The Wall-Las Memorias was born out of the love and care between two best friends.
In the early 1990s, Richard Zaldivar became aware of his best friend’s HIV-positive status. Richard witnessed what his friend David went through — the stigma, the lack of treatment, the disconnect from family, the shame. The Wall-Las Memorias was Richard’s way to honor David’s journey with this chronic, potentially life-threatening condition and give back to his community.
At that point, not only did Richard make a commitment to build an AIDS monument to people who died from AIDS, but he also pledged to engage the Latine community throughout the process. As a result, the memorial emerged in Lincoln Park in East L.A., a site rich in cultural and artistic Latine history, and it developed into a place of healing and learning.
The monument now has the names of over 360 people who died of AIDS etched into it, and they add more every year during a ceremony that launched on December 1st of 1993 — World AIDS Day.
That first night, people gathered around at the park, prayed, and honored all the lives lost to HIV/AIDS. “It was just magical. We had about 50 people from the community come together,” said Richard. “We created a circle, brought candles, and started calling out the names of people who’d passed away.”
Tuesday marks 27 years since that night and a ceremony that became an annual event for World AIDS Day called La Noche de las Memorias. This year is a special one, considering the world is living through another pandemic. Although the global response to COVID-19 and AIDS has been drastically different, the communities disproportionately affected by these diseases (and all of their consequences) do overlap.
Latine and LGBTQI2-S communities are at higher risk of testing positive for both coronavirus and HIV and, when they do, have less access to medical and financial resources. In 2018, Latines — most of them gay and bisexual men — accounted for 27% of new diagnoses of HIV in the United States, despite only representing around 18% of the population. Similarly, about 20.97% of COVID-19 deaths have been Latines, and data shows that LGBTQI2-S Latines are suffering a disproportionate impact on the economic fallout of COVID-19.
LGBTQI2-S Latines are fighting two pandemics, which makes this memorial incredibly important for anyone in the community who has lost someone at the hands of a neglected public health crisis. The beautiful thing about Noche de las Memorias this year is also that, by moving the event to an online platform (for safety reasons), they will allow people from all over the nation to join. So, no matter where folks are, they do not have to go through World AIDS Day alone.
The event will be broadcasted on Tuesday, December 1st at 6:00 PM (PST) to audiences around the country through a unique virtual program with a special live portion from The Wall Las Memorias AIDS Monument in Lincoln Park. Even though organizers are not inviting people to be physically present as they usually do, Richard will be at the park reading some of the testimonies that come their way through Zoom.
“We are putting together an amazing event on the evening of December 1st. We have participants, including local and state elected officials. We have incredible folks lined up to provide testimonies like Justina Machado, Laura Cerón, Wilson Cruz, Kenny Ortega. We’re going to hear from beautiful voices like Juan Pabli Di Pace, singing at the event,” Richard shared with Belatina News.
Their World AIDS Day event will include an evening of prayer, inspirational messages, guest appearances from celebrities, and musical performances in commemoration of the national awareness day. As part of the program, they will invite community members to participate in their Get to Zero LA campaign to end the HIV epidemic by 2030.
The Wall-Las Memorias is not only a place to remember but a movement for change. Commemorating the lives and memories of those who have lost to AIDS goes beyond World AIDS Day. The reality is that LGBTQI2-S and Latine communities are still healing and fighting AIDS on a daily basis. How can people honor their lives?
“I think it’s important that we not forget those who passed away by remembering what our civic duty calls us to do today,” responded Richard.
The Wall-Las Memorias is at the forefront of addressing policy issues in California. The AIDS Monument at Lincoln Park is the only publicly funded monument in the country, and that in itself is a true tribute to the leadership of LGBTQI2-S and Latine communities in East L.A. The Wall-Las Memorias has put in the work, educated elected officials, and advocated for accessible prevention and treatment at a local and state level.
They have also become leaders in providing health and wellness programs and services to the greater Los Angeles community and beyond. All programs and services are tailored to enrich the community’s spirit and health through culturally responsive services.
Today, The Wall-Las Memorias has over 34 people on staff. They provide prevention and testing services for HIV to gay men, bisexual men, and the transgender community. They developed a program focused on substance abuse prevention among Latine and LGBTQI2-S communities and created an innovative mental health program that addresses LGBTQI2-S people’s issues.
The Wall-Las Memorias has made it their mission to provide access to specialized services designed to prevent disease and to promote societal wellness; guarantee that individual voices of the community are heard and that all are in agreement on the essential need for social change; promote the use of The Wall Las Memorias AIDS Monument as an acknowledged catalyst for change and action; and engage the LGBTQ and faith communities, making both entities full partners in promoting wellness and eliminating stigma among all people.
They walk the talk, and everyone should support them.