Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

Comparative Sociology

First Advisor's Name

Sarah J. Mahler

First Advisor's Title

Committee Chair

Second Advisor's Name

Mario De La Rosa

Third Advisor's Name

Maria Aysa-Lastra

Fourth Advisor's Name

Dennis Wiedman

Fifth Advisor's Name

Michael Barton Laws

Keywords

HIV/AIDS, HIV coping, community, boundary-work, Latino populations, Hispanic health, Puerto Ricans in U.S., public health.

Date of Defense

4-21-2011

Abstract

Negative experiences of stigmatization, discrimination, and rejection are common among people living with HIV in the United States, and particularly when they are also members of a minority group. Some three decades after the first cases of AIDS were identified, people infected with HIV continue to be perceived and characterized negatively. While an HIV/AIDS diagnosis is typically associated with negativity, this study investigates the extent to which collective experiences among HIV-positive people result in healthy responses and positive social adjustment. This study is focused on the ways in which HIV-positive Puerto Rican men in Boston live positive despite being diagnosed with HIV. Rather than wrapping themselves in the social stigma of HIV and the isolation that entails, they participate in processes that affirm themselves and their peers. In so doing, they help generate both healthy and meaningful lives for themselves and others. The study examines the process in which Puerto Rican men living with HIV in Boston participate, promote, and reaffirm an HIV community, la comunidad, as a social entity with a unique culture and identity. This study also investigates how this community influences, supports, and encourages the adoption of positive transformations for living long term with HIV.

On the basis of nine months of field research, this qualitative study employed both focus groups and interviews with fifty HIV-positive Puerto Rican men in Boston. These men were recruited, using convenience sampling, from different community-based organizations (CBOs) that provide HIV/AIDS services in Boston.

The study finds that HIV-positive Puerto Rican men in Boston build community, not in response to social exclusion, but built on shared positive practices and strategies for living healthy with HIV. These men come together to negotiate and form a unique cultural community expressed in norms, beliefs, and practices that, although centered on HIV, are designed for living healthy. These expressions reaffirm a sense of community in everyday settings and transform the lives of these men with positive behaviors and healthy lifestyles. The findings reveal that this transformation takes place in the context of a community, with the support, encouragement, and at times, policing of others. La comunidad is where the lives of these men are transformed as they learn, adopt, and experience living positive with HIV.

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