“Taking Root” takes on HIV stigma for

May 13, 2012

May 19th is National Asian & Pacific Islander HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.

The Asian & Pacific Islander Wellness Center has launched a community-based initiative to end HIV stigma and discrimination among Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders. “Taking Root: Our Stories, Our Community” is a digital storytelling project produced in partnership with the Center for Digital Storytelling and The Banyan Project.

The project aims to break down social stigma surrounding HIV by providing an outlet for the expression of shared experiences among those affected by the virus. In three-day workshops, participants learn to craft their stories using both audio and visual media. The project plans to host digital storytelling workshops in prominent Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander communities around the country – and in the six U.S.-affiliated Pacific Island Jurisdictions.

“Taking Root” is endorsed by San Francisco Department of Public Health, which recently implemented a city-wide HIV prevention plan to cut new HIV infections by half by 2015. The success of this plan depends, in part, on a significant increase in HIV testing and status awareness among individuals. According to data from the CDC, Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders are the least likely race or ethnicity to get tested for HIV—over two-thirds have never been tested for HIV and one in three living with HIV doesn’t know it.

“We know HIV stigma prevents many Asian Americas, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders from getting tested for HIV or accessing treatment services,” said Barbara Garcia, San Francisco’s Director of Health. “We need community-based and community-driven initiatives like ‘Taking Root’ in order to make an AIDS-free generation a reality.”

"We're all living with HIV, whether we have the virus or not," says San Francisco Health Commissioner Cecilia Chung. "Real stories told by real people are the only way to get the community to understand how to break the cycle of shame. We can choose to perpetuate shame with our silence and judgment or we can choose to save lives with our love and compassion."

To watch the first round of “Taking Root” stories or for more information visitwww.banyantreeproject.org