This week, the subject of HIV comes into focus at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Last summer, instead of taking time off from school to relax, UH junior Erica Fletcher spent one month researching and filming her documentary Marianismo.
“(The documentary) is about the cultural factors that affect the disproportionate spread of HIV among Latina women living in Houston,” Fletcher said.
Fletcher, 19, is an anthropology and psychology major. She said that her inspiration to create the documentary came from the work that she has done thus far in her college career.
“I got the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship with the Office of Undergraduate Research at UH, and they gave me money to do a research project on anything I wanted,” she said. “At the time, I was working with Dr. Janis Hutchinson, who was studying HIV among black populations, and so I thought it would be interesting to do a project on Latina women to expand the research.”
Like most research projects, this took many hours of study, interviews and networking in order to come up with the final product.
“I did a lot of reading about HIV in general, and then I started to study the cultural implications and the stigma attached to it,” Fletcher said. “I then looked at which populations are affected the most and went from there.”
Fletcher contacted AIDS Foundation Houston, which helped her find subjects for her study.
AFH is a non-profit organization that lends a hand to those who have the disease and are in need of help.
“I had worked before with Timeka Walker who is a social worker at AFH, and she got me in contact with different people in Houston that would have been interested in helping me,” Fletcher said. “She helped me to advertise at AFH, asking for volunteers to speak in the documentary about their experiences.
“I interviewed three HIV-positive Latino women. Only three agreed to be interviewed because of the stigma attached to it. They were very open with their stories, however, and helped me out a lot.”
Fletcher said that there are two versions of the film. The original was much longer than the final cut.
“Around August, I finished the first version, which was a 46-minute documentary,” she said. “That was the version that I marketed for the fall semester.”
There were five on-campus screenings of the first version of the film last semester. The final cut, which will be screened at MFAH, is only a 20-minute video.
Fletcher said she edited the video down so much because she wanted to focus only on the women and how they cope with the disease.
“I took out a lot of the health experts and professors that I had interviewed because I was thinking about the process and the method of editing, and I wanted to have something that was real and true to their stories,” Fletcher said. “I wanted to focus on that instead of the social background in the anthropological sense.”
According to several studies, the rate of HIV/AIDS infection is five times higher among Latina women than white women. Through her documentary, Fletcher wants to show that there are cultural factors that add to this discrepancy. This is why she titled the film Marianismo.
‘Marianismo’ is a word that describes the concept of the ideal Latina woman,” Fletcher said. “It is someone who is selfless, who cares about her family and will try to do anything to preserve it. It is what typifies why some Latina women will put themselves at risk of contracting HIV/AIDS.”
Fletcher explained that some women in the Latino culture will suffer abuse or infidelity for the sake of preserving the family.
In general, the man is the economic provider in the marriage, while the woman cares for the children and the household in general. Since the women are not financially independent, they have to turn a blind eye to some of their spouse’s shortcomings.
Fletcher said it is important to understand that cultures vary among the different Latino countries.
“A lot of times there is that huge fear in anthropology or sociology when one is doing research of not wanting to peg people into a certain role,” she said. “There is so much of the Latino culture that is diverse.
“The point of the documentary is not to stereotype Latina women; it’s to show commonalities among a huge range of cultures while raising awareness of HIV/AIDS.”