Starting Nov. 29, Test Positive Aware Network (TPAN) will offer a Spanish-language support group for HIV-positive Latinos.
Called Por Nosotros Para Nosotros ("By Us For Us"), the peer-led meet-up convenes Thursdays at 7-8:30 p.m. at TPAN's Edgewater officemaking it one of the North Side's only Spanish-language HIV groups.
"Typically, South American and Caribbean populations tend to keep things closer to home, buried inside or within their families," said Michael Valdez, TPAN's psychosocial program manager. "They don't reach out to others so much for support. I think to have a group that's Spanish-speaking and Latino-specific can draw some of those feelings, emotions and experiences out."
In addition to addressing education, health and prevention concerns, Por Nosotros Para Nosotros will focus on stigmas and stereotypes unique to Latino communities.
"There's something that we call machismo, which is slightly different than being macho in the United States, but is very, very similar," said Jose Lopez, a medical case manager. "For a man specifically, you really don't admit that you're not healthy because [that's] like admitting that you're not a real man, or that you're not 100-percent male."
This sense of machismo, paired with fears of cultural isolation, often prevents Latinos from accessing care, Lopez said. Immigration status is another pressing concern.
"Many [undocumented people] have a fear of being deported because, for them, it's a death sentence," said Lopez, who has clients from at least eight different countries. "Prices of medication are much higher in Latin America… And the stigma over there is even worse than it is herefor being both HIV-positive and being a man."
The stress associated with deportation fears can negatively impact one's health, Valdez said. TPAN case managers hope their clients can confide in one another in the confidential group setting.
"Many of my clients are at different levels with their documentation," Lopez said. "They can say to each other: You know what, this is probably a better way to go about it. This is the process that worked for me; it might work for you."
The ongoing meet-up will feature potlucks and guest speakers, and maintain a more social environment than TPAN's other peer programming.
"It's about the culture and giving [clients] support in an environment where they're comfortable," said Julie Supple, director of client services.
Lopez added, "For this community, the family is valued very highly. [Someone's] family can't truly be there for them if they're not aware that the person is HIV-positive. This will be a group of individuals that doesn't know each other, but I can see them turning into brothers and sisters."
Por Nosotros Para Nosotros meets Thursdays from 7-8:30 p.m. at TPAN's office, 5537 N. Broadway, starting Nov. 29. No pre-registration is necessary. For questions, contact Michael Valdez at 773-989-9400 ext. 246 or email@example.com .
PHOTO CAPTION: Michael Valdez, TPAN's psychosocial program manager; Jose Lopez, a medical case manager; Julie Supple, director of client services. (Bella is Supple's dog).Photos by Erica Demarest