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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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Reader Comments:

Comment by: Yaeger Fri., Jul. 31, 2015 at 12:11 am UTC
Oh my how things have really changed, that it has become almost fashionable to be hiv positive. I remember when the disease first came to be, and where I was when I heard about this unknown disease, where it seemed that many people were dying around me.Was I scared of course who was not. But as some people I knew were passing over with this disease I still went to see them in the hospitals as often as I could. I think they really appreciated that about me, that fear never stopped me from going to see my friends, and associates on the bus. Therefore, I treated them the way I would have wanted to have been treated. But I really thought by now there would be a cure for the disease.
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Comment by: Anonymous Sat., Jul. 11, 2015 at 8:19 am UTC
Hola me hize la prueba hace dos crmanas pero me comenzo el sangrado despues paro y ahora otra ves tengo un poco de dolor en la caders y un poco enfrente y me hago la prueba muchas veces mas y sale positiva no se que hacer
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Comment by: Miguel (El Centro Ca,) Sat., Jul. 12, 2014 at 10:57 am UTC
I am 52 years old and want to find a woman who is HIV positive. Recommend places to contact me. Thank you
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Comment by: OhioMan (Alliance, Ohio) Wed., Jun. 19, 2013 at 11:20 am UTC
I recall Pedro quite well...I was living in Los Angeles at the time and HIV was so new and scary. Pedro was an Idol to us all and helped to explain this horrible illness...Thanks Pedro..
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Comment by: Marta L. (richmond va) Sun., May. 26, 2013 at 12:23 am UTC
my soul can take it it is my body that fails me some times I am 63 years old and hope to live some more don't know how many more. I fell very happy and some times so sad is all part of the prossees . learn to take it one day at a time.
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