Growing up as the daughter of a cholo has given me insight into the community of 70’s and 80’s gang members in Southern California. Stories from these “gangsters” that I just know as family and friends, were often shared when there was time to shoot the breeze.
These tales often referenced heavy partying and prison time. As a young kid, I could not help but admire their carefree attitude, since I was such a nerd. I honestly think that they would share how crazy they got down as a way to keep me from doing the same thing. Now that I am grown, I am seeing these same adults who used to be wild and free become gravely ill and their names can be found on mile-long liver donor waiting lists.
Hepatitis C (HPC) has many times proved stronger than the will of these individuals. What they used to consider a good time is costing them their lives. No, older cholos/as are not the only people in the Latino community who carry this disease, but their activities do give them a higher risk of contracting this disease. Older drug users from the 1970’s and 80’s have the highest rates of HPC and one third of young people who use illicit, injectable drugs can potentially contract it.
Risky behaviors such as intravenous drug use, unprotected sex and prison tattoos are some of the most commonly cited actions that contribute to the spread of this disease. Exposure to HPC-contaminated blood will result in disease transmission and there is no cure. Very little is known about the natural history of this disease or remedies, which is why research efforts and prevention strategies are critical.
As the Latino population continues to grow, the rate of HPC transmission is projected to do the same. It would be great to pass the responsibility of reducing the spread of HPC on to some government organization, but it is not just our government’s job. As Latinos, we need to rally behind diseases that are facing our communities and work towards educating each other, even if at minimum, it is by word of mouth.
Talking about safe sex, drug usage and safe tattoo practices with youth is the first critical step. Studies reveal that Latinos are notorious for having the youngest onset of HPC, which is why educating youth should be our prerogative. Fear of knowledge tends to cripple parents from talking about difficult content matter, but it leads to ignorant, susceptible youth. By learning from the misfortune of the party-goers from the 70’s and 80’s, we can better prepare the next generation of young adults to make better decisions regarding their health.
Ces’Ari (pronounced Chez-ah-ree) earned a B.A. in Political Science from the University of California, Irvine, and a M.Ed. from Arizona State University, while simultaneously balancing writing and marriage. Read more about Ces’Ari on her personal blog.