Living Positive


Life doesn´t stop with HIV. Elda Malpera, of Brooklyn, NY is in recovery from substance abuse and has turned her life around. I first photographed her in 2009 - she had been released from prison nine months prior, and since then had been a client of the Women´s Transitional Housing program (WTH) of the non–profit organization Housing Works. WTH helps women get back on their feet by providing housing, counseling, job training and a host of other educational opportunities and health care services.

Malpera was diagnosed with HIV in 2001. Her daughter Rachel and fiancé Anthony, her partner since 1998, are both HIV negative. She has completely changed her life for the better, yet every day brings challenges. She works to complete her program with WTH, create new opportunities for a future career, care for herself and her family including her sick father, Sergio, 61 who is in the final stages of cirrhosis of the liver, the consequence of decades of alcoholism. Malpera is as committed to his care as she is to her goal of becoming a drug counselor for teens. She is fiercely determined to succeed, and hopeful about the new path she is forging for herself and her family.

An excerpt of this story was published by The Indypendent in 2010:
Living Positively with HIV: A Photo Essay by Amelia H. Krales
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Elda credits her Christian faith for much of her success and strength. “On March 9, 2007 I went to jail and had a spiritual awakening.” “I flipped out, I was in building 11 in Rikers, I was seeing a psychiatrist and I wanted to die. I smoked a cigarette and I went back into my cell and I was crying and then I felt the presence of God… I felt that there was no need to use, to go back to the lifestyle I was living, that I was worth something. Because for a long time I didn’t feel like I was worth anything. From then on, it was a completely different road. I felt that I was worthy to do something more productive with my life.”
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Immediately after being released from prison, Malpera began caring for her father, Sergio. Elda scratches her father’s back, while her daughter, Rachel Gonzalez removes a layer to stay cool. Because of Sergio’s cirrhosis he is always cold. He keeps it around 100° in his small apartment in Ridgewood, Queens. February 8, 2009.
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A photo of Elda as a child with her mother, Margarita, on a shelf next to her HIV medication. To keep healthy, she must take two pills twice a day, which she guesses could cost up to $800 a month for each prescription. She adheres strictly to her medication regimen and has been keeping her immune system strong and her T-cell count high.
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Elda pauses to call her cable company to try to take advantage of a movie ticket promotion. Their family is on a tight budget and cannot always afford luxuries like movie tickets. Ridgewood, Queens. February 8, 2009.
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Elda comes home from busy day, her legs and feet in pain. The pain can be debilitating at times and she has been advised to be sedentary but Elda finds this impossible to do with all of her WTH program and familial responsibilities. February, 2009.
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Elda, in the center is framed by her sister on the left and her daughter Rachel on the right. Elda's sister has come to New York to move Sergio to North Carolina because he can no longer care for himself.
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Exhausted from a long week of work and family responsibilities, Elda rests on the train while Rachel plays, unaware of her mothers mood. Elda has a lot on her plate with Housing Works requirements, caring for her father, and parole responsibilities.
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Rachel plays dress up with her grandfathers hospital gown in his apartment.
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Elda’s father Sergio, 61 is in the final stages of cirrhosis of the liver, the consequence of life-long alcoholism. Sergio’s skin bleeds easily, and Rachel acts as her grandfather’s nurse and carefully wipes blood from his chest. “Grandpa, don’t scratch,” she tells him. Ridgewood, Queens, February 8, 2009.
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Sergio at home. February 8, 2009
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After packing up her father, Elda and Rachel have to take three different trains to get home.
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Sergio and Elda sit in a cab in silence to run an errand before Sergio moves to North Carolina the next day. February 11, 2009.
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A week after this portrait of Sergio was taken, he went into the hospital for liver and kidney failure. Elda flew to be with him in North Carolina and shortly after, he died. “Seeing ...[what happened to] him instilled in me never to drink again. There’s nothing under the sun to make me drink again. I’ve seen my father suffer way too much. It’s a wake up call from God – this can happen to you.” Ridgewood, Queens, February 8, 2009.
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Four months later: Rachel jumps rope at her sixth birthday party held in her backyard “I want Rachel to go to the best school, and I know she can go to college,” says Malpera. June, 2009
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Anthony and Elda share a private moment in the backyard the morning of their wedding. Brooklyn, NY September 28, 2009
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Elda sits with Rachel and other brides to be at the City Hall in downtown Brooklyn.
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Celebrating on her wedding day, Malpera shares the moment with her mother, Margarita (left) and husband, Anthony Gonzalez (right), on the front stoop of her home. “Anthony keeps me stronger,” Malpera says of her partner of 11 years. Her eldest child whom Elda reconnected with in 2008 plays with Rachel on the sidewalk.
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