In the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico, there’s a place which welcomes gay Indians who have AIDS. It’s an oasis of tranquility in an atmosphere of discrimination and intolerance.
by Luisa Fernanda López
The stories recounted by Alejandro Cárdenas in his documentary OASIS are tales that stir the soul. The images, sounds, music and words reflect enormous pain, anger, sadness, love and a lot of dignity. Three characters who share a sexual preference, a disease and a daily battle to survive amidst prejudice and machismo.
Cárdenas arrived seven years ago in the Peninsula to cover a story about the Zapatistas. He discovered the Oasis Hostel in San Juan de Dios. It offers shelter to people with AIDS, many of whom are in the final stages of the disease. It’s located an hour from Mérida, the capital of Yucatán, and as the documentary-maker puts it “there’s a lack of everything. There are no left-overs. There aren’t any doctors or nurses. The patient who is the least ill takes care of the others.” He’s visited the hostel on a number of occasions, and he’s seen “at least six people die in very poor conditions”. Over 300 people have died in deplorable conditions over the past decade, says the hostel director Carlos Méndez. “Death is always on our doorstep.”
Gerardo, Déborah & Queen Patricia
In Oasis, Alejandro Cárdenas met the three main characters in his documentary: Gerardo Chan Chan, Queen Patricia and Déborah. The three indigenous Mayans are all gay. They all have AIDS, and each one tells a story of having to fight the disease while at the same time being rejected by their families and the rest of society, their stories are also of poverty and of love.
Gerardo Chan Chan recounts that in his village he was considered a K’ÉEKÉN, a Mayan word meaning pig because he lived with the pigs. It was the punishment his father meted out to him for being gay. “I grew up in a macho culture in which men don’t cry”, says Cárdenas. “Gerardo is the most courageous person I have ever met because he managed to pick himself up off the ground, re-invent himself and become a gardener.”
Déborah Sansorez began working as a prostitute at the age of 14. There was nothing special about that because prostitution is the only way for gays to survive in that culture. Cárdenas wanted to tell a story of love: from Monday to Friday, Deborah is a homemaker who makes love to his man, José, and on weekends s/he goes out on the streets to sell her body “to people who are in need of love”.
Queen Patricia (Reynaldo López) is the third character in the documentary. A cook in a hotel on the Riviera Maya by day and a sex worker in Qintana Roo at night. Despite the problems, Queen Patricia makes the utmost of the two aspects of this life. When there are health problems or not enough money, Queen Patricia returns to the OASIS Hostel.
All three of them have spent long periods of time at the hostel, among other sick people who have no hope left. They know that for the time being they’re luckier than the others, and they try to offer them a helping hand. “When I’m there, the outside world doesn’t exist. “I don’t even worry about eating”, says Queen Patricia. “I just take my medication and try to help those who are worse off than me.”
The three live in a small village where people are particularly intolerant of gays and lesbians. “The way homosexuals are treated in Yucatan communities is particularly bad”, explains Cárdenas. It’s even worse than in the rest of Mexico, which has the second highest level of hate crimes in the world.
Cárdenas’ dream to is to show his documentary in the Yucatán Peninsula and for Gerardo, Queen Patricia and Déborah to be present to help break down the barriers and the hatred against gays and lesbians.