It’s just another Monday, but R&B singer Lea Quezada (aka Lea Sunshine) is a girl on a mission. Monday is National Latino AIDS Awareness Day and Quezada, as the Latino Commission on AIDS’s first ever Youth Ambassador, is sharing a particularly important message.
“It’s really important to me to encourage young Latinos to get tested for HIV/AIDS,” says Quezada, who experienced the loss of two beloved uncles to the disease. “Don’t think because you’re young that you’re not vulnerable to contracting HIV.”
Just in time for National Latino AIDS Awareness Day, here are five reasons why Quezada is passionate about raising awareness about HIV/AIDS among young Latinos.
1. Latino teens, ages 13–19, account for 19 percent of AIDS cases among teens. “I think there is a stigma among Latinos that it’s not ok to talk to their parents about sex,” says Quezada, who is based in New York and is currently signed with 50 Cent’s G-Note Records. She’s currently working on a new album and says that her love of music saved her from making bad decisions at a youth. “Growing up, my friends and I always thought the worst thing in the world would be to talk to our parents about sex,” Quezada says. “But parents need be less afraid to speak to their children and know that what they say will stick.”
2.Young people aged 20-29 represented 25 percent of new HIV/AIDS cases. In her role as Latino Commission on AIDS youth ambassador, Quezada goes into area public schools and speaks to students about HIV/AIDS prevention, testing and treatment. “I think young people really do think that HIV/AIDS is something that they can’t get until they’re a certain age, but we need to spread the message that everyone is susceptible to this disease.”
3. CDC data shows that Hispanics/Latinos progress to AIDS faster than any other racial or ethnic group with 42 percent being diagnosed with AIDS within 12 months after learning of their positive HIV status compared to 34 percent late diagnosis among white non-Hispanic and 35 percent among blacks. “Getting tested early means that you are contributing and doing your part in the fight against HIV/AIDS,” explains Quezada, who is half-Puerto Rican and half-Dominican. “So many people walk around not knowing they are infected and when they do, it’s often too late.”
4. The rate of new HIV infections among Hispanic women/Latinas is more than four times that of white women. “It can be really hard for a woman in a relationship not to give into certain pressures, especially when they’re younger,” says Quezada, who says that even from a young age, she wanted to be a singer and artist (“I didn’t even have a boyfriend until I was 18, she says. “I was always focused on music”). “As women, we need to educate girls about what might happen to them if they say ‘no.’”
5. Among women, 20 percent of the reported cases of AIDS were among Hispanics/Latinas contracting the virus from high-risk heterosexual contact. “I always tell girls to think of their decisions and how it will affect them long-term,” says Quezada, who counts Mariah Carey, Mary J. Blidge and Aretha Franklin has her favorite musical influences. “They don’t expect their partners to be exposed or infected with HIV/AIDS, but it’s important to protect yourself and your partner by being tested.”
Unless otherwise noted, all statistics are published by the Latino Commission on AIDS.