Alex Paredes and Alina Salgado led a candlelight procession down Sunset Boulevard near downtown Friday night asking for shelter along the way. Seven times the two AIDS victims stopped at businesses and asked to be let in. Seven times they were turned down.
Symbolically, they were impersonating Joseph and Mary in the Posada, a Latino Christmas ceremony that re-enacts the rejection of the holy family before the birth of Christ.
But, in real life, they were playing out the rejection of victims of AIDS by the world at large and their own Latino community.
Hoping to draw a parallel with the holy family to bring AIDS out of the closet in the Latino community, 14 social, religious and health groups staged a Posada for AIDS Friday night, an event they described as the first public demonstration within the Latino community to deal with AIDS.
Because of its early identification with homosexuals, Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome--the usually fatal affliction of the immune system--has been anathema in the Latino culture, said Jack Garcia of El Centro del Pueblo, a group that works to discourage gangs and drug abuse in Echo Park.
"Because of the stereotypes Latino families have about people with AIDS, we are finding that many are shunning people with AIDS," Garcia said.
As a result of silence within the Latino community and lack of funds for AIDS-prevention programs, the Latino community now suffers disproportionately more than the general population from the usually fatal disease that is transmitted by blood and other body fluids, Garcia said.
"We are five years behind in educating our minority communities," Garcia said.
The Posada for AIDS brought together groups as diverse as the Gay and Lesbian Latinos Unidos, St. Athanasius Church and the Echo Park Coordinating Council.
'Walking in Love'
"We've been brought together by fear, but we're walking together in love," said Bob Jones, a pastor with the Metropolitan Community Church of Los Angeles, in a short press conference before the march.
The procession assembled on the steps leading up the hill above Sunset Boulevard at Micheltorena Street in Echo Park, which was lined with candles inside paper bags. At first it was a paltry group, consisting mostly of members of sponsoring organizations.
Eventually, dozens of children from the community showed up with old women in serapes joining them.
About 200 people, all carrying candles, began the walk.
Sympathy, No Shelter
At each stop, accompanied by three guitarists, the crowd sang in Spanish, asking for lodging. The proprietor sang back, offering sympathy and food but not shelter.
At the second stop, Sun Lake Drugs on Silver Lake Boulevard, owner Dean Ng in a white pharmacist's smock handed out popcorn, cookies and condoms.
At his Mexican and Salvadoran bakery, Rogelio Aguirre, handed out Mexican sweetbreads and hot fruit punch. Coming to his door in a blue denim jacket, he turned the procession away in a crisp baritone, which his friends said he acquired in a Mexican university choir.
The crowd marched on to a Bamboo Broiler restaurant, then a First Interstate bank branch and then to the Central City Action Committee, a program working with impoverished youths in Echo Park. There too it was turned away.
Succor came after two miles of walking, at the offices of El Centro del Pueblo. There the symbolic family broke open a pinata.