Telenovela Fantasy Series Brings HIV/AIDS Reality to Web

November 29, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

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.

The one-of-a-kind telenovela will revolve around a fictional East L.A. family. The series shot both an English and Spanish version. (Photo courtesy of AltaMed)

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 New episodes will air every two weeks —Nov. 30, Dec. 17, Jan. 7 and Jan. 22, on AltaMed’s YouTube channel:

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.

LA River Group One Step Closer to Redeveloping Lincoln Heights Jail

November 29, 2012 by · 1 Comment 

The Los Angeles City Council’s Information and General Services Committee on Monday approved a motion by Councilman Ed Reyes (CD-1) to grant the Los Angeles River Revitalization Corporation access the old Lincoln Heights Jail, located on North Avenue 19.

The vacant jail is located on North Avenue 19 in Lincoln Heights. (EGP photo by Mike Alvarez)

Committee members, Councilman Tony Cardenas (CD-6) and Councilwoman Jan Perry (CD-9) voted to approve the motion: Councilman Joe Buscaino (CD-15) was absent from meeting, according to the Los Angeles City Clerk’ office. It could move to the full council next week for final approval, according to Reyes spokesperson Tony Perez.

The motion, originally introduced in April of this year, grants the issuance of a Right of Entry Permit to the Los Angeles River Revitalization Corporation (LARRC) to conduct an environmental and cost estimating analysis and to negotiate and execute a lease agreement for use of the Lincoln Heights Jail. LARRC is an independent nonprofit corporation.

According to the motion, the group is working with the City to redevelop the Lincoln Heights Jail with the goal of building “a clean-tech hub that promotes and enables entrepreneurial education, cultural initiatives and a sound multi-cultural economic base.”

Redevelopment would take place in phases—the first being to immediately “reactivate” the site with an application for Prop K Funds to build a rock-climbing wall, the third largest west of the Mississippi, which requires an environmental study, the motion states.

Reyes’ press deputy, Monica Valencia, told EGP the motion specifically addresses creating a climbing wall to expand recreational activities along the LA River, and not the redevelopment of the entire building. She said there is currently no proposed project to redevelop the building itself.

However, the LARRC website lists the jail as one of their redevelopment projects along the river. The group, with help from the city, intends to restore and refurbish the Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument, decommissioned as a jail in 1965, so it can be used again, the website states.

“The project will follow the highest standards in design, program, and will make the most of its riverside location. Councilman Reyes has assured the community that existing tenants will be included in the redevelopment plans,” the LARRC website states.

One of those tenants is the Bilingual Foundation of the Arts, BFA, which puts on bilingual theatre productions and provides training in the arts.

The jail is located within the Cornfield Arroyo Seco Specific Plan (CASP), the Cleantech Corridor, and is a proposed CRA/LA project area. The building, sitting next to the Los Angeles River, is owned by the City of LA (General Services Department). “We are currently conducting due diligence for repositioning the building in partnership with Metabolic Studio, Homeboy Industries and other stakeholders,” the LARRC website states.

The dilapidated building had been determined a safety hazard by the Los Angeles.

Free Computer Lab Opens in Bell Gardens

November 29, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

Instead of going to a crowded Starbucks or having a time limit at a local library, Bell Gardens residents will now be able to work on homework assignments or apply for jobs at a free computer lab that opened this week in the southeast city.

Lea esta nota EN ESPAÑOLCentro de Computadoras Abre en Bell Gardens

The computer lab is at Touchpoint Church, located on 6100 Florence Ave in Bell Gardens, and is open to the public on Mondays and Thursdays from 5p.m. to 8 p.m. Touchpoint Church Pastor Richard Jarman collaborated with Cesar Zaldivar-Motts from The Southeast Community Development Corporation to fund the community computer center.

(Left to right) Jennifer Jarman, Touchpoint Church Pastor Richard Jarman, Southeast Community Development Corporation President Ronald Garcia and Executive Director Cesar Zaldivar-Motts cut the ribbon at the grand opening of the community computer center in Bell Gardens. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

“There’s nothing like this in this neighborhood and there’s a need,” Jarman told EGP. “We have a lot of people in this area that don’t have reliable Internet.”

The lab currently features six computers with Microsoft Word, free printing, free Wi-Fi and a study room. Zaldivar told EGP that the non-profit organization, which promotes economic development in southeast communities, has a proposal out seeking funding for more computers.

Students and job seekers who would like to use the lab will only be required to sign in at the door to use the facility. There is no age limit, but as a precaution, the computers contain parental control settings to ensure they are appropriately used.

“It’s a safe and clean place to study and use the Internet,” Zaldivar said.

Volunteers like Mercedes Castro-Miller will also monitor the room and be available to help users. She told EGP that community members hoping to use to facility should not be intimidated by the location of the lab.

“Just because they come here doesn’t mean they will be bombarded with church,” Castro said. “It’s a nice place to come and know that you are going to be offered resources regardless of where you are at in life.”

The use of the lab will be limited to schoolwork and for the purpose of finding employment. Although there is no official time limit, if people are waiting, users may be asked to limit their time on the computer. Jarman told EGP that if the demand continues, he hopes to eventually open the lab five days a week.

“As we expand, we hope to have enough space for everybody,” he said.

Jarman’s wife Jennifer came up with the idea of hosting a computer lab at the church when she saw the need in the community.

“One Sunday I happened to stop by at Starbucks and it was packed with people trying to finish their schoolwork, trying to get Internet access,” Jarman said at a ribbon-cutting ceremony held on Monday for the new facility. “I thought, why can’t we do this and people don’t have to worry about money for their coffee.”

Touchpoint Church purchased three of the computers; the other three were donated. The Southeast Community Development Corporation will be providing the technical support, which will be funded by a California Public Utilities Grant.

“If we can help a kid graduate, if we can help somebody get a job because they were able to get on a job board and post their resume, then that’s what we want to do,” said Jarman.

The church is accepting donations of computers that are three or fewer years old.

For more information about the lab or how to donate contact Touchpoint Church at (562) 927-1722. For more information about the Southeast Community Development Corporation, visit

County Must Rush to Meet Health Care Reform Deadlines

November 29, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

Los Angeles County must move quickly to adapt to federal health care reform or risk huge financial shortfalls or hospital closings, according to a report released without comment Tuesday by the head of the county’s hospital system.

The report was posted as part of the agenda for Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, but discussion was postponed.

The Department of Health Services estimates that 70 percent of those currently uninsured in Los Angeles will be eligible for insurance through either Medicaid or the state’s Health Benefit Exchange. Starting Jan. 1, 2014, about 200,000 low-income residents currently enrolled in Healthy Way LA, the county’s program that pays for health care for income-eligible residents, will
transition to Medicaid and be able to choose between a public and a private health care plan.

The county currently collects about $140 million in federal reimbursements caring for Healthy Way LA patients.

“What would be disastrous for L.A. County would be for the vast majority of HWLA patients to choose a different provider,” DHS Director Mitchell Katz warned in the report.

In the 1990s, when Medicaid was expanded to cover pregnant women and their children, the number of deliveries in county hospitals dropped from about 43,000 annually to less than 3,000 in recent years, according to DHS.

Because hospitals operate with very high fixed costs, a drop in the number of patients served has a much bigger impact on revenues than on expenses. A drop in patient volume of 30 percent, for example, will only cut expenses by 5 to 10 percent, according to the report.

And because about 1.3 million people in the county are expected to remain uninsured even after the Affordable Care Act takes effect, the county is obliged to keep hospitals open and provide a full range of services, even if that means incurring big losses.

The county has already taken steps to try and improve the patient experience, including setting up a primary care model, retraining health care providers and making appointment times more flexible. But more needs to be done, Katz said, including expanding specialty care, improving overall customer service and using electronic health records to coordinate an efficient range of care.

The federal reimbursement system will also change, from payments based on the cost of providing care to flat monthly per patient fees. Medicare and Medicaid are also focused on paying based on positive outcomes rather than for specific services. The changes are intended to give local hospitals and clinics incentives to control health care costs.

But the reforms will also put more pressure on hospitals to “provide the right service in the right place by the right person,” Katz said. That includes moving patients who require a lower level of long-term care – like chronically ill, homeless patients – out of hospitals and into facilities better suited to their needs.

The board has asked Katz to report monthly on the department’s progress in prepping for 2014.

Supervisors on Tuesday also approved a $367 million, 10-year contract to set up an
electronic health record system on a 4-1 vote.

A modern record keeping system that integrates information from multiple
sources is needed to provide high-quality health care, said Department of
Health Services Director Mitchell Katz.

The system the department currently uses fails to qualify for federal incentive payments that are expected to help pay for the new technology. Katz estimates that the department will receive about $100 million in federal funding.

Supervisor Michael Antonovich cast the only vote against the contract. He offered no comment.

County Celebrates Safe Surrender Milestone

November 29, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

(Photo courtesy of the office of Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe)

Families, firefighters and hospital staff joined Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe at Grand Park Tuesday evening for a ceremonial candle lighting to honor the 100 newborns given up safely and without questions through to the county’s Safe Surrender program that was started in 2001.

Family Forced to Abandon the U.S. in Order to Be Together

November 29, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

Rodrigo Ortega, 35, lives in Rosarito, Mexico with his American wife and two American-citizen children. A little over a year ago, Ortega was deported. Since then, his wife and kids have relocated to Mexico in order to be with him.

He wishes that his kids, now 3 and 7 years old, could attend school in the U.S. He wanted to continue providing them with the kind of life they were accustomed to in California, complete with hot showers and the occasional hamburger.

“‘‘We’re living day to day now,”‘‘ Ortega explained in a recent interview. “‘‘I want to give my kids a better life than this. I can’t even buy them a Whopper because it’s kind of expensive and I can’t afford it.”‘‘

Today, he works as a security guard in a Mexican shopping center occupied by American companies like Walmart and Applebee’s, earning roughly $100 for a 72 hour work-week. That breaks down to less than $1.50 per hour.

In the United States, Ortega earned $600 to $700 per week doing agricultural work in California’s San Joaquin valley.

The Ortega family is one of a growing number of American families who are forced to abandon their lives in the U.S. to stay together. ICE reports that 45,000 parents of American citizen children were deported in the first half of 2012. Human Rights Watch estimates that 1.6 million people in the United States were separated from a deported spouse or parent between 1997 and 2007.

The decision to move wasn’t easy. But after Ortega was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison for the crime of illegally re-entering the United States, the family decided it wasn’t worth it to remain in the United States.

Rodrigo’s wife had never been to Mexico, but he faced a long prison sentence if caught trying to illegally re-enter again. “‘‘It’s better for me to be with my kids than to go back to prison,”‘‘ he said.

Immigration offenses are now the most prosecuted crimes in the federal court system. The Department of Justice reports that between July 2011 and July 2012, 54.7% of all federal criminal prosecutions were for immigration crimes.

The two most prosecuted offenses in federal district courts were for “‘‘entry of alien at improper time or place”‘‘ and “‘‘reentry of deported alien.”‘‘ Nearly 89% of the people prosecuted for these crimes are from Mexico and Central America.

Due to this focus on prosecution of immigration offenses, nearly 30% of all federal prisoners are serving time for immigration crimes — crimes like re-entering the country after being deported.

Although the crime of illegal reentry is punishable by up to twenty years in prison, many undocumented immigrants risk it because their ties to the U.S. are so strong. The most common reason deportees cite for going back is to reunite with their families.

That’s why Ortega originally tried to cross back. His wife had given birth to his son, and he couldn’t stand to be apart from them. But when he tried to cross, he was caught. By the time he was released from prison for illegal re-entry, Ortega’s son was two years old. He met his child for the first time when his wife and children moved to Mexico soon after his release and deportation.

According to Mary Galvan, a social worker at the Casa de Madre Asunta, a shelter that houses deported women and children in Tijuana, harsh penalties for the illegal re-entry will not keep people from trying to return to the U.S.

“‘‘The women who are being deported now are not going to stop trying to return to the United States,”‘‘ she said. “‘‘In other words, if I’m separated from my children, I’m going to do the impossible to return to them.”‘‘

The U.S. government sees it differently.

When asked about the specific goals of prosecuting immigration crimes at such high rates, a spokesperson for the Department of Justice replied, “‘‘Federal criminal prosecution resources are focused on the prosecution of individuals who pose a national security or public safety risk, including violent criminals, convicted felons and repeat immigration law offenders.”‘‘

The collateral consequences of rising deportation numbers – the American citizen children and spouses who are forced to choose between living in exile or living apart from their loved ones – are not yet fully understood.

Social worker Mary Galvan predicts the situation will become more serious as these children grow up. “‘‘Imagine,”‘‘ she says, “‘‘when they grow up and ask ‘why didn’t I grow up by my mother’s side? Because my country took her from me.’ This will become a very serious social problem.”‘‘

Beth Caldwell and Joel Medina are part of a reporting team investigating the consequences of U.S. deportation policy in Mexico with support from a Soros Justice Media Fellowship.

This story can also be read at

Montebello Residents Protect Identities at Shredding Event

November 29, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

Most people just throw their old mail away without a second thought, but some take the time and precaution to shred documents containing personal information at home in hopes of protecting themselves from identity theft.

Dominic Hebert hands Fernando Gonzalez a bag filled with paper, that he wants destroyed at the mobile shredder in Montebello on Tuesday. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

But this week in Montebello, some local residents took advantage of a third option, taking bags full of documents to a mobile shredder where they were able to get rid of their stacks of papers in seconds.

Montebello’s Community Service Coordinator Crystal Jaimez helped organize the shredding event that allowed residents and businesses to recycle their documents for free. Although the turnout for the event was low, Jaimez told EGP she hopes the city hosts another shredding event in the near future.

“We had a couple of phone calls throughout the year from residents asking about shredding so we figured it was something the community would want,” Jaimez told EGP. “We’re trying to bring more recycling events and different programs to the community.”

Those residents who attended the event were able to watch their documents get shredded within seconds, ensuring their personal documents were safely discarded.

The representative for Shred-it, the company that securely discarded the documents, told EGP that their shredding service is safer and environmentally friendlier than simply shredding documents at home.

“Usually, when you do your own shredding, you just dump it in the trash …we recycle all the shredding we do,” Fernando Gonzalez said. “And you don’t have to worry about it getting into the wrong person’s hands.”

Patricia Angulo showed up at the event with documents she said she had been holding on to since 1997.

“I wanted to get rid of a bunch of stuff and make sure that its private because of security reasons, since there’s lot of identity theft,” said Angulo.

Residents who were unable to attend the event are urged by Gonzalez to properly and securely dispose of anything that contains personal information like social security numbers, medical records, adding that residents will also be able to throw away old mail or catalogs in an environmentally way at the next shredding event.

“We’re trying to see if we could bring in some mobile shredding machines into a couple of different departments within the city,” Jaimez said. “We’re hoping to host another shredding event sometime in the next year.”

For more information about Montebello’s recycling events, call (323) 887-4540.

East LA Murder Suspect Arrested in Joint U.S.-Mexican Operation

November 29, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

A man who had been on the FBI’s 10 most wanted list for more than two years was ordered Tuesday to remain jailed without bail while awaiting arraignment in connection with the slayings of three people in 1998.

Jose Luis Saenz was arrested in Guadalajara, Mexico. (Photo courtesy of the FBI)

Superior Court Judge Shelly Torrealba ordered Jose “Joe” Luis Saenz – who was arrested late Thursday in Guadalajara, Mexico – to return to the downtown courthouse for arraignment Dec. 17 on three counts of murder and one count each of kidnapping and forcible rape.

The murder charges stem from the July 25, 1998, killings of rival gang members Josue Hernandez and Leonardo Ponce in what authorities believe was payback for an attack on an associate, along with the Aug. 5, 1998, slaying of his girlfriend, Sigrieta Hernandez.

The kidnapping and rape charges also involve Hernandez, the mother of his child. She allegedly had threatened to turn him in for the Hernandez and Ponce killings.

Saenz is charged separately with a fourth murder – the Oct. 5, 2008, slaying of Oscar Torres.

Authorities said they have video of Saenz killing Torres in Whittier over a $600,000 drug debt. He is scheduled to be arraigned Jan. 8 on that charge.

Known by such aliases as “Zapp,” “Peanut Joe Smiley” and “Honeycutt,” Saenz arrived at Los Angeles International Airport under guard about 7 p.m. last Friday, according to Laura Eimiller, a spokeswoman for the FBI in Los Angeles.

“He was very difficult to find,” Eimiller said. “It took a lot of determination.”

At a news conference Monday at FBI headquarters in Westwood, Bill Lewis, the bureau’s Assistant Director in Charge in Los Angeles, said the arrest was carried out “without incident” and that Saenz “was surprised.”

“We do know that he took a couple of steps to mask his identity. He had some tattoos removed. He tried to alter his fingerprints and … had gained a significant amount of weight, which changed his appearance,” Lewis said.

Saenz, who allegedly worked for a Mexican drug cartel, had been under the surveillance of the FBI and Mexican law enforcement agents for weeks before he was arrested by Mexican agents as he left his apartment late Thursday, according to the FBI. The FBI agents involved in the surveillance did not directly take part in the bust.

“This was a very well-thought-out arrest plan,” Lewis said. “They brought in a tactical team to ensure the safety of the officers and the citizens around.”

Montebello Child Injured In Accident

November 29, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

A 6-year-old boy was critically injured and his father suffered minor injuries when an unlicensed driver accidentally stepped on the gas pedal of a small sport utility vehicle, a police lieutenant said last Saturday.

The crash occurred about 9 p.m. Nov. 23 on Sixth Street, south of Beverly Boulevard, said Montebello police Lt. Rich Meadows. He said the driver was not cited or arrested, but added the investigation was still ongoing.

Paramedics rushed the boy and his father to Los Angeles County/USC Medical Center, Meadows said.

Eagle Rock Girl Killed in Tragic Fall

November 29, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

A former UC Santa Barbara student who suffered a fatal head injury in a fall that occurred during an amorous embrace was identified as an Eagle Rock resident who was celebrating her 22nd birthday.

Melissa Portillo and a boyfriend were kissing on the second-floor porch of an Isla Vista apartment on Cordoba Road about 1 a.m. Saturday when the possibly alcohol-related accident happened, according to Santa Barbara County sheriff’s deputies.

Portillo, who had her back to the railing, and the young man fell off the porch onto a paved parking lot. She was declared dead shortly afterward at a hospital, and the young man was taken to a hospital with head and back injuries, authorities said.

Portillo, who earned a political science degree this past summer, was expected to drive to her family’s home in Eagle Rock yesterday, according to broadcast reports.

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