Mondo Guerra is truly an amazing HIV/AIDS awareness advocate (and a fabulous designer to boot!).
Since revealing his HIV positive status on season eight of Project Runway, the 36-year-old Mexican-American designer has become a strong voice for the Latino community, raising awareness for the stigma-ridden health issue.
Guerra was recently honored at the Cielo Latino: Designing a World without AIDS gala for his advocacy. We caught up with the TV personality to talk about his advocacy work, his personal (and extremely) moving story, which celebrity he'd love to see wearing his designs, and more.
Read it all in our exclusive interview below:
You received quite an incredible honor at this year's Latino Convention on AIDS Gala. How are you feeling about that?
You know, last night like right before I went on, I was overcome with emotion. It made me really realize that there was applause for my successes. And for me, it was a really full-circle moment. After I accepted the award, people would come up to me and say, “I really enjoyed your speech.” And it wasn’t really a speech at all. My acceptance was really just thoughts that were on my mind at the moment. I feel like that has always been motivating for myself to continue to do the work that I do, which is, you know, the advocacy and also fashion. And I’m fortunate to have the crossover of the two. I guess, to make a long story short, I’m happy. [Laughs].
Did you realize the impact you’ve been having through your advocacy prior to this? Because it’s huge!
Yeah I feel like I have definitely made an impact, and I’m fortunate enough to have the visibility from Project Runway. But the fact is that it’s not just me. It’s everybody that’s really making a difference, whether you’re a volunteer at your local AIDS service organization or if you’re supporting somebody spiritually – mentally –that is living with HIV. The fact is: we’re all affected by HIV. We might be infected, but we’re all affected by it. And it’s really important to continue have these conversations and really share your story because within that story, there’s a lot of color.
Do you still remember that moment when you found out you were HIV positive?
Well, that’s a very personal question, but I will answer to the fact that I’ve been asked a lot about the generation gap. You know, we’re living with HIV now for 30 years – not me personally – but it’s been around for 30 years. I get the question, “What do you feel newly infected people are feeling? Or what are they doing?” And then I think about the people that found out about their infection in 1984. I was tested in 2001 and that’s when I knew that I was positive. But I will say that, that’s a raw emotion. It’s a very raw emotion, and besides the generation gap and the differences we’ve had in treatment and different things like that, it’s still a raw emotion. And I don’t think that emotion will ever change whether you were infected yesterday or you found out in 1984, that’s a very raw emotion. It’s a very personal emotion, and for me…I felt defeated.
You know, you asked me about this award and the affect that I’ve had with the advocacy work that I’ve done, I never realized that day would change my life in so many ways. It really has been such a journey and such – I don’t want to say a rocky road – but it has and I’ve allowed myself to experience that. I think looking back knowing what I know now, I know that I’m not resentful, and I don’t regret anything or hate the choices that I’ve made. I feel like, in life, we all make mistakes, and it’s really just about picking yourself back up. I know now looking back, that if I allowed my family in and disclosed my status to them, that I wouldn’t have went so far to hit my rock bottom. But for me, and my personal story, I really do feel like that’s what was supposed to happen. And fortunately I was able to recover in a tremendous way.
Is that sort of what made you open up on Project Runway about it? The internal struggle you were dealing with?
No, I don’t think it was that. I think that I was challenged to design something that was very personal. For some reason, I chose my HIV as a focal point for the execution of this print and I really didn’t think about talking about it on the runway. But when I was asked about my inspiration, in the beginning, I lied about it. I think that – I’m sorry – I know that when I was up there on the runway and they asked me about my inspiration, I was lying. And I thought about it more before they dismissed us off the runway, and I knew that creativity – art – has been something that saved me for a long, long time – ever since I was a kid. If I was going to deny myself of sharing my true inspiration and my story behind my print, then I was denying myself of every happy moment that I had growing up. And so, you know, I think that it came out on the runway because it was supposed to. I was, at that time, honoring my story.
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