The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

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CSUN student film on AIDS nominated for Emmy

‘AIDS in Tijuana’ is the Emmy-nominated multi-media collaboration between various CSUN departments, students, and professors alike that focus on the growing problem of AIDS in the Latino world.

The documentary is an exploration of a hospice in the Mexican town of Tijuana and digs beneath its party town reputation to shed light on the growing health problems in the crime and poverty plagued city.

Journalism professors James Hill and Lincoln Harrison, along with student Natalia Zelaya all earned Emmy nominations for their work on the project, which has since taken on a life of its own, branching out in various forms to multiple departments at CSUN.

But the project that now has a play, photo exhibit, radio segments, and newspaper based on it either completed or in the works had much more humble beginnings.

Over a year ago Kent Kirkton, chair of the journalism department, became aware of the issue after a conference about health issues facing the Latino community, particularly AIDS.’ He reached out to others to help bring this project to life.

As El Nuevo Sol, the Spanish language student newspaper, was looking for a multimedia project at the time, it seemed like a perfect fit, said Jose Luis Benavides, associate journalism professor, whose students worked on the project.

Though the various media platforms the project would take were still undefined, Harrison, instructor and media production specialist, and assistant professor Hill were brought on board by Kent to make what was deemed a documentary at the time.

The professors, along with a group of eight students, travelled to the Casa Hogar Las Memorias, an AIDS hospice in Tijuana just 30 miles from San Diego, on a trip partially funded by the Wellness Foundation.

But Harrison ‘- who shot and edited nearly the entire project ‘- Hill, and Zelaya were on what Harrison calls a separate mission to bring a visual aspect to the project, to put faces to the countless forgotten and afflicted and to make it harder to ignore their plight.

What the team found was devastating. Multiple risk factors combined to make the streets of Tijuana an ideal host for the devastating disease. An increase in intravenous drug use, a hotbed of prostitution, displaced immigrants, a gay population, and an anti- condom culture in general combined to unknowingly spread the disease like wildfire, said Hill.

‘It’s a concentration of risk groups,’ said Hill.

A huge growth in the use of intravenous drugs among notorious needle sharers aided the spread of the disease through the at-risk population of immigrants looking for better opportunities, said Hill, who explored the Pacific coast Mexican city with Harrison in addition to their work at the AIDS hospice.’

Though prostitution may not be legal on the books, Hill says it is a reality of life in Tijuana where women sell themselves to survive, and at times, to feed their drug habits.

More so even than the prostitutes themselves, the problem is the customers that refuse condoms. With the proliferation of prostitution, there is always someone who will say yes to unsafe sex, and no room for a woman who refuses.

‘Women who say no can’t stay in business,’ said Hill.

The combined weight of these risk factors may not have proved enough to produce such devastating results, but an influx of ignorance about a disease that was ravaging the city eclipsed any hope for uninformed victims.

‘They’re ignorant. It’s tragic,’ said Hill. ‘They just haven’t heard about it and if they do, they don’t understand it.’

Just as damaging as the ignorance about the disease is the widespread stigma against HIV and AIDS in the Latino world. America has largely let go of placing the blame on victims, but Tijuana is still entrenched in the belief that the HIV positive are getting what they deserve for their multitude of sins. After all, they don’t have Magic Johnson to eschew the stereotypical image of those afflicted with AIDS, Hill said.

‘We saw people basically living on the streets, rejected by their families,’ said Hill.

‘It’s that rejection that drives people to the only AIDS hospice in the area, a place where relatively healthier patients care for the dying. In the end, it’s the place they have all come to die, a place that survives due to donations, volunteers, and little government assistance.

In America, HIV is not a death sentence; people live reasonably normal lives well into old age.’ When people realize the gravity on the situation in a place so close to home, they think ‘Wow,” said Hill.

The recognition and Emmy nomination for the dedication and passion they have poured into the project are appreciated, Harrison said.

‘I’m hard pressed to say I thought it would get this big,’ he said.

But both professors see far beyond the golden statues that may adorn their mantles in the near future.’

‘It moves people and that’s the real story,’ said Hill.

‘I just hope it does some good,’ said Harrison.

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