By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Some relatives of the men he'd worked with in Dallas already had a lease on the apartment on Columbia Avenue, so it was easy to find a place to stay. But the notion that Dallas, because it's a big city, would offer up constant work turned out to be false. There were months when he had to scrounge to make the rent and was looking everywhere for work. Enrique hadn't quite learned how to market himself. "We just stand out on Columbia, and sometimes los patrones [moving-company supervisors or men from construction sites] drive by looking for workers. There were a lot of days when I wanted to go back to Mexico," he says. He used to call home every week but has altered that routine to once every two weeks to stave off homesickness.
And there's the distraction of Fiebre Latino. The night I saw Enrique there, he ended up paying one of the women to give him oral sex, as some of his friends did. Sometimes, he says, they will take a woman home and have anal sex with her without a condom, because "I don't like those things." That night, though, she was standing by the corner of one of the buildings adjacent to the bar. Enrique and two friends drove by her in the loud stampede of trucks and cars that circle Fiebre Latino late at night.
The bar staff was patrolling the parking lot, making idle observers like me move on (to try to prevent sex from taking place in cars). A policeman had conspicuously parked his patrol car across from the club and occasionally drove it around and around the area, just like the patrons do. But no one caught Enrique and his friends. How could they? As they drove their red truck near the woman in the corner, she subtly raised her hand, and they drove toward her. She climbed in, but that's not a crime.
Enrique's isolated circumstances (everything he needs, from work to friendship, is available on Columbia Avenue) are the conditions that lead to increased HIV rates among immigrants, says Dr. Jacobo Kupersztoch, a retired professor of microbiology at UT-Southwestern who grew up in Mexico City and advises the Mexican Consulate in Dallas about health issues. "The infection happens when a large number of people live in the same quarters, in the absence of women," he says. "Two things happen there: A prostitute is brought to that place to have sex with large numbers of males...and the other route of the infection is in the Mexican way of thinking." He used an American sports metaphor to explain himself: "The pitcher is not a homosexual," he said. "The catcher is a homosexual." In other words, if you're the top, you're not gay.
Enrique, for one, wants nothing to do with the idea that he might be engaging in gay sex. "Sometimes that happens, yes," Enrique says. "But not in my apartment! I'd hit whoever was doing that."
Getting into the mind-set of male Hispanic immigrants who insist they aren't gay but still have sex with men is a task that has remained elusive for many AIDS organizations, not the least because the details of Hispanic immigrants' lives are already so hidden from mainstream America. Some immigrants may not even be aware of the sexual danger they face. "In rural Mexico, you may never have heard of HIV," says Marie Camacho Bellows, an HIV researcher at Southwestern. "They come here and they have no idea that this is an issue they need to worry about. And obviously, they're not being reached. So many of the messages we've had haven't been culturally competent."
That's something Ceasar Ruiz is trying to change. Almost any night in Dallas, you can find this young, long-haired Mexican-American man having furtive conversations with guys right in front of most gay bars around town. An interviewer for Southwestern's Community Prevention and Intervention Unit, Ruiz and his colleagues stop men outside of local bars and ask them about their sexual behavior for a scientific survey that Southwestern is conducting on the transmission of HIV in Dallas.
He has become an expert in finding mayates. "Sometimes they feel like if they sleep with another woman, they're cheating on their wives, but if they sleep with another man, it's not cheating," he says. "I tell them that even if they're the top, they can still get infected. Some of them are aware that there are diseases out there, but they're not aware of how it's transmitted. I don't think you gain anything if you try to convince them that they're gay."
Eight years ago, before he started working for Southwestern, Ruiz happened to meet a rural Mexican immigrant named Jorge at a dinner party. The education they ended up providing each other was strange and unexpected. It was also highly useful, occurring in places far removed from a typical laboratory setting. Ruiz, who grew up bilingual in Odessa, says that he intimidated Jorge at first because of his perfect English and his relative ease as a gay man, comfortable in his own skin, which seemed so inexplicable to a recent gay immigrant.