COMMON FRONT AGAINST AIDS
From "The Memoirs, Volume Two" -
last week of November was all about getting ready for a big shipment of
Education Packets for the CONAFE project, scheduled to leave on the
Meanwhile, we were
also constructing our booth for the upcoming National AIDS Convention in
Mexico City and the idea was to blow-up by xerox a bunch of our best
news clippings and make these big collages on cardboard for the walls of
the booth. We had reserved the space for two booths, side by side in
the hall, sort of like I used to do for the Care-A-Thon in San
Saturday and Sunday we were
all in the office, busy finishing up the booth for the convention and
readying for our trip to Mexico City. The guys were getting very
excited and the level of activity was awesome. I still had no idea how
many we were taking, just talking to everybody and trying to convince
them to join us. Marco and Marcos were going, and Kelvin, Antonio,
etc. I was still working on Sergio, and had lined up a few of the kids
from CONAFE who had worked with us on the translations, and their
director, Marco Antonio.
Among our close group, only
Ayax couldn't go. His school theater group had a performance that week
and he would have to miss the trip, which I felt pretty bad about, as
did everybody. I put him in charge of the office and planned with him a
big shebang for the Center on Morelos for World AIDS Day, so I guess he
felt a little better.
Finally Sunday evening came
and the same big old truck from CONAFE arrived and we loaded up all our
stuff for the booth. Since we had this free transportation (we thought!)
with plenty of room and such, I decided to take just about everything I
could think of. We took the booth, the puppets, five cassette players,
lots of Education Packets, the newly printed Annual Reports for 1995,
and all the 9 translations. We took tables and chairs! We took our
ladder, tools, extra lumber, extra paint, rope, wire, nails, back-up
power tools, blank paper, spray glue, all the extra photos of Nancy and,
of course, our little satin hearts, hundreds of little satin hearts.
The truck was loaded and
sent off and we all returned to our homes for a final packing and
reunited at midnight in the bus station and the first group of eight of
us, with Marco's little two-year-old nephew (!), headed to Mexico City.
Group two was to follow the next day.
We had permission to enter
the Convention Hall at 10 on Monday morning, to set up the booth and all.
Well, our bus arrived at six o'clock in the morning, in fact, pulling in
about half an hour EARLY, in a freezing cold, windy, dark Central Bus
Station in the heart of Mexico City. Well, this sleepy, cold, huddled
mass of kids from Oaxaca, with their bags and bedrolls and tied-together
boxes of junk who looked like the worst kind of refugees looked up at me
and said now what?
"Let's go find some coffee,
at least, and warm ourselves up," I suggested and we proceeded, slowly,
to the cafeteria. Well, this cafeteria is an open-air, round sort of
enterprise which allowed the wind to blow in from all sides and offered
no protection from the elements and had these little tables with their
little hard plastic seats attached by metal rods, you know the kind, and
So we get some coffee and a few little bus station
sandwiches, which nobody but Marco's little nephew will eat, and we're
sitting on these little chairs just freezing and everybody's finished
their coffee and they all look at me like what do we do now? I looked
at the time and it's like six-fifteen! Well, I only know one location
in all of Mexico City that is possibly warm.
"Stay right here," I said
and went off to the public telephones. I called Nancy's mother
"Anne!!! Help!" I had, of
course, awoken her up and it took a few minutes for her to figure out
what it was I wanted. "We just want to sit on the floor for a couple
hours," I said, "but I gotta do something with these kids until ten
o'clock and they're all freezing to death in an open-air cafeteria!"
Her natural, Christian feelings bore fruit and we all climbed into two
cabs and went to Anne's house and thawed out with more coffee and toast
and juice for Marco's nephew and sprawled all out on her front room rug
in the first rays of the rising sun.
So, at about nine-thirty we
roused ourselves again, warm and rested, and took our first ride on the Metro,
the giant underground of Mexico City! With much head counting and
shouting instructions and everybody holding on to Marco's nephew, we
progressed toward our destination but I thought this is only the first
eight! What happens when the rest arrive? And, of course, I still
didn't know how many more were coming!
Our goal and prearranged
meeting place with the truck was the sprawling complex of buildings
known as the Centro Médico. There we found the Convention Hall and went
in to see our space and await the truck. Once again, cold and windy, we
sat out on the steps and worried that the driver couldn't find the
place. And wait we did, one hour, two, three hours we're waiting, and
pacing and getting food for Marco's nephew, and calling who knows where
and the nearest phone is like a mile away and people are wandering off
and I'm now worrying about loosing half my crew before we even get
Well, at about one o'clock,
up walks the driver of the truck, shaking his head and says he has bad
news. It seems Mexico City has this program to fight pollution, always
a good idea, by banning vehicles from traveling one day per week, which
day it is depending on the last number of your car's license plate. The
bad news was that the truck had been stopped and impounded in place and
couldn't move until tomorrow morning, and the driver had been fined
eight hundred pesos. The good news was that it was only a few blocks
I thought of all we had in
that truck, boxes and boxes of stuff, heavy stuff, and big. Nothing
would do but to rent another truck and bring it all here so we start out
looking for a truck for hire. Now, in Oaxaca, these are rather easy to
acquire and inexpensive, like about forty pesos. Well, right out side
the Centro Médico we spot a truck for hire and quick ask him how much to
haul our stuff a couple blocks? Two hundred pesos! Much discussion.
We decided, wrongly, we should be able to find another much cheaper and
Mexico City blocks are long. The Centro Médico is huge.
There are no trucks for hire for miles. I said to Antonio, "Antonio,
the first truck we find, we take, OK?" "OK, Bill!"
Thus, in a THREE hundred
peso, rented truck we load up all our things and finally enter the
Convention Hall at two-thirty in the afternoon.
As you know, most
modern booths in
most conventions are these little prefab jobs of lightweight plastic and
foam-core which a young secretary can set up in about ten minutes. Not
ours! As we began pounding and hammering and sawing and painting and
spray-gluing and spreading out across the aisles and sending people to
the hardware stores and finding food for Marco's nephew, the other booth
owners stared on with barely concealed amazement and slowly our monster
booth of chaser lights and puppet theater and video show and tables and
chairs and overhead projections and recordings of Zapotec, Mixtec and
Mixe rose into place in the center of the Hall.
Soon it was about seven and
time to go off to meet the other group at the house where Anne had
arranged for us to stay and we loaded up into two taxis and set out in
search of this new address.
Now Mexico City is very
large, and seven o'clock in the evening is considered part of the rush hour.
Our destination was way out in an Episcopal Seminary, natch, and it was
almost two hour later when we wearily, but happily, arrived. The house,
it turned out was a giant two-story concrete job with a ton of rooms and
not one stick of furniture, nor stove nor refrigerator nor curtains, but
17 military-style collapsible cots.
Nothing mattered. The
other group had just arrived and our reunion was sweet. Sergio had
managed to come, as had Paco, and a few more of the CONAFE kids from the
pueblos and we numbered 18 plus Marco's nephew, in our cozy little
abode. The group immediately set up their different rooms and bought
some groceries and beer and put on some music and huddled together,
happy and excited as we talked about tomorrow and planned our shifts in
the booth. Sergio was great. He took over as a sort of general
director of the staff and made everybody feel good.
Lacking one cot for our 18
people, Papi Bill was, natch, happy to stretch out in some blankets on
the living room floor and be lovingly tucked-in by all his little hijos
before they made their ways upstairs to bed. As I was dozing off I
could faintly hear the sounds of a recorder playing back, some Mixteco
recording of our AIDS information. The little buggers were actually
working on their translations!
The morning found a hive of
activity and showers were had and clothes were pressed and hair blown
dry. First off, was what to wear? We had told (almost) everybody to
wear white or black or white and black and we would all wear the new
yellow ties and scarves Marco's sister had sewn for us. Well, half of
them didn't have white or black but with everybody trading shirts and
borrowing from each other we finally were all in one room in black and
white and yellow and ready to go.
"Well, this is what you're
going to wear everyday, OK?" I said. It was seven-thirty.
The ride to the Convention
Center was a long one, with a considerable hike to a bus stop, a
considerable bus ride to a Metro stop and finally a considerable Metro
ride to the Centro Médico. Now, some of these kids think Oaxaca is a
big city, only a few had ever been to Mexico City before and none had
ridden the Metro. Again with much head-counting and hanging on to
Marco's nephew and shouting instructions we jumped into the first train
and began counting the stops to the Centro Médico.
"TWO more!" OK.
"ONE more!" OK, everybody
"This is it! OUT!
On cue, 17 of our little
group exited the train.
I turned and looked
into the closing doors.
There was little Rubén, from the Mixe, standing motionless in the train,
a dazed, half asleep look on his face and the doors clanged shut.
Every kind of horror
flooded my mind. I could see the train speeding its way into the bowels
of the City, countless stops ahead, dozens of transfer points,
multitudes of commuters, dark alleys, murderous gangs and little Mixe
bodies floating in the dark and dangerous underground canals.
Well, just then all 17 of
us began screaming and pounding on the windows of the train, shouting
instructions like go to the next station! and get out! and go under the
tracks! and come back on the next train! and such, and poor little Ruben
just staring at us with this completely bewildered smile on his face,
when a miracle occurred.
Now the doors on the Mexican Metro NEVER
reopen for any purpose, whatsoever, ever in the history of Mexico. And
I shall always believe that that December day the Señor del Rayo, the
miraculous Saint of Oaxaca, must have come with us to Mexico City, or
one of His agents, for at that very moment the doors of the Metro train
RE-opened for the first time ever and I reached into the train and
grabbed little Rubén by his yellow necktie and snatched him from the
clutches of certain death!
After that I wrote all our
various addresses and telephone numbers in Mexico City on little pieces
of paper and sewed them with twenty pesos in each person’s pocket and
told them, "Now don't you loose these and, for heaven's sake, stay awake!
All of you!"
The convention progressed.
We had the biggest, showiest booth in the hall (it would be called
Hollywood South, we heard), the most members and the most color-coordinated
outfits. But more, we had a presentation that impressed all who saw it.
The Education Packets were greatly admired, the translations were
listened to, and our group of young people, their hair glistening,
ramrod straight and eyes glowing, soon lost their timid ways and began
to eagerly explain our work and promote our group to the convention.
They involved themselves in all the workshops and sessions, they took
their turns in the booth, three per shift, they met other groups and
took their little walkman recorders everywhere recording all the sessions.
To watch their progress and feel the strengthening of our work through
these kids during these days was, for me, a great satisfaction.
We gave out lots of our colorful, 8-page "Informes," below, which
Claudio and Martha had printed for us.
* * *
By a strange coincidence,
however, there was a parallel development of which we had been unaware.
A bunch of the AIDS organizations in Mexico City, of which there were
many(!), were having a big hissy-fit with the CONASIDA and the Secretary
of Health and the establishment people who were, of course, putting on
this convention, and they had all decided to BOYCOT this year’s National
AIDS Convention! They stayed away in droves and it was the poorest
attended AIDS convention ever. None of the groups or people involved in
AIDS work ever saw our booth or heard about our work.
Now, I’m naturally a rebel
and anarchist and would probably have been on those guys’ side in any
such dispute with the authorities, but now I was just angry. Having
worked so hard and brought our group and our booth and our truck and our
message all the way from Oaxaca and to have none of them see it, well, I was
* * *