SAN ANTONIO – Wayne Wientjes said he feels mixed emotions looking at the stories sewn together through quilts on display this weekend at the New Living Spiritual Center.
“I get sad at first because I’ve known so many people who have lost their lives to AIDS,” Wientjes said. “But I go through, and I also celebrate it because each and every one of those lives that we lost was another step closer to where we are now, to where we can eradicate HIV and AIDS.”
Friday, Dec. 1, is World AIDS Day. The goal is to raise awareness for the disease that is caused by the spread of HIV. Advocates say it’s a day to mourn the people who have died due to AIDS and also a time to recognize the progress made in treatments.
“All of these people went through Hell and back,” said Aurelio Alcocer, president of Living Positive San Antonio. “Their struggles and the strife that they went through helped to improve the medications and the treatment that we get today.”
More than four decades after the first reported case in the United States, Alcocer said advances made in that time have changed and even saved lives.
“I’m living proof,” Alcocer said.
Alcocer was diagnosed with HIV around eight years ago. He said he lives a full life HIV-positive.
“I told myself that I wanted to become a beacon in the community,” Alcocer said. “We want to show them that people living with HIV are just normal, regular people.”
And Alcocer is not alone.
“I had my own diagnosis in 2015,” Wientjes said. “I felt a lot of shame at first.”
Wientjes said the stigma and discrimination that can come with HIV and AIDS can feel overwhelming.
“I see the barriers every day with religion and cultural barriers and things like that,” Wientjes said. “San Antonio, unfortunately, is a sore spot within the southern states. It still has a high amount of new HIV diagnoses every year.”
He said that’s why it’s so important to raise awareness and push education efforts on HIV and AIDS. One of those efforts is through those quilts.
“There still are a lot of misconceptions and a lot of, you know, stigmatizing views that we face,” Alcocer said.
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