If you're Hispanic, you already know how common the culture of "machismo" is among Hispanics. Avoiding condoms, having a lot of sex partners and dominating women are still subtly encouraged. Homosexuality is for the most part still taboo. All of these are reasons why HIV rates are growing in the Hispanic community, researchers say.
Even after you've been diagnosed with HIV, machismo can still have a major impact on your life.
"There's a thick blanket of denial in the Latino community," confides Enrique Franco, an Army veteran who was diagnosed in 2007. "The Latino community accepts my HIV, but it's 'in the family.' They don't talk about it. ... We treat HIV like the pink elephant in the living room. It's there, but we won't talk about it or even my homosexuality." Enrique says that when he tells someone that he's homosexual or HIV positive or both, "I can see a change in the look on their face. I transform from Chico to 'this guy.'"
For Enrique, it's not easy to judge others for their stance on HIV. After all, before he was diagnosed, "I was one of them," he admits. "I was like my homeboys. I didn't care about HIV. I hardly knew about HIV. I just knew you got sick and died. But now that I'm a part of it, it's very different on the other side."
Enrique decided that the best way for him to break through the silence and fight stigma is through actions, rather than words. "I'm not going to force it," he states. "I'm just going to live through my actions to demonstrate that not all gay guys try to hit on guys and think about sex all the time, or talk about girly stuff."
James Nicacio, who was diagnosed in 2001, has had a similar experience with his family. "My mom is very accepting of me and all the decisions that I make in life. She's accepted the fact that I'm gay, but it's something that was really never talked about," James says. "I think that's pretty common in a lot of Mexican families; it's not discussed. I am who I am and I'm out." However, James realizes he is fortunate: His family has been completely accepting of his homosexuality and his HIV status. "Once I did tell them, once 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, then I could move forward."
"I think that the machismo in the Hispanic culture has blocked the progress and acceptance of people who are living with the virus. I know people who say they can't even mention their status to their friends and family members. It's the fear of rejection, of being discriminated or feeling less than others. That's why you shouldn't reveal your status to another person until you are internally ready."
-- José Wilson Montoya, diagnosed in 1999
Coming face to face with a lifethreatening disease is daunting for anyone. When the disease is as stigmatized and feared as HIV, it makes it doubly hard. But for many Hispanic men, it's not easy to acknowledge that they may need help. "There's just too much stress to do it alone," says Roger Solar, who was diagnosed in 1999. "In the Hispanic culture, the macho man stands his ground. He supports the family. He takes care of himself. He's the one who goes out and gets that job and gets the money. Whether you are sick or not, you bite your tongue and you don't say anything."
However, Roger is one of many Hispanics who urge people with HIV to fight these social pressures. "It's wrong," he says. "You need people. You need help. You need to be able to talk to somebody. You need to be able to cry. You need to be able to laugh. That's the only way you can live!"