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Community News: Southeast

SOUTHEAST AREA : Group Helps Latinos With AIDS, HIV

March 20, 1994|MARY HELEN BERG

Ruben Acosta wants local Latinos with HIV to wake up and get help.

Many Latino homosexuals are unwilling to acknowledge their sexual orientation or seek help if they become HIV-positive because of cultural and religious traditions, said Acosta, the founder of Action Now, a new general-service AIDS organization serving the Southeast area.

Acosta, who is 34 and HIV-positive, speaks from experience. He says he married and had two children before he admitted to himself that he is gay. Now he hopes he can help "tear down the walls of denial" in the community.

"You do know someone with AIDS," said Acosta, who was diagnosed with the AIDS virus two years ago. "They're your gardener or your child's Sunday school teacher or your attendant at Disneyland."

Action Now, which opened March 1 in Downey, will provide assistance to people with HIV and AIDS, their caretakers and survivors through free counseling, an information and referral center, and other services.

Acosta hopes to target the Latino population in 19 Southeast cities, such as Maywood and Huntington Park, where more than 92% of residents are Latino.

By providing counseling for Spanish speakers and support groups for Latinos, Action Now and other agencies are "responding to the changing face of AIDS," said Dean Lacitra, a spokesman for AIDS Project Los Angeles.

After whites, Latinos have the highest rate of infection, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services. But because of machismo and the cultural stigma associated with homosexuality, Acosta said, Latino cases are severely underreported.

Action Now may make it easier for Southeast-area residents to come forward and get help, Acosta said. The organization attracted about a dozen clients in its first two weeks of operation and 250 people to its first major event, a candlelight gathering last week.

The community's positive response demonstrates that Action Now has "hit the nail on the head" and reflects the local need for AIDS services, said Enid Awad, executive director of the Southern California Rehabilitation Services, a nonprofit umbrella group that oversees Action Now and other programs that help people with disabilities live independently.

Action Now clients will be able to tap resources such as job and housing placement, transportation and other services that the umbrella group provides, she said.

Acosta, an aerospace quality control manager who has become an AIDS activist, is planning outreach to all Southeast residents and hopes to make presentations at local schools.

"These kids have uncles and moms that are dying or have died," Acosta said. "They need to be able to talk about it . . . "

Acosta is Action Now's only employee, and the organization operates on a $24,000 budget provided through Southern California Rehabilitation Services. Acosta has planned a Southwestern cook-off fund-raiser for May 13 and hopes to organize a hair cut-a-thon to raise money--and the organization's profile.

"Some people in Bell Gardens are still traveling to Hollywood and Long Beach for help, and we want them to know that there is help right here," Acosta said.

Information: (310) 862-6531, Ext. 11.

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