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Coalition Announces Plans for AIDS Memorial Wall on Eastside : Health: Supporters hope the monument will break down a 'wall of denial' in Latino community about the disease.

January 14, 1994|RICHARD SIMON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Plans were announced Thursday for "The Wall--Las Memorias," a proposed memorial to be built on Los Angeles' Eastside to alert the Latino community to the deadly threat of AIDS.

Tina Escareno, whose 25-year-old daughter died of AIDS, hopes to see it built soon "so that grandmothers won't have to hear their 3-year-old grandson asking, 'When is my mother coming home?' "

The monument has yet to be designed or funded, but Escareno was on hand to express hope that the project will "break down the wall of denial" over AIDS in the Latino community. Newly reported cases of AIDS are increasing faster among Latinos in Los Angeles than in any other ethnic group.

One-third of all AIDS cases reported in the county in 1993 were among Latinos, up from about one-fifth in 1988, according to preliminary county health department figures. Last year in the county there were 548 deaths of Latinos with AIDS.

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles joined gay organizations and local groups and officials, including City Councilmen Richard Alatorre and Mike Hernandez, in endorsing the project at the proposed site of the memorial, Plaza de la Raza in Lincoln Park.

The memorial is envisioned as a semicircular wall with murals depicting Latino culture and listing 2,000 Latinos who have died of AIDS. Planners hope to sponsor a contest in local high schools to select designs for the murals.

Studies show that Latinas account for a disproportionately high share of the women countywide who have AIDS or the human immunodeficiency virus that causes the deadly disease, and that many are passing the virus to their babies during pregnancy. Forty-two percent of the children in the county who have AIDS are Latino.

Health officials believe those statistics reveal only part of the problem. Latinos, more than any other group, seek treatment only in the late stages of the disease, officials say.

Experts say ignorance, denial, shame and cultural and religious biases all contribute heavily to the spread of AIDS. Another factor is that illegal immigrants fear capture and deportation and do not seek testing or care for AIDS.

"When you go to a funeral on the Eastside and ask what did the person die of . . . sometimes (you're met with) silence," said Richard Zaldivar, an El Sereno activist leading the effort to build the memorial. "We're not supposed to have this disease on the Eastside. We always believed it belonged on the other side of town. But that's not true anymore."

Father Peter Liuzzi, the archdiocese's liaison to the lesbian and gay community, said he hopes the monument will "educate and sensitize the Latino community about the reality of AIDS."

"The Catholic Church is committed to education and prevention and outreach of compassion and solidarity with those who are infected by this disease," said Liuzzi, who has lost two cousins to AIDS.

Part of the problem is that warnings often are in English rather than Spanish, said Dr. Aliza Lifshitz of the County AIDS Commission. Seeking to change that, federal health officials last week released controversial new commercials--in English and Spanish--that promote condom use to reduce the risk of AIDS transmission. Officials hope the public service announcements will be broadcast on stations nationwide.

"Traditionally, the Latino community has always organized against enemies, such as immigration raids, social injustice and discrimination," said Herbert Siguenza of the comedy group Culture Clash. "AIDS is our new enemy.

"We all know a lover, a relative, a friend who has died of AIDS," he said. "And if you don't, you will."

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