PURPLE BOX: The Body, The HIV & The Empowerment

There was a Purple Box in my closet. This box isn’t just purple, it has purple and white flowers printer. Inside I have at least one hundred pictures, and many films with more than ten years without being revealed. I can remember the moment when my mom bought this box, we had so many pictures albums and we needed to save space, so the box was a very good idea. After my mom dies, I save this box as a treasure, but not because the pictures, but because of the meaning that had to my mom, that wasn’t the same that I had at that moment. Now, I can share the meaning that the box have to my mom, and I place it in a visible space, where, whoever come to my apartment, can see it, because my walls are full of paintings and have no pictures in it.

I can’t recognize many of the faces on the pictures, because they were people that somehow disappear of my mom’s life before I can have memory of them. But they are in that box anyway. Many of those pictures are also on my dad’s side. Pictures that he borrowed but never returned, and I save them in my purple box. I have black and white pictures, also sepia.

It’s very interesting to know that those pictures where taken in a specific moment of the time, and that for people who are not involved, it’s mean nothing. But for those who are, it’s mean the world. It’s remembering a dead moment of our life and bringing it out of the dust of the corners of our memories, and suddenly we have the proof of the time in our hands. We are able to remember how we felt, how we looked, the stuff we used to believe in, the smells around us, and how much we have change. This is why, when Dazon asked me to do a Story Telling session at Women Now! I decided to make something else, as always.

So, I make a reflection on the key moments of my life and realized that, thanks to my purple box, I was able to see exactly how I look in every one of them. The mind blowing thing for me, is that I was able to track my HIV story, maybe more than 5 years before I was born. How? Well I found a picture of the man with whom my mom got infected, and I understood that she got infected during her adolescence, after the ending of the Vietnam War and an important economic crisis in Puerto Rico. One of the few things I know about that man is that he was a military. So there’s when my HIV story started.

The story about my body can be totally different, because is about empowering and taking possession of it. But most of all, how I have started a process of recognizing my body, it changes and embrace my own skin, my material and organic self and those changes. The interesting thing is that, whenever you see me in pictures, you can also see the virus manifesting itself or not, and the social situations that something biological, put my body and soul through.

Part of my family is religious, and having piercings and tattoos, is something that is not that well seen, even thought, we all know that we can do with our bodies whatever we want to do. So, when it comes to the feminist slogan “My Body, My Rights” or “My Body, My Territory”, I realized that very often we lie to ourselves about it, in a very practical way. Power over our bodies is not just a slogan, it should give you the confidence to actually do WHATEVER YOU WANT WITH YOUR BODY. From cutting your hair, getting a piercing or tattoo to deciding to have sex and children or not, and even taking the medication.

So, more than a year ago, I did something very simple, but practical; I shaved the right side of my hair. Even though it was “in” at the time, for me it was empowering. I felt like for the first time I was actually deciding over my body, and how I eliminate something however I wanted, whenever I wanted. The next thing was getting a piercing in my nose, my first piercing ever. It hurt, but I looked how I wanted to look and not how I was supposed to look. Some of my friends said that I was becoming rebel, but for me it was materializing my beliefs and owning my own speech about my body. You don´t need to do something like this to prove your own self to you, but everyone has their own processes and ways. So, when I turned 27 I make a “photo shooting” of the parts of my body I didn’t like, and how a body with a 27 years virus can look. The hardest part, was publishing it because I was being vulnerable and sharing the insecurities of visible things in me.

After this, even my speeches has changed, I’m speaking of stuff that I never thought I would speak, bolder stuff. I even was pictured naked for a feminist calendar, and even thought I know that somehow I’m safe, showing that picture in WomenNow! in a room full of unknown people explaining the processes that I’m having with my body, was a huge deal. It was a huge deal, because, when we talk about the sexuality we forgot something very basic, our bodies. When we talk about young people who were born with HIV, we still get infantilized, even when were are not children anymore. People talk about young women and sexuality but they don´t want to see where that sexuality take place, the body. People talk about self-esteem as something abstract, but it doesn´t always need to be something abstract, it can be as material and physical as looking yourself in the mirror, naked, and being able to touch your body, recognizing it and remind you that it has change, and it always will.

The Purple Box allowed me to track how much my body, my virus and my life has changed. It allowed me to stop to think about my narrative, separate the different aspects and moments of my life to fill the blanks and spin a greater quilt of my story. Giving those multiples perspectives and layers to yourself is not an easy thing, even more if we look at our bodies as material and organic tools of resistance and history, and how this material and organic tools are territories. Territories that have been able to endure the virus, not only in a biological way, but in a social context. Also recognizing that the changes in our bodies are the proof of resilience, battles, history and that we had made it this far.

That Purple Box allowed me to do that and more; to revive some painful moments that I didn’t understand then, but now, with more understanding, information and context I’m able to heal, and remembering those moments as something that build a ramifications of paths for me to choose, so today, I can sit  here and tell you and whoever is reading this…

“SISTER, RECOGNIZE YOUR BODY, OWN YOUR STORY, EMBRACE YOUR POWER”

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