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Saving Face Can't Make You Safe

To Commemorate National Asian & Pacific Islander HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, the Banyan Tree Project Reminds Us That We Have to Keep Talking About HIV -- Not Just for Ourselves, but for Everyone Else

May 17, 2012

May 19, 2012 marks the 8th annual National Asian & Pacific Islander HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. At the Banyan Tree Project, we continue to increase awareness of both HIV risk and services for Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AA and NHPI) communities. This month, events are held across the country from Jacksonville, Fla., to Seattle, Wash., and even as far away as the Federated States of Micronesia and Guam. They range from large community health fairs and customized trainings to HIV testing. Our community partners aren't just HIV/AIDS service providers; many of them are A&PI social justice, political or cultural organizations who see HIV stigma and discrimination as a community issue.

The Banyan Tree Project

The Banyan Tree Project: Rooted in Acceptance

HIV stigma is an important issue for AAs and NHPIs, despite the fact that we aren't considered a priority population in national and local HIV prevention efforts. The National HIV/AIDS Strategy recommends that our nation's limited HIV treatment and prevention resources be directed toward the populations most affected by HIV -- defined by current epidemiological data as black Americans, Latinos, gay and bisexual men, the transgender community, and substance users.

Does this mean that AAs and NHPIs are unaffected by HIV? Absolutely not.

We know we are affected, but it's difficult to paint a comprehensive picture of the HIV epidemic in our communities partly because so few of us are getting tested. And among AAs and NHPIs, HIV stigma remains the primary barrier to HIV testing and treatment. AAs and NHPIs are the least likely race/ethnic group to get an HIV test, and 1 in 3 of us who are living with HIV don't even know it.

As we move toward biomedical HIV prevention methodologies, or "treatment as prevention," we need to ensure that people living with HIV have access to effective and consistent treatment. We need to find the people who have HIV and the only way to do that is by increasing HIV testing. For our communities, that means getting more AAs and NHPIs tested for HIV, even if we aren't considered a priority population.


We all need to work together, including individuals and organizations that may not usually serve AAs and NHPIs. According to the 2010 Census, AAs and NHPIs were the fastest growing race/ethnic group in the last decade, increasing by over 43 percent. AA and NHPI communities are popping up in cities and states where they haven't historically been -- places like North Dakota, Georgia, and Arkansas. We need community partners to mobilize our communities to get tested. We must support AAs and NHPIs living with HIV so they have access to care. Providers must be able to provide culturally sensitive and linguistically appropriate testing and treatment services for existing and emerging AA and NHPI communities. To do that, we have to talk about HIV. We have to overcome HIV stigma, our silence and shame, and we have to do it together.

Because "saving face" really can't make us safe.

For the Banyan Tree Project, our mission to end the silence and shame surrounding HIV/AIDS in AA and NHPI communities is more vital now than ever before. This year, we are excited to launch a community-driven digital storytelling initiative called Taking Root: Our Stories, Our Community. Taking Root is a community-based response to HIV stigma, featuring short digital stories created by AAs and NHPIs affected by HIV.

It's been said that it takes a thousand voices to tell a single story. Taking Root is grounded in the power of the individual story, but its territory extends beyond the individual. We are a multitude of voices: There is no singular Asian American or Pacific Islander experience, and the face of HIV is as diverse as the people affected by it. Through the connections forged by these individual experiences, we are able to tell a story about the ways we are affected by HIV. Together, these stories heal and it is through the telling and witnessing of them that we learn to overcome our silence and shame. As Taking Root grows, it will eventually include stories from AA and NHPI communities across the U.S. and the six U.S.-affiliated Pacific Island Jurisdictions. Watch the stories at

So, this May 19, take a moment to honor National Asian & Pacific Islander HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. Get tested for HIV. Talk about HIV with your family and friends. Start the conversation #withoutshame.

View a few Taking Root: Our Stories, Our Community videos below:

In Parachute, Henry Ocampo talks about how his HIV diagnosis derailed him as a young man just out of college. Henry shares his depression, his pain, and his hope as he takes a metaphorical leap of faith toward his own future. Henry is a Filipino-American gay man.

In this moving story, Hatsume (not her real name) talks about her shame and fear of being judged by her friends for being HIV positive. Hatsume is a young, Japanese-American woman.

All the Truly Important Things ...
All the Truly Important Things ... traces the development of a young medical student recently diagnosed with HIV to his current role as an HIV physician. Eric Zheng (not his real name) openly and honestly shares his pain, disappointment, and hope with us. Eric is a Chinese-American gay man.

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This article was provided by The Banyan Tree Project.
See Also
More on HIV/AIDS in the Asian/Pacific-American Community

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