Mujeres Unidas: Representing Latinas Living with HIV at AIDS 2012

Mujeres Unidas: Representing Latinas Living with HIV at AIDS 2012

by Martha Zarate

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My name is Martha Zarate. After 12 consecutive years of trying to have a baby, God gave me the miracle of motherhood in 2000. But through the pregnancy, I had tested HIV-positive. After I received my diagnosis, I immediately faced discrimination. It was hard for me to go into clinics and talk about the disease because everyone made me feel like a leper. Although I hated going into clinics, I forced myself to go because I needed the services that they provided. Regardless of how they treated me, I needed to survive- for myself and for my child.

As a HIV+ Latina in the U.S., I had personally struggled with getting into care, substance abuse, and domestic violence. As an advocate for women living with HIV, I have a greater understanding of the barriers that exist within my community. Common barriers HIV/AIDS Latinas face daily are financial, transportation, food, childcare, language, immigration, domestic violence, substance abuse, depression, and secure health insurance. All of these barriers co-exist and co-depend on each other; therefore, most Latinas have multiple barriers at any given time.

If you don’t have documentation, you can’t get a job. If you can’t get a job, you can’t get money. If you don’t have money, you have to depend on your husband or partner. If you depend on your partner, you are indirectly supporting ‘Macho Mexicano’ which is defined as men who have complete control of the home and of the family. Our culture still defines men as breadwinners and women as homemakers. Therefore as Latinas, we may not be able to work- we are confined to stay at home. We stay silent for many years without medical care because our partners may not let us talk about it. We live in fear.

The biggest barrier for Latinas living with HIV is health care. The first step into care is already extremely difficult, but the fear of losing health care without notice is daunting. The Affordable Care Act, also known as health care reform, will radically affect Latinas. The Affordable Care Act leaves out undocumented individuals and permanent residents who have lived in the U.S. under 5 years. Latinas already have an overarching fear of entering into clinics undocumented because immigration can instantly detain and deport them. Latinas are also limited by an infinite amount of barriers and taking away health care would be a death sentence to us and to our families. We need our medication, our doctor appointments, and a full range of supportive services to live long healthy lives.

As women, gatekeepers, and mothers, we need to keep living for our families and communities. Right now, Medicaid and Medicare are changing dramatically and without much notice. Therefore, we fear that we will be left without medical coverage at any moment. How are we supposed to continue living our lives without health care if our insurance does not cover our basic needs?

As part of the Latina community living with HIV, I would like you to consider helping us fight for access to such services. Secure healthcare and supportive services like food assistance and transportation would be the hope we need and a great blessing to our lives.

We need a voice. We need someone to represent us. Just because we are Latinas, it does not mean that we are different. We are still human. We need our opinions to be heard.

As a Peer Navigator at Christie’s Place, a women-focused HIV organization in San Diego, and a representative of the Latina community, I want to be a voice for my community. I want to be an example for all Latina women and inspire them to speak up. I want to be the first of many; if I can do it, then other Latinas can.

At the 2012 International AIDS Conference, I want to participate, advocate, and represent the underrepresented. I will be the ears and voice for my community by learning new strategies and speaking on behalf of my peers. Although Latinas may be statistically a minority, I want people to know that we exist. HIV/AIDS does not discriminate.

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