An original telenovela set in East Los Angeles, with a suspenseful plot involving infidelity, family secrets and homophobia, launches on the Internet tomorrow, Nov. 30, just in time for World AIDS Day.
While most telenovelas these days are produced in other countries by media production companies, “Sin Vergüenza” (Without Shame) is being produced by AltaMed Health Services, which hopes the dramatic web series will challenge misconceptions about HIV/AIDS in the Latino community and become a tool health agencies can use to educate their clients.
“Sin Vergüenza”/ “Without Shame,” directed by Paco Farias and stars Daniel E. Mora and Eliana Alexander as husband and wife Cesár and Adriana Salazar. Their children, Enrique, played by JM Longoria III, and Cristina, played by Joanna Zanella, are college students tackling their own struggles. Enrique is openly gay and an LGBT activist, while Cristina is in a rocky relationship with her high-school sweetheart. Ester, the grandmother and family matriarch portrayed by Maria Richwine, is new on the dating scene after being widowed for a decade and after being married to the only man she ever dated.
The fictional Salazars are relatable — a hard working, Mexican-American family — but they learn something that could tear them apart forever: at least one member of the family tests positive for HIV.
Lea esta nota EN ESPAÑOL: Telenovela Acerca de la VIH/SIDA se Centra en el Este de Los Ángeles 
The point of the series is to get people to put aside their fears and misconceptions and to encourage them to be tested as part of their regular medical care, according to AltaMed. And if they do test positive for HIV to get medical care.
The Centers for Disease Control estimates that almost 1.2 million people in the United States are living with HIV infection, and 1 in 5 is unaware of their infection. Latinos account for 20 percent of all new HIV infections. According to the CDC 23,695 Latino men and 3,033 Latino women in the county were reported to be infected with HIV during 2011.
As the Latino population continues to grow, cultural issues and stigmas need to be addressed, such as the stereotype that only homosexual men are at risk of HIV, according to AltaMed. which is launching the series in order to increase prevention in this underserved community. The launch coincides with Worlds Aids Day on Dec.1.
Sin Vergüenza is composed of four episodes filmed entirely in English and in Spanish—but not bilingually, and not subtitled or dubbed. The bilingual actors shot the scenes in one language, then the other, to bring the series to viewers fully in English and Spanish, according to Farias.
“I think that as the series closes, the amount of respect that you have for these actors, considering the heightened emotion and drama that they have to put themselves through in English alone is impressive—but to think they had to do it several times in multiple languages impresses the hell out of me as I watch it,” Farias told EGP.
This is Farias first time directing a mini-series for the web, but the experienced director, producer and writer says he is incredibly excited about the project that will serve to educate people.
“People will say, wow we can educate people with this and it will have a life that will continue on, hopefully, for some time to come… We are educating people in a very subtle way and I think that’s probably the best thing about it,” he said.
AltaMed HIV Prevention & Education Program manager Natalie Sanchez said the web series was first conceived as training videos for cultural competency for their Universal HIV testing program, geared at individuals 13-years-old and older, and to encourage individuals to get tested on a routine basis.
“We thought we can do it in an entertaining fashion in which we connect a storyline to routine HIV testing, and we can have clients who connect to the different characters so that the story and the message of universal testing then resonates with the viewers of the telenovela,” Sanchez said about the project that took six months to complete.
Hilda Sandoval, AltaMed’s psycho-social services and mental health clinician program manager, said AltaMed has been providing a multi-faceted program for two decades. She said over the years she has seen how things have changed, but says there are still negative connotations and misconceptions tied to HIV and being tested.
“We wanted to really talk about the need to bring up sensitive issues like homophobia, addressing infidelity, addressing family secrets and really getting the community to connect with some of these issues that many families experience but no one really wants to talk about it. So at the core, it really connects to so many family experiences,” Sandoval said.
At all AltaMed sites in Los Angeles and Orange County, people can be tested for HIV/AIDS through a routine lab test, or they can take a rapid HIV test and get their results in less than 15 minutes, Sanchez said.
AltaMed HIV and AIDS health care services include specialty care, treatment, prevention services, counseling, and access to clinical trials.
The web series trailer is now available on YouTube.com. New episodes will air every two weeks —Nov. 30, Dec. 17, Jan. 7 and Jan. 22, on AltaMed’s YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/healthsvcs.
The premiere of Sin Vergüenza is this Friday, Nov. 30, during AltaMed’s 2nd Annual World AIDS Day event, taking place at their facility located at 5427 E. Whittier Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90022.
The two-hour event, from 10am to noon, will also feature performances by Casa 0101 about HIV, food and refreshments. The event is open to the public.