The struggle that comes along with the fear of living with HIV is something many people face on a daily basis. On September 30th, 2010 Mondo Guerra shared his HIV+ status with the world and has made it his mission to share his story and change the lives of people living with HIV and AIDS.
He has come together with Subaru and Dining Our For Life to help those within the 63 communities that participate in the annual fundraising event.
We were able to talk with Mondo about his involvement with Dining Out For Life, his career and advice he would give to others who are living with HIV.
You first revealed your HIV+ status on season 8 of Project Runway, how did it feel to be able to share a part of you that you kept hidden for so long?
That day was a god send in so many ways, not only did I have the opportunity to share my creative work, I got to share a very personal part of myself which was my HIV positive status. Which I did hide for several years and I feel like on that day a lot of myself was given back to me. It changed a lot of things in my life, it changed relationships that had already been established, but not necessarily had been explored, so that was fairly big for me.
How do you think sharing your story and having that weight lifted helped you as a designer?
I never imagined that I would have the crossover between my creative work and advocacy and a lot of the projects that I’ve done since coming off the show have been exactly that. There has always been ‘design for a purpose’, and ‘design for a cause’ and that’s probably one of the most important parts of my life because I do want to continue a conversation about HIV.
What is Dining Out 4 Life and how did you start working with them?
Dining out for life is a national fundraisers sponsor with Subaru I started working with them after coming off the show, they approached me and asked me if I would like to be a part of their collaboration and their campaign. I said yes because first of all, I love to eat, and Dining Out For Life is an amazing campaign that gives people in American and Canada in over 60 cities the opportunity to go out and have a good meal at different restaurants and part of the proceeds of that meal go directly to the AIDS service organization beneficiary of that community. The wonderful thing about it is that all the money that is raised within that community, stays in that community. So it’s really important to go out and support your community.
Tell us a little more about the #Pozitivity project. What goal would you like to achieve?
The #Pozitivity project was a promise I made to the AIDS service organizations that participate in dining out for life, there are 63 of them this year. I also did the national Dining Out For Life meeting in Tulsa, Oklahoma this past summer, and I’ve been working with Dining Out For Life for about 4 or 5 years now. I’ve built relationships with a lot of the AIDS Service Organizations and I wanted to give something back for all the hard work that they do. So, I designed a positivity print for each and every one of the 63, and each one is a personalized print. It means a lot to me because when I was creating the project, and going through it I did a lot of research on the different organizations that are participating in Dining Out For Life, and I realized that I have met someone from every organization in one way or another. So it’s really neat to revisit that friendship and understand my connection to all these very important AIDS Service Organizations. So on World AIDS Day on December 1st, we presented a 360-degree video that shared all 63 prints for each of the AIDS Service Organizations. Again, this is just another opportunity and another tool to start a conversation. It’s colorful and it’s animated and has energy, and hope that it’s a way to start a new conversation about HIV and AIDS.
In Project Runway you were to design a print to represent your childhood and who you are. You designed a structured, repeated plus sign design that told your story of being HIV+, the colors you picked were a purple and a gold/yellow color. Are those colors meaningful, was there a reason you chose them?
For me, I love color story it’s absolutely one of my favorite things in the world and purple and yellow are complimentary colors, so that was a given. I didn’t put much thought into the actual colors, I just knew they were powerful, I knew they were vibrant and that they were joyful. Because I was telling a story of so much pain and so much guilt, so much fear I didn’t want it to feel heavy or sad they were just colors that were majestic and happy.
We remember watching that episode of Project Runway and thinking about how beautiful of a moment that was for you. What was your motivation in deciding to share your story on national TV?
I didn’t really plan on sharing my story, it was really again just an opportunity for me to share the truth behind the design. Ever since I was a younger person, creativity was always my best friend and for several years after I was diagnosed with HIV my creativity was being affected because I was allowing HIV to define who I was, not only as a creative person but as an individual. When I was on the show I was comfortable, I felt good I was experiencing so much that I never thought I would experience before, so when I did that particular challenge and shared my design I continued to ignore the truth behind the design; I wasn’t sharing it with the judges or the other contestants. I wasn’t until the other contestants were very honest and very vulnerable about their design that I felt the strength to talk about my own truth. That’s when I decided to open up and share my story.
For the people reading this who are HIV+ or those who are struggling with sharing a part of themselves, what is your advice to them?
I think what I learned from my experience is that there is so much power behind your truth and there is so much power within your story, and I think it’s really important to be able to share your story to whoever you can. It only takes one person to be inspired and pass it on, so it’s really just about communication whether that communication is verbally or visually, whatever you do take the opportunity to share your story. I always feel like every day is a new opportunity to share your story with somebody else. I’ve always said this but it’s important to take your time and know who your support system is, I don’t feel you should be pressured to talk about your status or your situation, but when you’re ready to, I think it’s important to know that there is a lot of power behind your story.