EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — Every year, World AIDS Day is observed across Los Angeles — and a pandemic-stricken 2020 is no exception.
Over at East L.A.'s Lincoln Park, The Wall Las Memorias Project (TWLMP), a community health and wellness organization, has been honoring the day for 27 years with its annual evening of reflection known as Noche de Las Memorias. This translates from Spanish to "a journey of resilience and compassion," explained L.A. County Supervisor Hilda Solis.
What You Need To Know
- World AIDS Day was founded in 1988 and takes place on December 1 each year, allowing people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV
- The Wall Las Memorias Project is a local community health and wellness organization dedicated to serving Latino, LGBTQ, and other under-served populations
- TWLMP's "Noche de Las Memorias" World AIDS Day event will be held virtually this year due to the pandemic
- L.A. County Supervisor Hilda Solis and TWLMP's founder both see parallels between the AIDS crisis and COVID-19
This year’s community event, dedicated to remembering the lives and memories of those we've lost to the AIDS epidemic, has gone virtual and will be broadcast to a national audience Tuesday evening, with live and pre-recorded elements emanating from TWLMP’s AIDS Monument in Lincoln Park.
“We actually were able to receive state and local funding for the construction of the monument back in 2002,” said TWLM founder Richard Zaldiva. “We built the monument in 2004. We’re now renovating the monument, thanks to Supervisor Hilda Solis and City Councilman Gil Cedillo.”
Last year, Solis — who has worked with Zaldivar for over 25 years — donated $350,000 from her discretionary fund to the monument's renovation.
"It’s one of the only publicly funded monuments in the country that’s attributed to, I would say, the Latino community, and that’s why it’s so important," said Solis. "I was very moved by [Zaldivar's] work over the last few years."
Inspired by the events that occurred in the summer of 1993, TWLMP was created with the mindset of bringing HIV/AIDS awareness to the Latino community. For more than 26 years, the organization has helped eradicate stigma and bigotry and created a safer place in communities for dialogue, community building, education, and prevention services for the epidemic using its AIDS Monument as a catalyst for social change.
"Noche de Las Memorias started on the evening of December 1, 1993, when we started the organization," said Zaldivar. "There just so happened to have been about 45 to 50 people there, just gathering for World AIDS Day. We had no monument. It was just bare ground. And we got in a circle, and then magic happened. We had some prayers, and then all of a sudden, people in the circle started disclosing their memories of their lost ones, and that became the event.”
Tuesday evening will consist of inspirational messages, prayer, musical performances, and poetry. TWLMP has about 130 names to acknowledge for those we've lost this year to AIDS. Special guests include actors Laura Cerón and Wilson Cruz, among others.
The current pandemic that shakes today’s society, however, is not lost on this day. With Noche de Las Memorias losing its live audience component in Lincoln Park due to COVID-19 restrictions, TWLMP faces some new challenges.
“HIV/AIDS and the catastrophe that we experienced is really an emotional remembrance, an emotional time in our history, and it’s going to be very difficult when we’re not able to sit next to people that have the same memories or passions,” said Zaldivar. “And it’s going to be difficult to not be able to hug them in-person.”
One highlight of the evening comes when attendees light candles together in remembrance of the victims. In adapting to the times, TWLMP had to instead mail a candle to everyone who submitted a victim's name this year, along with all those who have attended the event in years past.
On the topic of COVID-19, one can’t help but draw parallels between both crises in our history.
“There have been some tremendous breakthroughs in vaccines that have been provided and special cocktails that have been developed, drug cocktails to help prevent HIV and provide the treatment,” said Solis. “Same thing will happen, I believe, with the COVID pandemic. So, history kind of repeats itself in a different way, but we should be learning from those lessons.”
“I think that there are so many similarities between COVID-19 and HIV, and that has been the reluctance of a United States president to acknowledge and to use the power of the federal government to address the epidemic — or the pandemic,” said Zaldivar.
Nonetheless, today's pandemic won't stop TWLMP from carrying its powerful message. People can register for the event here and tune in via Zoom to take an active part in remembering those who have been lost.
"Thank goodness for people like [Zaldivar] and others, that we’ve been able to lift those voices up and shine a bright light on what can happen when community comes together and helps provide the comfort, the mental health services, the wraparound services, as well as housing," said Solis.
Zaldivar himself will still appear at Lincoln Park for a live portion of Tuesday evening's event, which speaks to TWLMP's resilience in honoring their significant traditions amid challenging times. He'll be taking messages off the virtual chat room and sharing about others' loved ones who have passed.
"To all our people that lost someone to AIDS, it’s really important that we set some time aside in between the ugliness we hear on television and the numbers that keep on rising with COVID, to say, 'OK, we can never forget AIDS,'" said Zaldivar. "What did we learn from those years of battling AIDS and saving lives, and how can we also recommit ourselves to eradicate HIV but also to fighting COVID-19?"
On this Giving Tuesday, the organization is also welcoming donations to assist with future World AIDS Day "journeys of resilience and compassion."