Mexican Radio

by David Waggoner


Once in a while there are reasons to see the upside being HIV-positive. I am looking forward to this year’s United States Conference on AIDS—presented by the National Minority AIDS Council (NMAC), from October 2 to 5, in San Diego!

My former hometown on the Mexican border is where, over a period of eighteen years, I lived in at least four different houses; I was a Navy Brat, my dad being deployed every two or three years to a different place on the globe. San Diego was where my mom and my two sisters lived on and off for two decades in a tight-knit community with more military families per square mile than anywhere else on the planet. There was camaraderie: we went to the same Navy chapel (at Miramar Naval Air Station); we went to beach parties once one of us in our gang had a car; we went to seaside senior proms that featured the sun setting behind our backs; and we lived our high school years oblivious to the strife of Los Angeles, the crime of Chicago, and the congestion of New York. We were, in a sense, longtime compadres in paradise.

I’ve already spoken to, emailed or Tweeted to dozens of HIV-positive men and women (my present day compadres) who will be attending this year’s NMAC conference, and, like them, feel lucky to be alive after all these years. While so many of us are now in our third decade of living with a virus that is still affecting so many communities throughout America, we have created solidarity. We will be celebrating our survival in San Diego! I want to thank Paul Kawata and the staff at NMAC for continuing to provide a forum for this celebration of all that is possible. To keeping a constancy in our hectic lives—kudos to their perseverance in such challenging times!

I suppose you’re scratching your head at the title of this Frontdesk: “Mexican Radio.” Well, let me explain. In the late seventies, when I was but a conflicted teenager in San Diego, we were called surf punks, and we tuned into unregulated Mexican radio stations because they weren’t beholden to ratings, the FCC, or anything that resembled parental control. And they weren’t playing Led Zeppelin, Styx, or Chic either! They broadcast Patti Smith, Blondie, The Clash, Italian opera, bluegrass, ska, Mexican cantina music, and even spoken poetry in both English and Spanish. Mexican Radio broadcast illegally, often from the shanty towns of Tijuana, where there was anything but regulation. They were a radical force that didn’t last; they are a bittersweet memory that reminds me of the early days of ACT UP, demos at the FDA, bridge closures, marches on Wall Street, the covering of Jesse Helms’s house in a giant condom, as well as the inevitable funerals of thousands of men, women, and children who shouldn’t have died. But did. The fight must go on!

We need to encourage these voices from the margins. In this month’s cover story, the filmmaker Patrik-Ian Polk points out how culturally sensitive messaging is now, more than ever, necessary. Polk is adamant that his films continue a frank conversation about how “HIV has faded into the background of our consciousness, that as gay black men we must continue to address this issue.” Currently Polk is producing a groundbreaking PSA campaign for the CDC that will “address this problem in the gay black male community…the messaging is direct, informative, practical and sure to be somewhat controversial. We need to know the facts in order to save lives.” Other voices are countering the mainstream as well. This issue brings you articles about the CDC’s new campaign to enrich the dialogue about AIDS in Latino communities, cure researcher Nathalia Holt and her efforts to think outside the scientific box, and digital warriors who are turning domain names into clickable fundraisers with dotHIV.

We need to celebrate those channels that are getting us to tune into HIV, before AIDS becomes locked onto Channel Z.

David Waggoner is Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of A&U, the first national HIV/AIDS magazine in the U.S.