Richard Zaldivar, Executive Director and Founder of The Wall-Las Memorias, gives Latino Men a guiding light through the journey of life.
QV recently spoke with Richard Zaldivar, Executive Director of The Wall-Las Memorias Project, about the organization and the group's softball team, The Mayan Warriors. One might wonder, "How does he have time to do so much and still have a life?" But for Zaldivar, it is apparent that his inspiration to work so hard comes from the love and spirituality he gets from the young men that he helps. A true father figure, Zaldivar facilitates a Latino men's group three times a week in addition to coaching the softball team. Here's what Richard told us:
What has driven you to help others? I've always been driven to be involved in the community since I was in high school, but it was always in the straight community. When I came out of the closet, I saw that there were a lot of Latinos who were dying of AIDS and I wondered why. I remembered people telling me, "When are you young Latinos going to get your act together about AIDS?" and it really irritated me. It angered me to the point that I had to make a commitment to myself to do something.
Is AIDS still a major problem among Latino men? AIDS is a symptom of a bigger problem that confronts us, and that has always confronted the Latino population. That problem is acceptance-acceptance of who we are. Latinos are dying not only from AIDS but also from alcohol and drug abuse. And if they don't die from that, they die from suicide. What's needed is acceptance and that is a cultural problem: learning to coexist within our closet. Ironically, I think that AIDS is helping Latinos discuss sexuality.
Has the risk increased or decreased? I think the risk is just as great. It is very powerful to see QV and lesbian Latinos coming out of the closet, but that in itself doesn't mean that the high risk of HIV is over. What's more important is how many men actually totally accept and learn to love themselves.
What is the essence of The Wall? We're constructing a memorial-but not as a finale. More significant is the empowerment that comes from having built it. It means we've got to work together and discuss AIDS in order to reach this goal and overcome prejudices and homophobia. The Wall is about empowering our community to deal with reality.
What differs The Wall from other Latino agencies? In the Latino Men's Group we go much deeper. It's more than just teaching about condom use-it's teaching the men to learn to explore and love themselves. We also have a greater connection to spirituality.
What outer influences are placed on Latinos? Many Latinos have only had white QV men and women as role models. Many times, especially when we first come out of the closet, we go to the West Hollywood scene to try to fit in because it's safe there. But after a while, we begin to realize that we don't really have a lot of commonality. I think that it is really important to say that as a Latino community we are different. We're not totally different-we have a lot of things in common-but culturally there are a lot of differences. And they're beautiful. We, as Latinos, tend to stay close to family and that's powerful. That's family value. And so our coming out is a lot different than it is for other races.
What programs does The Wall offer? In addition to the Latino Men's Group, we have a component called the Mothers of Latino Men, which is very powerful. It's very important to the Latino family that we have this support group for moms of QV men. We also have Mothers of The Wall for mothers who have lost loved ones to AIDS. We also have the Mayan Warriors Softball Team for Latinos. Our opening day was March 8th. Our groups are not only about learning but also about being more of a familia. We do a lot of things in the traditional Latino community, not just the QV things, because being QV or lesbian is one part of who we are. We participate in the Mexican Independence Day Parade, and we do outreach at a lot of traditionally straight locations. The men have also gone on their own to support Casa San Rafael in Tijuana which is an AIDS hospice.
How do you like your new location in Highland Park? I love the place. There has been an increase in turnout for meetings from the old house. It has been great!
For more information on weekly gatherings at The Wall-Las Memorias and the Mayan Warriors softball team, please call (213) 257-1056.