gift from a board member. At the moment, he has no assistant or coordinator: He plans all the events himself, although Cindy Benavides from Strategic Events was on board to plan last April's Grupo Vida fund-raiser/awards show at the Renaissance Hotel and, she notes, will take a more active role in the future. After expenses, the fund-raiser managed to come up with only $2,000 toward repaying the director of the PSAs for his efforts; Schadoff confirms that Cable Positive won't release them again for World AIDS Day this year until that debt is cleared.

After trying hard to find contributors to his cause, Partida says that only about half of Latino-owned businesses will return phone calls. In dollar amounts and assistance, he's been given more by ostensibly Anglo ventures like American Airlines and Subaru than from Latino-identified businesses. He's been a member of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce for more than five years now, but the relationship changed somewhat after Partida's goals did.

Right now, Joseluis Partida operates Grupo Vida without assistants on a month-to-month basis.
Right now, Joseluis Partida operates Grupo Vida without assistants on a month-to-month basis.
Fernie Sanchez, case management supervisor at AIDS Arms, Inc., considers Grupo Vida to be the missing link in HIV education.
Fernie Sanchez, case management supervisor at AIDS Arms, Inc., considers Grupo Vida to be the missing link in HIV education.

"I went from profit to nonprofit," he says with a laugh. "I went from making money to asking for money. A lot of people are skeptical. They think I'll go away. And someone pulled me aside privately and was honest--he said he was worried about having his business' name associated with AIDS."

Partida campaigned the Chamber of Commerce to lend support to the Grupo Vida fund-raiser, but they wouldn't buy a table or send a representative. He pursued, at the very least, some extra publicity about the event faxed to its members. Mauricio Navarro, who does public relations for the Chamber and is its education director, replied that announcements would only be made for official Hispanic Chamber of Commerce events. Partida responded with a letter saying that faxes and press releases were circulated for non-Chamber galas like the Stand and Deliver Awards and Laughing Latinas. When contacted, Navarro insists that no one thought faxes from the Hispanic Chamber would benefit an event that already had conspicuous ads in Latino publications like Valiente and Hispanic Journal, and that, in fact, Partida was allowed to distribute fliers about Grupo Vida at a Chamber breakfast honoring Henry Cisneros. "We support Joseluis' ambitions," Navarro says, "and look forward to working with him more productively in the future."

Partida seems skittish and contradictory about using the words "gay" or "lesbian" when describing the mission of Grupo Vida. He says he doesn't consider his media group to be either exclusively gay or concerned with AIDS. It is, he says, "primarily a Latino organization. We're a broadcast organization that wants to reach as many Spanish-speaking people as possible." On the other hand, he says, "We want to educate heterosexual Latinos and Latinas before the larger gay community. They need to acknowledge there are friends and family who're sick and who may be gay."

The threat that Joseluis Partida is trying to warn the Hispanic population of is palpable. Earlier this year, Dallas got a wake-up smack across the face to that effect--a report issued in February ranked it the highest among seven national cities in HIV-positive men under 30, beating out New York and Los Angeles. The two-phase study was funded by the Centers for Disease Control and carried out locally by the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. Between 1994 and 2000, more than a thousand men in Dallas between the ages of 15 and 29 completed a questionnaire about their sexual behavior and agreed to take an HIV test. The men who participated self-identified along the spectrum of sexual orientation--some said they were gay, some bisexual, and some insisted they were straight but sometimes had sex with other men. Eighteen percent of the overall Dallas group tested positive. Among those who'd seroconverted (i.e., became HIV-positive), 11 percent were Anglo, 32 percent were African-American, and 19 percent were Latino.

Jesus Geliga, community health promotions manager at the Resource Center of Dallas, works with a staff that targets the city's Latino community. He suggests that the number of men who claim they're heterosexual but still indulge in gay sex may be higher among Latinos than Anglos. In Latin countries, there are long-entrenched terms for men who have sex with men but want nothing to do with the socially despised stigma of homosexuality. In Mexico, they call themselves "mayate."

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