An Interview with Alicia Negron — As told to Pedro Soto, CHAMP, West Coast
APRIL 2007 • Issue 4
Alicia Negron was hired by the city of New Orleans to provide HIV prevention services for Latinos after hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. Up to 120,000 Latinos have arrived to work on the reconstruction of New Orleans, where a devastated HIV/AIDS infrastructure remains unprepared to serve them.
New Orleans. This is a different world. Everything has been destroyed. Everything is broken, from politics to police service. Most of the Latinos—Mexicans, Guatemalans, and Salvadorians—who have arrived looking for work are undocumented workers who live under bridges or in abandoned houses.
Local government and politics have tied up all the funding for food and housing; they don’t offer it to anyone. People spend two or three days without food; they roam the streets asking for food. People have no knowledge of what HIV is because, in the places that Latino workers live, no one even knows the word. They live in absolute informative discrimination.
White, African American, and Vietnamese women who may have become dependent on alcohol or drugs and living in misery (major factors that influence infections and HIV transmission) come to the homes of Latinos, knocking on their doors, offering themselves as prostitutes. The women don’t speak Spanish, the men don’t speak English, and unprotected sex is the norm because the men either don’t know how to use a condom or don’t want to use one.
Another obstacle in providing health and prevention services to this Latino community is that so many community members are undocumented, and most existing clinics require a Social Security number before they will provide medical services due to a recent Medicaid policy change made by the federal government. The only clinic that offers services to undocumented people is NO/AIDS Task Force, even though other sources of funding without citizenship requirements exist.
We need a clinic where Spanish is spoken, where access to education, prevention counseling, and medical care isn’t limited. There aren’t enough Spanish speakers available to provide condoms and explain HIV/AIDS to undocumented workers.
Also, HIV testing should be included in the care of pregnant women. About 265 undocumented Latinas give birth at local hospitals every month. The Latino migrant worker population is mostly male, but there are also some women. Due to harsh circumstances and the inhospitable environment, men may abandon their partners as their work opportunities change, even while the women are pregnant. To survive, they don’t want to take their women along. As a result, with little or no opportunities or support, some women turn to sex work.
We must emphasize the urgent need for Spanish-speaking people who can help. Above all, clinics can and must use unrestricted funding to serve these undocumented immigrants who are in desperate need of treatment and prevention services.
If you identify as Latino and/or speak Spanish, volunteer at the Latino Health Outreach Project of the Common Ground Health Clinic, which works out of a parking lot every Thursday morning at Martin Luther King Jr. and Claiborne Avenues from 7am to 9am. Non-health workers can offer interpretation or other help. Call (504) 377-7281 (Español and English).
If you’ll be visiting New Orleans for the HIV Prevention Leadership Summit May 20-23, you can volunteer to help stuff condom packets with the Latino Outreach Team, NO/AIDS and other organizations by registering here.