Many in the U.S. HIV advocacy community are mourning the death of filmmaker and activist Marco Castro-Bojorquez, who died suddenly in Reno, Nevada, on June 1, shortly after arriving back in the U.S. from his native Sinaloa, Mexico. Castro-Bojorquez was in his mid-50s. The cause of death was unclear at the time of this writing.
“The entire community is devastated,” said Andrew Spieldenner, Ph.D., the vice-chair of the U.S. People Living with HIV Caucus, where he worked with Castro-Bojorquez since the mid-2000s. “He touched a lot of people.”
Since coming to the U.S. in the 1990s, Castro-Bojorquez had been involved in numerous artistic and activist projects, many of them related to the experience of being a queer, bilingual Latinx immigrant living with HIV.
In addition to being a member of the U.S. People Living with HIV Caucus, he played key roles in a host of community-based organizations and advocacy groups. Among them, Castro-Bojorquez was:
A cofounder and provisional steering committee person for HIV Racial Justice Now, a network of leaders of color advancing racial justice in the HIV movement.
A member of the board of directors for The Avielle Foundation, a violence prevention group.
A cofounder of Corazon Abierto, a family acceptance organization in his hometown of Sinaloa.
A lead organizer with the coalition of Californians for HIV Criminalization Reform, which softened the state’s HIV criminalization law in 2017.
An activist behind the successful 2018 effort to get Mexico’s Supreme Court to decriminalize having sex while living with HIV.
A senior adviser for Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, MAVEN, and Somos Familia, organizations that work with queer youth and their families.
Castro-Bojorquez was also an acclaimed filmmaker. In 2011, he directed his first short documentary, Tres Gotas de Agua (Three Drops of Water), in collaboration with Somos Familia. In the film, three Latina immigrant mothers tell their personal stories about their children’s coming-out processes.
In 2015, he premiered his most recent work, El Canto del Colibri (The Hummingbird’s Song), featuring Latino immigrant fathers discussing acceptance of their LGBTQ children. That same year, he was selected by President Barack Obama’s White House for the prestigious Champions of Change award, which recognizes LGBT artists who use media to illuminate the experiences of LGBT Americans and create opportunities for dialogue, inclusion, and understanding.
Accompanying him on that trip to the White House was well-known transgender and HIV activist Bamby Salcedo, who met Castro-Bojorquez about a decade ago via activism work and became one of his closest friends, often by his side at rallies, conferences, and activist meetings.
“He was not just a beautiful and intelligent person,” said Salcedo, holding back tears, “but so caring and dedicated to changing people’s lives and touching people’s hearts. He was a great communicator and an inspiration and great friend to so many people, including me. He’s gonna be so missed.”
After leaving L.A. and working from Reno, Nevada, for a few years, Castro-Bojorquez—who struggled with depression during the COVID pandemic, according to Spieldenner—had moved back to Sinaloa for a while, before deciding to return to L.A. by way of Reno, to get his things.
On May 29, he posted a video to his Mexican family and friends, titled, “This is not a goodbye.”
In the video, he said in Spanish, “I don’t want to say goodbye, because I don’t want to leave. I’m in denial ... I just want to say to all of you that I love you so much, you’ve treated me so well here in Sinaloa.” [Editor’s note: Translation assistance by Marlon Meneses.]
The following day, he posted that he had arrived in the U.S.; on June 1, he made his last post, about the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria.
According to friends, he was found dead in a Jacuzzi in Reno. No other information about his death was clear at the time of this writing, according to Spieldenner and Salcedo.
Hailing Castro-Bojorquez’s Life and Legacy of Healing
“What’s important now is the messaging about his life,” said Spieldenner. “I don’t think he realized how important he was to all of us. That’s one of the sad things about being a queer person of color living with HIV. We get so many messages that our lives don’t matter, and it’s hard to see that we do.”
Spieldenner said that Castro-Bojorquez had always been adamant about material being translated into Spanish—and about addressing the role of both mental health and substance use in the lives of people who were immigrants, of color, LGBTQ, or living with HIV.
“He was always talking about trauma and healing, and looking at culture and art as ways to build community,” said Spieldenner. “He also worked very hard on immigration issues, presenting at UNAIDS in 2019 about the intersection of mental health, substance use, and HIV status.”
On Facebook, tributes poured in from the many young people Castro-Bojorquez mentored over the years. One of them, Kiely Hosmon, now the director of the San Francisco Youth Commission, said that he was first her colleague and then her boss (“and then my friend”) at the Northern California office of the Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) in the late 2000s.
“He taught me that you have to advocate for young people hard and relentlessly—to be the obnoxious, tenacious voice in the room—and that is how I train my own staff to this day,” said Hosmon. “He was also fun to be around, playful and humorous.”
Hosmon remembers when the pair went to make a GSA presentation at a girls’ Catholic school and Castro-Bojorquez teased her for wearing a tank top, jokingly suggesting that she was trying to seduce the students. “With someone else, that might be inappropriate, but with him it was endearing,” she said. He called Esta Noche, a favorite queer bar in San Francisco’s Mission district, “Esta Nasty,” she said. “He would also cry all the time, which I loved about him. He wasn’t afraid to show his emotions.”
Castro-Bojorquez had projects lined up in the U.S. Castro-Bojorquez had projects lined up in the U.S. He was going to continue working with fellow activist Venita Ray on the HIV Racial Justice Now! initiative to further center Black and Brown people within HIV activism.
Longtime HIV and queer health activist JD Davids interviewed Castro-Bojorquez for TheBody in 2018 when he launched HIVenas Abiertas, a network of Latinx immigrants living with HIV. “Every time we talked, I was moved to find my better self, to care more, to listen more,” said Davids, “because it was so clear [that] was who he was and what he did.”
Castro-Bojorquez was also going to begin working on projects at Latino Commission on AIDS with José Romero. “This has been devastating to hear,” said Romero. “I still have unopened voicemails from him.”
Jeremy Bunch Cajas says that he met Castro-Bojorquez when he interned at BAYCAT, an anti-racist media production company in San Francisco where Castro-Bojorquez was education program director about a decade ago.
“He mentored me in video production process, specifically interviewing and pre-production,” says Bunch Cajas. “I remember Marco as being full of life. Always smiling and ready to take on the next thing. He was passionate about LGBTQ rights and very vocal about it. He was also a good friend, very caring and willing to help out. Even when he was going through a rough time a few years ago, he would still ask me how I was doing and be concerned about my well-being.”
A GoFundMe page that was set up to raise funds to bring Castro-Bojorquez’s body back to his family in Sinaloa quickly raised $12,055 and stopped accepting new donations. According to the GoFundMe page, any unused funds will be donated to Corazon Abierto, the family acceptance group for LGBTQ young people Castro-Bojorquez cofounded in Sinaloa.