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HIV-Positive Immigrants Make the Final Trip Home

La Opinin, News Feature, Claudia Nez, Translated by Elena Shore Posted: Nov 30, 2009

Traduccin al espaol

There was once a mother who dreamed of seeing her daughter return from the United States, and a daughter who longed to return triumphant to Mexico. The meeting did take place, but with one uncomfortable and uninvited guest: AIDS.

Although its a cruel story, Matilda Cruz doesnt get sad when she tells it. It bothers her that she, like hundreds of Mexican mothers, has seen her child return, only to see her leave forever, because in the land of the free, AIDS found her first.

My Claudia left in 1995. She was very good, my girl. The best of my daughters. And look, the poor girl just came back to die, says Matilda, a Mexican mother from the state of Durango, whose daughter contracted HIV during her brief stay in the United States.

Ill never forget when she called me to tell me she was returning to Mexico. Oh! She was really, really happy, but as soon as I saw her, I knew something wasnt right. She was just skin and bones walking and my grandchildren were all disheveled. She never told me anything. I found out about everything a month after she arrived, when the doctors told me that my daughter had died of AIDS, she says as she cries.

It is estimated that nearly 100,000 immigrants in the United States carry the virus and more than 22,000 of them are Mexican, according to a Population Council study on migration and HIV/AIDS.

In the next few years, Mexican health authorities expect the return of between 7,000 and 14,000 infected people, the study indicates.

They just come to live out their last days here. They arrive in such a deplorable condition that there is little we can do for them, explained Enrique Castaeda Guerrero, who runs the HIV/AIDS program for the Durango region.

In the six years that he has worked with the HIV-positive immigrant community, Castaeda has had dozens of men and women under his care who left in search of a better life or in search of the freedom to express their sexuality openly, and have returned in a terminal stage of the disease.

In Mexico, there is a lot of stigma surrounding gay people and a lot of people leave to escape the repression, but contract the virus in the U.S. Its sad that in their ignorance, out of shame or even because they dont know English, many immigrants dont ask for help in time. I have patients who, after they found out they were infected, dont do anything to take care of themselves, and when they find out they have AIDS, theyre already very sick and the first thing they do is get their things together and go back to their hometowns, said the expert.

Hundreds of miles from Durango, in the large metropolis of Los Angeles, Cristal del Toro, a transgender HIV-positive woman, knows this story all too well. For her, being an immigrant and being part of this epidemic is like suffering from two conditions that attack her relentlessly.

When you know you have HIV, you get depressed and a lot of immigrants feel alone and they give up, because they feel that no one here will look after them, explained Cristal, who is now the face of a national campaign that fights HIV among Hispanics.

When you dont have anyone in this country and you die of AIDS, your fate is the morgue and then they cremate you and they put you in a common grave. Last year, three of my immigrant friends died of AIDS here. No one claimed them, and those of us who are their friends didnt have the right to bury them because were not their relatives. So, for a lot of people, when theyre really sick, its better for them to leave. It terrifies all of us to end up in a common grave, said Cristal del Toro.

From San Bernardino, where he advocates for the rights of HIV-positive immigrants, and far from his hometown of Michoacn, Jos Rosas, who has been HIV positive since he was 17, is reluctant to repeat the story of the immigrant who returns to his homeland to die.

"We hear terrifying stories that over there [in Mexico] theres no medicine or good care. Its as if those who go back are trying to commit suicide. And it's not fair. There are a lot of resources available and we shouldnt stop fighting or make the decision not to fight back just because were immigrants. Im sure our families would prefer that we are far away, but alive," concluded Rose.

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