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Word on the Street: Experiences Disclosing One's HIV Status

Experiences Disclosing One's HIV Status

It's been said that the intense focus on privacy in many Latino communities creates a "veil of secrecy" around HIV, making it profoundly difficult for many individuals to be open about their status. Here, Latinos living with HIV/AIDS--from all walks of life--share their experiences telling others they're HIV positive -- sometimes with unexpected results.

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Rafael Abadia

Rafael Abadia, Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.; Diagnosed in 1993

I couldn't tell my parents over the phone. I flew to Puerto Rico. I was really concerned about how my parents were going to take it. They're extremely religious, Christian fundamentalists. My being gay was an issue. I didn't know what to expect.

Then the day came, and I sat in my parent's living room; my mom was in the kitchen. I said "Dad, I need to speak to both of you. It's very serious." He called my mom, and my mom just kind of ignored him, she didn't want to come. They knew something was gonna be up. [laughs] When my mom came, the three of us sat in the living room, and I told them that I had AIDS.

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Ahmad Salcido

Ahmad Salcido, San Francisco, Calif.; Diagnosed in 2007

The first person I told I was positive was my best friend Ramsey. He's the one that extended his hand to me and said, "Look, I live in San Francisco. San Francisco has these great agencies, has this great program for gay and HIV-positive people, so you're more than welcome to come over."

In Islam, we believe that if you're a true Muslim, God takes care of your problems before they come to you. It's funny because I've known him for five years, and it's like, "OK, when I met you, I met you for a reason. God knew what was going to happen, so he put you there as my little angel."

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Bernadette Berzoza

Bernadette Berzoza, Denver, Colo.; Diagnosed in 1989

When I told a friend I was HIV positive, she got up off the chair and hugged me. I think at that time, that's all I needed. I needed to see that -- even though I had this dreaded disease that everyone was saying was so terrible, and only bad people got -- I could still get some affection, care or concern from somebody else.

Damaries Cruz

Damaries Cruz, Deerfield Beach, Fla.; Diagnosed in 1991

You've got to get to know the person at least a little bit and feel if it's worth it for you to tell them that you are HIV positive. But if you are going to be intimate, then you definitely have to tell them you're positive. It depends on you. If you like this person and you think they're educated enough, you should tell them.

People notice here that I'm positive because of the kind of work I do, because I've done campaigns. They even have an intervention tool and I'm a participant on it. It's really cool. But if you were in a regular place and it's not necessary for you to disclose, why would you disclose?

Ed Viera Jr.

Ed Viera Jr., New York City; Diagnosed in 1987

One of my female friends was just so accepting and supportive. She hugged me and then we cried together and then at the end of all this drama she told me, "I've been HIV positive for ten years. I just never told you.

I just didn't know how to feel. I really didn't know. She said, "Finally I meet somebody who's as comfortable with it as I am!" I'm like, "If you were that comfortable with it, why didn't you tell me years ago about this whole thing?" Her answer was that she was afraid to scare me off.

Roger Solar

Roger Solar, San Antonio, Texas; Diagnosed in 1999

I think you have to be honest with yourself first. You have to look around as to who you're surrounding yourself with. If you surround yourself with real friends, your family who really loves you -- or you hope loves you -- you can be yourself and be honest.

You are going to have to build that little wall up because you know you're going to have one or two people who come out and turn their back on you. That hurts more than them making fun of you; the fact that they drop you and don't talk to you hurts more than anything. I wouldn't just go up to somebody and tell them, "Yes, I'm HIV positive." You do it with care and with people you trust.

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James Nicacio

James Nicacio, Selma, Calif.; Diagnosed in 2001

My biggest fear was telling my mother. My mother and my sister have been so close to me. They always want the best for me, so it was really difficult for me to tell them. I felt like, in some way, I was letting them down -- taking life for granted, in a way. Here I am trying to tell my mother -- the person who gave me life -- that, because of some of the bad choices and mistakes I made in the past, my life might be taken. But when I did tell them, it felt like a big relief.

They were the only people that I really cared about telling. I didn't mind if anyone else knew, but I really cared that my family knew. When I did tell them, they said that they loved me no matter what and that they were going to support me, and give me every opportunity to take care of myself. Once I knew I had their support, and then I could move forward.

Gracia Violeta Ross Quiroga

Gracia Violeta Ross Quiroga, La Paz, Bolivia; Diagnosed in 2000

I talked to my sisters, especially the one who had the idea of doing the test. I blamed her. I said, "This is your fault, because I'd rather not know." But actually, it was really good that she suggested it, because I also was to discover that I tested HIV positive maybe three or four years after being infected. This gave me the chance to change my habits and to start treatment early enough; I never got sick, like being in bed.

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Esmeralda, Oakland, Calif.; Diagnosed in 1998

My kids were around eight and nine years old, and one day we told them I was HIV positive. I thought it was time. I've always been with them. I always took them with me when I went to groups. I always took my pills in front of them. I never hid anything from them. They didn't know what I was taking medicines for, or what the groups were that I went to. Sometimes at the support groups, doctors would explain about HIV, about medicine and things like that. My children would hear, but they never came to me and asked anything about why I went to these groups.

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Mondo Guerra

Mondo Guerra, Denver, CO; Diagnosed in 2001

(Mondo on disclosing on Project Runway)

It wasn't really until Nina Garcia said, "Well, I wish I knew what the story was." And it felt like somebody was asking me, somebody very kind and concerned. It was just a different voice. I really felt like it was somebody else, other than Nina.

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