EXCLUSIVE: Project Runway's Mondo Guerra on Receiving "Negative Comments and Hate Mail"

Mondo Guerra is unquestionably the frontrunner on season 8 of Project Runway and a lot of people are predicting that he’ll be crowned the winner on Thursday night’s finale (October 28 on Lifetime, 9 PM). Mondo grabbed national headlines earlier in the season for revealing that he’s HIV positive—a secret he'd been hiding for 10 years. The talented designer spoke to Latina.com about the importance of hard work, what winning the show would mean to him, and the mixed reactions he’s gotten from people since revealing he’s HIV positive.

A lot of people are calling you unstoppable in this competition. Do you feel like the frontrunner?
I think that during the challenges you really have to just stay focused on doing the best work that you can. It’s like Heidi [Klum] says: "One day you’re in and one day you’re out." It’s the truth. Designers did some really amazing work and then the next challenge they were in the bottom or they left, so it doesn’t mean that I’m the best designer on the show and that I’m unbeatable. I think it just means that I have to stay focused and need to do my best work.

What would it mean to you if you did win the show?
For me to win Project Runway would be amazing. It has been a dream of mine for such a long time. It would just be another thing that I’ve accomplished, another thing that I really wanted to go out for and worked hard for. I would be so happy and not only that, I think I would be giving back to so many people. It’s not all about me. There are so many times when I was on the show that I really felt that it was getting too tough and too hard. The hours were stressful and I wanted to throw in the towel and give up. But then when I sat down at the machine and started sewing I realized I’m not doing this just for me, I’m doing this for so many other people. All of those people who have a dream, all those people that aspire to do something bigger than what they are. I’m doing it for my family and my friends—everybody who’s really inspired me since I was a little boy.

Have you made a lot of friends on this show?
Yeah, I would consider all of the designers my friends. Even though it was a competition I keep in touch with all of them. A couple of weeks ago I had a benefit and they all contributed to the cause and sent me stuff to auction off, so I think I made some really good friends. We all have something in common. We all have a passion for what we do, and we’re all very talented at what we do, so it’s a very unique situation to be in a bubble with fifteen other designers who do exactly what you love to do. That being said, it also makes it very tough. Just like anybody you have your good days and your bad days and everybody there definitely has their own opinion, their own point of view, their own aesthetic, and beyond that there are some egos flying around. Some of the contestants go there just to play the game, and focus on the game and treat it as a game and that made it kind of difficult. But I think as long as you stay focused and do your best and don’t really get involved with all of the drama that’s going on around you-then it turns out for the best.

Why was it important to you to say you were HIV positive on the show?
It wasn’t important for me to say that on the show. It wasn’t planned. It happened very naturally. I had a couple of textiles that I was choosing from and the one that I chose was the one that had to do with my HIV positive status. The producers were very respectful of my wishes to not talk about it and I didn’t think it would be the right time. But I realized when my mom visited that I’m accomplishing my dream and there’s one thing that’s been holding me back for a long time—me hiding this huge secret. It was such a weight on my shoulders that I couldn’t move forward emotionally, creatively, even health-wise. So I knew that this was the last thing. And when I was asked what my story was, I felt very comfortable talking about it. After I finished talking about it, I felt a million times better. I definitely felt like a new person. I can’t even describe the feeling.

What kind of reactions have you gotten from people?
Well, you know, you’re going to get some kind of negative response from certain people, which is in some ways a good thing because it actually opened up a dialogue and people are talking about it. I think that’s why there’s such a stigma behind HIV and people living with HIV/AIDS. People don’t want to talk about it or people discriminate against people living with HIV and AIDS. So yeah, there were negative comments and hate mail and that was very hurtful. But the positive definitely outweighed the negative. And I really don’t feel like it’s just about my story personally, it’s about having the secret and letting go of something and moving forward. I feel like it’s given people the strength to be able to talk about it and get it out of their life and move forward. These dark secrets really hold people back.

How did it hold you back?
In my situation, keeping the secret from my family—even at Easter and Thanksgiving—I knew I was lying to them about why I would go to the doctor, and why I was in the hospital. It really made me feel uncomfortable. It made me feel like I couldn’t trust them. And it’s not that I couldn’t trust them, I just wasn’t being true to myself and I was really underestimating my family and their unconditional love. I think that people need to get rid of so much negativity in their life.

What’s next for you after the show?
Honestly, I really couldn’t tell you because I wake up everyday expecting the best and living my life as it comes to me. I don’t really expect anything to happen. But I think that there is definitely a bigger plan for me not only in my personal life but also in my career, and I think it will unfold just the way it’s supposed to. So you know, no expectations.