In 1993 a group of 30 people gathered in Lincoln Park for the first Noche de Las Memorias, an event to remember family and friends whose lives were cut short by AIDS.
That night the group also committed to help realize the dream of Richard Zalidivar, founder of The Wall Las Memorias Project, to build a memorial to the victims of AIDS that could also help shine a light on the issues contributing to the spread of the disease, but that were still ignored or too uncomfortable for many people in those days to talk about, especially Latinos.
Cultural silence, stigma, shame and homophobia were some of the issues that contributed to unsafe sexual behavior among gay and bisexual men, according to The Wall Las Memorias.
On Sunday, Dec.1st, hundreds of people gathered at the same site in Lincoln Park to mark the 20th anniversary of the Noche de Las Memorias and to again remember those lost to AIDS. According to organizers, they were also there to “honor those who have made an impact through spreading awareness” and to reflect on the hard work it took to reach this latest milestone.
“It was a profound evening, where our community people came together and remembered those who died of AIDS,” Herbert Siguneza of Culture Clash recalled about the first event. “It was then that they committed in helping build an AIDS monument called The Wall-Las Memorias,” he added.
The Wall Las Memorias was not built without a fight. The idea of an AIDS memorial at the park in predominately Latino Lincoln Heights did not sit well with some in the community, who feared the mural would be seen by children too young to understand its message, and put parents in the difficult position of having to explain to their youngsters what it means.
Some people saw the memorial as an approval of homosexuality, which they were not ready to accept.
Nonetheless, the memorial was built in 2004 and still stands today.
It consists of two panels, each depicting a scene related to the issue of AIDS and stands as the focal point for the annual Noche event, which includes a candlelight vigil, speakers, and musical entertainment. Each year, new names of AIDS victims are added to the memorial, and unveiled during the Noche observance. It will eventually hold 7,500 names, according to a press release from The Wall Las Memorias.
Laura Diaz of Fox News and Los Angeles Dodger Sportscaster Jorge Jarrin hosted this year’s event.
A video booth was set up to record personal congratulations from community members, and a birthday cake and refreshments were served.
Over the years, The Wall Las Memorias Project has continued to work on social justice issues and on HIV prevention and HIV testing through the Men’s Connection. Its Men’s Group, for gay/bisexual men, offers substance abuse services to young people in Huntington Park, Bell Gardens and South Gate, and Project Faith provides outreach to the Latino faith community of Los Angeles County and services that develop leadership in the LGBT Boyle Heights Community on mental health issues.
A study by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that the number of new HIV infections among Latinos, which peaked in the late 1980s, declined to 9,800 in 2010. The number of new HIV infections among Latinos is lower than those among whites and Blacks
Today, there are more than 1.1 million people living with HIV in the U.S., including approximately 220,000 Latinos.
To learn more about The Wall Las Memorias, visit their website, www.thewalllasmemorias.org or call (323) 257-1056.