Working in the field of HIV/AIDS and spending tireless hours passing out condoms, teaching others about prevention and writing proposals for programs, you never stop to realize that death can loom around you, taking the life of a colleague, someone you admire or maybe even a close friend.
Last month the Latino and AIDS community lost one of its own, Javier Contreras, 33, an activist who worked at Pilsen/Little Village Community Mental Health Center and recently at the Core Center, where he worked closely with bilingual clients.
Contreras was born in Mexico and raised in Chicago since the age of 6—primarily on the Southwest Side, where he lived with his parents.
'I have millions of memories of Jaiver, but I will always remember his willingness to share his life with others like when he presented in front of students for World AIDS Day a few years ago through the Mayor's Office. He was a very caring and candid person,' said Nora Navarro, Deputy Director of Pilsen/Little Village.
It was his passion for teaching others about HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment that brought him to Pilsen/Little Village in the Hands of Life Against AIDS (HOLA) project, an intensive case management program funded by the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, providing services to those individuals living with HIV/AIDS.
Contreras served as a counselor and case manager before becoming HOLA's project supervisor. He was also a member of the HIV Prevention Planning Group (HPPG) of the City of Chicago and was present during its 1999-2000 priority setting process. 'The thing with Javier was that he never was just your co-worker, he also became your friend,' Navarro said.
At Pilsen/Little Village, Contreras would always come in dancing and singing to the office, sharing jokes with his fellow staff. 'He was so outgoing and always made people smile,' remembers Leticia Sustaita, Division Director for Prevention at Pilsen/Little Village.
'Javier was the one who got me involved in the cause. We vacationed together in Cancun one year and became very close friends. I remember we talked and he said to me 'I will be dying one day and I am at piece with that so as long as I've made a difference in someone's life … then that's OK',' she adds.
Friends, family as well as former and current clients from Pilsen/Little Village and the Core Center came to pay their last respects during a service for Contreras. Among the speakers was Rose Camacho, Clinical Nurse at the Core Center, who described Contreras as a listener and a guide. 'Javier was also adventurous. He loved to travel and fulfilled his dream of going to Italy. He was a special person,' she said.
Contreras, who died of complications of AIDS, took the lead in organizing his own service by preparing and selecting the music, poems, and even the pictures he displayed. 'He insisted on having more of a gathering than mourning at his service,' Camacho said, who read a passage from his favorite book.
In loneliness ...
In pleasant memories ...
In recalled conversations ...
In time of burden ...
Until we meet again
Farewell my friend