One HIV-positive college student’s take on life and the importance of educating Black and Latino communities
By Shavon S. Greene
Grissel Ganados, a senior sociology major at the University of California-Santa Barbra was diagnosed with HIV at the age of five. She was infected as an infant through breast milk, while her mother caught HIV through a blood transfusion in 1986.
“Since I grew up knowing, it was always something normal to me, but I was aware of the stigma around HIV and AIDS,” Ganados says. “I feel like people believe it can’t happen to them.”
Although Blacks and Latinos make up a small percentage of America’s population, they dominated more than half of those diagnosed with HIV and AIDS in 2005, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Ganados believes that lack of sexual education is an issue in the Black and Latino communities. “I didn’t disclose to any of my friends until middle school. When I was in the seventh grade, my friends and I were talking about sex, and someone said when someone gets AIDS they get red spots all over,” she says. “I was like do I have red spots all over?”
Besides being infected, her knowledge of the disease came from her mother, who worked for Bienestar, a non-profit organization that has provided HIV and AIDS services to the Latino community for 15 years. “A lot of things my mother learned, she passed on to me, which made my life better,” she says.
As a college student, Ganados has encountered new challenges. “Being sexually active, you have to disclose every time before you have sex. Not everyone is comfortable with having sex with someone with HIV,” she says. Being HIV-positive has also limited her dream of joining the Peace Corps after graduation. “Hearing that I could not be in the Peace Corps specifically because of my status was devastating for me, but I completely understand,” she says.
Ganados currently works for Planned Parenthood and after graduation, she plans to continue promoting sex education and HIV-awareness to communities, like hers, that are the most affected.
“I think the most important thing is to be educated. People should realize that, not only could it happen to them, but that it’s important to understand the social reasons behind it — the lack of education about it in our communities.”