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My uncle Miguel and his partner in the hospital, three years before Miguel died of AIDS
There have been a lot of movies coming out about the early years of the AIDS crisis lately. The Normal Heart just premiered to great fanfare, last year we had the Oscar-nominated How To Survive A Plague and Dallas Buyers Club, United in Anger came out in 2012, and We Were Here the year before. This wave of attention to one of the most devastating events in US history is badly needed. When AIDS first hit, the entire country was asleep at the wheel, and the consequences were nothing short of catastrophic. And yet, we seem to have failed twice--first to do anything to prevent the epidemic, and second to fully reconcile the wreckage left behind. I'm now directing a documentary about my uncle, who died of AIDS in 1987. The film is nearing completion, and we are in the middle of a fundraising campaign to finish it.

When my uncle Miguel died of AIDS in 1987, he had a live-in partner who he'd been with for over a dozen years. They wore commitment rings, and Robert supported Miguel financially so that Miguel could focus on his dream of making it big on Broadway. When Miguel got sick, Robert took him to every doctor's appointment. But as Miguel got sicker, Miguel's mother Carmen started to get more involved. Carmen had never approved of Miguel's sexuality, or of his relationship with Robert. A devout, by-the-book Catholic, Carmen firmly believed that her son had strayed from the path of righteousness. And the sicker Miguel got, the more Carmen pressured Miguel to take off his ring, see a priest, and repent of being gay. At Miguel's funeral, Robert sat in the back row. His name was not in the obituary. Miguel was buried in the family plot in Puerto Rico. And Robert's life fell apart. He became suicidal. And it was only by leaving Robert behind and becoming Father Aquin, a Franciscan monk, that he finally found a measure of peace.

Watch the trailer:

AIDS has always been seen as an issue for outsiders--first for gay men and Haitians, and now for women and people of color. And yet, the responsibility for AIDS lies with everyone, from government bureaucrats all the way down to family members. While these recent films do a lot to historicize AIDS and combat the risk of forgetting, there is a lot they have also left out. For one thing, these films have been created from within the LGBT community itself--and if it's only gay people who remember, then we are in big trouble.

Part of the problem is that these films don't really address the role played by families during the crisis--and I don't just mean biological families, but equally, the 'families of choice' made up of friends and lovers who often bore the brunt of care for the sick. It wasn't just that families lost members: in many cases, families made an already gruesome death even more horrific, pushing long-time caregivers out of hospital rooms, omitting lovers from obituaries, and denying inheritances.

While it was often the partners who got the worst of it, many families of choice forged by gay people broke apart because these relationships lacked the legitimacy of blood ties.

Filmmaker Cecelia Aldarando's uncle Miguel in the hospital with his mother
My uncle Miguel in the hospital with his mother Carmen
All of these things happened in my family. This film aims to ask hard questions about the unresolved family conflicts wrought by AIDS. It's a story about secrecy, shame, and what happens when family members don't listen. It's a film that calls for families not just to memorialize the AIDS crisis, but to ask what we could have done differently, and to do what we can do take responsibility where it is needed.

In my family's case, this has been a very difficult process--but it has also brought incredible gifts. Before I began making this film, I didn't even know Robert's last name. He was a ghost. It wasn't until I tracked him down that he became a human being. A human being with 25 years of pent-up anger and unresolved grief. According to him, it wasn't until one of Miguel's relatives listened to his side of the story that he was able to let Miguel rest. While I do not think of myself as any kind of savior--Aquin saved himself without my family's help--nor do I think that my actions can undo the past, I do think that there's a silver lining to this tragedy. And for that, I am grateful.

Cecelia with Father Aquin
Father Aquin with me at our first meeting
The reason I'm sharing this project here is because last Sunday, Denise Oliver-Velez wrote a beautiful piece on Kos about the film, and I have seen firsthand--through your comments and your donations--that this is a remarkable community of committed, inquisitive people who really want to see a more just society. I hope that you will consider supporting the film. We are more than halfway to our goal of $40,000, but we have less than three weeks before the campaign ends on June 18.

Here's how you can help:

* Donate in any amount--every donation, from $1 upward, makes a difference
* Share the link to the Indiegogo campaign here on Kos, on Facebook, Twitter, and any where else online
* Like the film's Facebook page and follow on Twitter
* Introduce me to anyone you think can help

I am new to the Kos community, and this is my first Diary, although other people have already been posting about the film here. I hope you will excuse any rookie mistakes. I welcome your comments and questions.

Originally posted to CeciliaAldarondo on Mon Jun 02, 2014 at 10:21 AM PDT.

Also republished by LatinoKos, Barriers and Bridges, HIV AIDS Action, Black Kos community, New Diarists, and Personal Storytellers.

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