Speaker Rey Cordova, HIV-Positive Since Birth, Gives Face to HIV/AIDS

Fajer Saeed

As someone who was born HIV-positive, Rey Cordova has spent his entire life dealing with the stigma of HIV/ AIDS. Last Friday, Cordova, 29, gave a talk titled “Growing Up Positive: A Young American’s Lifetime with HIV” at Wilder as the concluding event of World Aids Week at Oberlin. Approximately 30 people attended the talk, which was sponsored by the Center for Leadership in Health Promotion, AIDS4Reel and the HIV Peer Testers.

When he was a child, Cordova and his parents kept the disease secret from their friends and neighbors, telling people that Cordova had cancer.

Cordova explained, “I didn’t want to be the dirty kid, or the kid with dirty parents, and so when I missed school, I told people it was a cancer relapse.” Cordova noted that similar stigmas exist today, saying, “It still gets worse for a lot of kids today; once the word gets out about their disease, they get kicked out of Sunday school, churches, sports teams.”

Cordova has been giving talks about HIV/AIDS for over 10 years, telling people what it’s like to be HIV-positive. Currently one of the oldest living people to have been born HIV-positive, Cordova sees himself as an educator and advocate, aiming to help prevent the further spread of HIV, as well as to reduce the stigma surrounding its victims. He started his talk on that note, saying, “I’m here to put a name and a face behind HIV. … Growing up, the media would always show certain kinds of people with HIV, and they didn’t look like me. The ‘H’ in ‘HIV’ is ‘human’ for a reason; it could be anyone.” According to Cordova, the continued proliferation of HIV/AIDS is in part due to a lack of education about the virus.

“I do get pissed off when I think about people’s decisions,” he said. “We have forms of protection, but the numbers of the HIV-infected continue to grow. Why? … There is a difference between knowledge of HIV and the actual practicing of much of that knowledge, [for example,] having safe sex. We must educate ourselves and practice. We can stop the spread of HIV if we wanted to, and we have to so [that] humanity can progress positively, just not HIV-positively. I hope people will get it at some point.”

Cordova also asked people to reconsider the stigma against HIV/AIDS, as well as learning more about other STDs, like signs and symptoms of chlamydia. “I can’t think of the last time the media featured HIV without trying to cause hysteria. Is HIV scary? Absolutely yes. Should people be protected? Absolutely yes. Should it cause hysteria? Absolutely not. There’s all this stigma about the age, gender, [and] type of individuals infected, but look at me; I have AIDS, and if you saw me on your campus, HIV is the last label you’d place on me.”