Surviving HIV/AIDS in the Inner City: How Resourceful Latinas Beat the Odds

Surviving HIV/AIDS in the Inner City: How Resourceful Latinas Beat the Odds

Surviving HIV/AIDS in the Inner City: How Resourceful Latinas Beat the Odds

Surviving HIV/AIDS in the Inner City: How Resourceful Latinas Beat the Odds


Surviving HIV/AIDS in the Inner City explores the survival strategies of poor, HIV-positive Puerto Rican women by asking four key questions: Given their limited resources, how did they manage an illness as serious as HIV/AIDS? Did they look for alternatives to conventional medical treatment? Did the challenges they faced deprive them of self-determination, or could they help themselves and each other? What can we learn from these resourceful women?

Based on her work with minority women living in Newark, New Jersey, Sabrina Marie Chase illuminates the hidden traps and land mines burdening our current health care system as a whole. For the women she studied, alliances with doctors, nurses, and social workers could literally mean the difference between life and death. By applying the theories of sociologist Pierre Bourdieu to the day-to-day experiences of HIV-positive Latinas, Chase explains why some struggled and even died while others flourished and thrived under difficult conditions. These gripping, true-life stories advocate for those living with chronic illness who depend on the health care "safety net." Through her exploration of life and death among Newark's resourceful women, Chase provides the groundwork for inciting positive change in the U.S. health care system.


“Anywhere the struggle is great, the level of ingenuity and inventiveness
is high.”

—Eleni Gabre-Madhin

Caridad and her son, Manuelito, had lived in Newark for only a year when she got married. This was an unexpected blessing. Caridad had left Puerto Rico to escape an abusive relationship with her longtime partner, a violent IV drug user. When she arrived she hoped only for a peaceful life; she had not expected to fall in love again so soon. Her new husband, Eduardo, was an older man, who had also been born in Puerto Rico. It had been a whirlwind courtship—some said too brief—but Caridad was bursting with happiness and hope. They shared common values: like her, he was religiously observant and never used drugs. Eduardo was also completely accepting of her HIV-positive status. When Caridad explained that she had contracted the virus from her previous partner, he told her that he was not afraid—he wanted to embrace everything about her. After their marriage, the three of them settled into a small apartment and began living life as a family.

A few months later, Caridad began experiencing abdominal pain, cramping, and vaginal bleeding. Her symptoms first appeared on a weekend, so she and Eduardo went to the emergency room at Mercy Hospital in Newark. Had it been a weekday, she would have used Mercy’s Marshall Clinic, the closest thing she had to a primary care doctor. But the clinic was closed on weekends, so Caridad went to the emergency room at Mercy instead. She hoped that if she was lucky, she might be able to see one of the doctors who worked at her clinic.

When she arrived and explained her symptoms to the triage nurse, she and her husband were separated from the other ER patients. They waited a long time—not uncommon—but Caridad spent the time wondering if they had been put in isolation because of her HIV-positive status. When she finally saw a doctor, he examined her, performed some tests, and told her that she was pregnant.

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