Enrique Sapene

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Ruby’s Rap by Ruby Comer

Enrique Sapene. Photo by Matthew Mitchell
Happy trails to you….” As I sing this standard, I see horses trotting down the country lane, clippetty-clopp, clippetty-clopp, with a fine-looking cowboy riding next to me. Hmmm, romantic. The song was originally sung by cowboy actor Roy Rogers and his cowgirl actress wife, Dale Evans, many moons ago. But to me, it’s more than just a mere tune. Yep, I like a man who is hot on the trail—and Enrique Sapene is just that man. Think Jeremy Irons with the mystique of Lou Diamond Phillips.

TV reporter Enrique recently covered the AIDS/LifeCycle for Univision. He followed the riders along their seven-day journey from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Blogging several times a day, he shot videos (editing them later), interviewed riders, took photographs, and afterwards produced TV packages for Univision’s affiliates around California. Enrique is an accomplished actor, as well, from soapers to stage to screen. He co-starred in The Last Mountain and in Showtime’s Mothers and Daughters. The twenty-eight-year-old has worked alongside Carmen Electra, America Ferrera, Maria Conchita Alonso, and Carlos Ponce, and recently wrapped the third season of the TV series Hacienda Heights. In 2012 he has two movies coming out, Ten Buck Baton and Tony Tango.

We meet over a wee bit of watered down “red-eye” at his home just off Laurel Canyon in the Hollywood Hills. Patsy Cline softly plays in the background.

Ruby Comer: I’m so impressed with your participation in the AIDS LifeCycle. What was the adventure like?
Enrique Sapene:
It was a life-changing experience; I met all kinds of people. What touched me the most was that it created a family, all riders shared the same goal. Everybody—of all different colors and races—worked together to make a change.

What an incredible feeling that must have been. What sticks out the most about traveling with these riders?
The brotherhood that is created amongst them. I saw riders helping others to go up hills on their bikes by pushing them with their hands while riding. Some riders would turn around to cheer some of the tired ones so that they would make it to their rest stops. [He looks away for a brief moment.] Also, one of the riders called his mother and admitted to her that he had tested positive two years ago. He [gave permission] to our team to document it. That was really tough. To this day my eyes water when I think about that moment.

How moving, Enrique. I’ve heard that at night it can get quite wild and fun….
It can! I tried to be a part of it as much as possible, but I usually needed to work.

Would you consider signing up to be a rider next year?
Absolutely, I hope I can ride next year. I’m also hoping that Univision will want to cover it again next year on a bigger scale.

Enrique, what comes to mind when I say, “HIV?”
Fear, ignorance, hope, and change.

I like your choice of sequence. [I grin.] What impact has the epidemic had on you?
Well, it changed the way my generation looks at sex. I was raised in South America where they scared you about AIDS but didn’t inform you about what it was or how to prevent it….

Hold on there cowboy. Really?! Were you taught HIV prevention in high school?
I went to school in Caracas, Venezuela, and all they told us was that we needed to wear condoms and that HIV, if contracted, would kill you. I learned about HIV because of my own research.

Good for you. You are a man after my own heart—someone who takes responsibility. Have you lost anyone close to you from AIDS?
I lost one of my best friends to HIV/AIDS. His name was Rion and he told me one day at dinner that he had tested HIV-positive. I asked him if he had taken the test more than once and he confirmed by saying he had and that it was a definite positive. I was with him for part of his decline but I had to move back to Miami to work and couldn’t spend a lot of time with him. My great friends, Kerry Newsome and Julie Askew, took care of him, along with his family, until his passing. Every day I regret the fact that I wasn’t involved fully. He was one of my best friends, but sadly…[he chokes up] I was afraid. My best friend, Rion, died of AIDS. [He says it as if reciting a poem.] I thought it only happened to other people…not to me.

I understand, Enrique. Many of us have felt that way. It can happen to us. Unfortunately….it can. What other involvement have you had with the HIV/AIDS community?
In my early teens I volunteered for AIDS benefits and in my senior year I did my thesis on Visual AIDS. Nobody knew what Visual AIDS was and, at that time, some people didn’t even understand the meaning of the red ribbon. I also spoke to the student body at my high school about Visual AIDS and The Ribbon Project, which led to our school creating a program that collected food and clothes for people living with AIDS and for those who had no loved ones.

Later on, when I lived in Europe before moving to the United States, I met more people involved in the fight against AIDS who were open about their status. That was when I had the chance to learn more about all the ways that I could contribute. Since then I try to participate in everything I can.

Thank you for your efforts, Bronco. You don’t horse around! What drives you to give?
Why wouldn’t I? [He says this earnestly.] I was blessed to have a supportive loving family and my parents worked hard to give me the best education they could afford. [He gets up, moves toward the balcony then stops in front of the sliding doors.] I have always felt that it’s my obligation to give back.

The epidemic intrigued me, Ruby. I mean, I was taught that AIDS would kill; therefore, sex was dangerous. Being a public figure has given me a platform where I can reach people. I educate at every opportunity….

You and I are definitely from the same stable. Enrique, will you address the high rate of HIV infection in the Latino community?
More information needs to be given! [He states quickly with passion.] Latinos still believe that being HIV-positive is a death sentence and that homosexuals only contract the disease. There is very little information on treatment of STDs and for somebody who tests positive in our community. [He ponders.] The way to reach them—and this is easy—is by…talking about it. It seems nobody talks to the Latino community about HIV/AIDS! [He’s exasperated.] We need to create [more] campaigns to educate and involve the media such as TV, radio, and print. We have the power to save lives by educating, Ruby, and openly talking about this disease. I urge people to speak up and teach younger generations about this disease.

Happy trails to that! [I rise and follow him out onto the balcony. We toast each other looking out over the calm Los Angeles basin.]
Ahh, Ruby, this is the time of day I like best, where the sun is almost down and it’s neither night or day. The French call it l’heure bleue [the blue hour]. It makes everything look a little blue. It makes it perfect to be in bed…and hopefully not alone. [He cracks a full, wide pretty smile then winks at me.]

Ruby Comer is an independent journalist from the Midwest who is happy to call Hollywood her home away from home. Reach her by e-mail at [email protected]

November 2011