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Viva Mi Gente!: 12 Latino Celebrities and Characters Who Thrust HIV/AIDS Into Popular Culture

May 15, 2013


Ilka Tanya Payán

Ilka Tanya Payán

Ilka Tanya Payán started out as an actress in the Spanish-language telenovela Angelica, Mi Vida, and went on to bigger Hollywood roles such as a small part in Scarface and a guest role on the 1980s TV drama Hill Street Blues. Payán, of Dominican ancestry, also worked hard to encourage New York's Latino theater community, founding the Hispanic Organization of Latin Actresses (HOLA). Payán studied law and became an attorney in 1981. Around her time in law school, she acquired HIV from a former lover, though she did not test positive until 1986.

Payán disclosed her status in 1993, prompted by the death of singer Héctor Lavoe. As one of the first Latino celebrities to disclose her status, she rocked the Latino community at a time when many Latinos saw HIV/AIDS as a disease that only affected gay men, sex workers and drug users. Fighting that stereotype became Payán's new mission in life. On Dec. 10, 1993, she was chosen to be the featured speaker at the United Nations panel for World AIDS Day, and Payán was given the Medal of Honor in recognition of her activism by Dominican president Joaquín Balaguer. She appeared on the cover of POZ magazine in August 1995. She worked in the legal department at Gay Men's Health Crisis up until her death on April 6, 1996.

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