Senior Director of Community Health Initiatives
15 years ago, I embarked on a journey from East Los Angeles to New York City. El Barrio/Harlem became my second home and I quickly became acclimated to this new city, its diversity, food, music and culture. Since then, the streets of El Barrio have seen a change in its demographics with the arrival of new immigrants, in particular the Mexican community. 116th Street is now known as “Little Mexico” and one of the reasons why I am pleased to be back in East Harlem and working for Iris House- I am home!
Back then, when I started working in the HIV/AIDS field, I was known as the “condom lady” among adolescents whom at some point had attended an educational HIV prevention workshop with me. For others, I was the lady that helped them get a referral to HIV/STI testing, substance abuse prevention programs or spoke to them about safer sex. Although, much has changed in the way we conduct our work, El Barrio/Harlem continues to be disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS. Our work needs to be in the streets, condoms must be made available, HIV testing must be kept in the forefront and individuals who are HIV positive must receive appropriate treatment and care services. In an effort to reduce HIV transmission, our CondomDistribution Project distributes over 20,000 condoms to local business in El Barrio/Central/West Harlem, Washington Heights and the South Bronx on a monthly basis; and is model program in our community .
Today, as I walk through El Barrio to my office on 116th and 2nd Avenue, I am reminded that the fight must continue- immigrants are the face of AIDS, their faces represent the new generation of hope and survival; and Iris House will embrace their journey here.