Hundreds of candles shimmered throughout the night on Thursday as The Wall Las Memorias (TWLM) held its annual “Noche de las Memorias” vigil at Lincoln Park.
The event, now in its 29th year, is one of the city’s longest-running commemorations of World AIDS Day. The internationally recognized day of mourning is dedicated to raising awareness of the AIDS pandemic and remembering the lives of those who have passed from the disease over the years.
An Aztec blessing performed by dance group Yankuititl opened the night, honoring new names unveiled on The Wall AIDS Monument in the park during the vigil. An opening prayer in the cool air followed, leading into the commemoration’s main program, with Journalist Laura Diaz as the evening’s M.C.
The evening’s musical performances included songs from vocalist Mario Bryant and instrumental pieces from violinist Vivian Kukiel and flutist Manuel Sanchez. Mariachi Jalisco ¡Sí Señor! performed Juan Gabriel’s classic “Amor Eterno,” about the loss of a loved one.
Touching testimonials from those who have lost loved ones to HIV/AIDS filled the air throughout the evening’s vigil, many of which whose names are sandblasted on The Wall.
“I lost one of my closest friends this year to Latino culture, and that’s something that’s different about our fight today compared to what it was in the 80s,” said Jorge Diaz, a speaker at the event. “We are told that we don’t matter, that we are an embarrassment to the family. Not as many people are dying today directly from HIV and AIDS, but rather because of how we are seen in society. We as a community need to change that.”
According to Richard L. Zaldivar, the founder and Executive Director of TWLM, that is exactly why the organization was founded in the first place, to serve the Latino LGBTQ community through acknowledgment, advocacy and education. “We have what it takes to change things. We have love,” said Zaldivar as the event came to a close.
TWLM was founded on World AIDS Day in 1993, the day of the first Noche de Memorias. In 2004, The Wall Memorial was built in Lincoln Park, becoming the country’s only publicly funded AIDS monument. This summer the organization opened its first hub location in Boyle Heights, at 2020 East First Street.