A larger-than-expected crowd of close to 100 marchers gathered for Friday's annual Vida/SIDA World AIDS Day March, braving cold temperatures and a brisk wind to draw attention to the virus' impact on Chicago's Latino communities.
"It's not cold because we care," said state Rep. William Delgado. "Our hearts warm us up, our families warm us up."
With Puerto Rican flags waving, marchers stepped off from the corner of Division and Western and headed west, their quiet progress marked only by a Vida/SIDA worker with a bullhorn who read the names of community members who have died from AIDS.
Participants included workers from AIDS service organizations and students from area high schools and city universities, many of whom are natives of the neighborhood.
"I came because this was the neighborhood I grew up in and the neighborhood I used to work in," said Merida Rua, a former employee of Vida/SIDA.
For marcher Steven Diaz, participating was a matter of visibility.
"I came tonight just to make an active presence, just to show that this is still a problem, especially in the Puerto Rican community," he said. "This is an issue that's not going to go away soon."
He noted the disease's prevalence among Puerto Rican men, specifically. According to the Chicago Department of Public Health, the city's Puerto Rican population is disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS.
John ColĂ"n of VIDA/SIDA said the march seems to grow in size every year.
At a park mid-block, local officials addressed the crowd, pledging their commitment to bring more government funding into the community to help fight the disease.
"I want to do whatever I can to bring money to the hood," said Delgado. "When we come back to the hood, it's all about safe healthcare."
"This has no ethnicity," he added.
Cook County Committeeman Roberto Moldonado noted the need for Latino representation on the boards of agencies that serve the community and implored the crowd to get involved.
The march ended a few blocks later at the Dr. Pedro Albizu Campus Museum of Puerto Rican History and Culture, where the annual World AIDS Day art exhibit is housed.
This year's program is entitled Circulation, and local artists worked with people with AIDS to create paintings and installations that reflect their experiences with the disease, said curator Jorge FĂ©lix.
Museum-goers were also treated to a surprise appearance by salsa greats El Gran Combo, who briefly spoke and signed raffled CDs and posters.
Circulation/CirculaciĂ"n runs through the end of December at the Museum, 2739 W. Division.