Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Juan Mendez (1965-2006)

Juan Mendez passed away on May 9 in the early morning hours from heart failure in his Chelsea apartment at the age of 41. He was living with AIDS at the time of his death. Juan was born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Mr. Mendez was an award-winning journalist and activist in the LGBT communities of New York and Puerto Rico. He graduated from the Universidad del Sagrado Corazon with a Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration and Communications, and in 1988 decided to pursue a graduate program in Media Studies at the New School for Social Research in Manhattan.

After working as Assistant to the Vice President of Orion Pictures and in response to the mounting AIDS epidemic, he decided to leave this job to work in his community as an AIDS Outreach Worker and Educator for the Lower East Side family Union. He was also a founding member of the Latino Caucus of ACT-UP New York, and among many actions, he was involved in a collaborative effort that resulted in the founding of ACT-UP Puerto Rico and the first ever AIDS protest against the Puerto Rican government and the Puerto Rican Catholic Church. He then worked as Assistant Director of the Homeless Youth Program at the Hetrick Martin Institute and later as Director of the Domestic Violence Program at the NYC Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project. He then joined the newly founded Latino Commission on AIDS as Deputy Director for Policy.


After many years of working in the AIDS/LGBT communities, Mr. Mendez decided to pursue his original calling of working in the media and joined the newly formed staff of the now-defunct El Daily News, the bilingual version of the NY Daily News. Upon the closing of the paper, Mr. Mendez was approached by the Empire State Pride Agenda and became the organization's Communication Director.

He later was hired by EI Diario-La Prensa, where he wrote the paper's bilingual editorials, edited the opinion page and later became the paper's entertainment editor. After several years at EI Diario, Mr. Mendez joined the team of Latina Magazine, as entertainment editor. He did many of the magazines celebrity cover interviews, including the first major interview with pop sensation Christina Aguilera. After two years at the magazine, Juan was approached by the Univision Company and relocated to Miami to work as editor of the film section of Univision.com.

He returned to New York in 2002 where he worked as Communications and Press for the Latino Commission on AIDS, focusing on the Commission's annual fundraiser Cielo Latino and was instrumental in the Commission's crystal meth prevention program targeting Latino gay and bisexual men. He served on the Board of Directors of GALDE (the Gay and Lesbian Dominican Empowerment Organization) and PRIDE (Puerto Rican Initiative to Develop Empowerment). Dennis deLeon, President of the Latino Commission on AIDS said, "Juan was one of the most imaginative and committed activists against homophobia and HIV/AIDS in all communities we have ever known. He was one of the best media gurus our community had." Mr. Mendez is survived by his mother, two sisters, a brother and long time friend Kent Johnson.


VIEWING & MEMORIALS

There will be a viewing tomorrow Thursday, May 11th from 4pm to 9pm. For details please call the La Paz Funerary at 718 585-0699. Two memorial services are being held: The first is also taking place tomorrow night from 7-9pm at the Bronx Lesbian & Gay Health Resource Consortium (BLGHRC). A second memorial service - which is being organized by family and friends to honor his wishes to celebrate his life joyfully - will be held at a future date.

3 comments:

Noel said...

Juan Mendez was an amazing person and a bright light.

He was a fearless and compassionate advocate for our community, willing to take on challenges and bring others along with him physically and emotionally. A brilliant and progressive thinker, Juan pushed people's boundaries and buttons in order to have them really think through their ideas and positions, calling people out when necessary on their issues, especially around gender and race. He was a patient and thorough teacher and mentor, unafraid of sharing information with others because he knew it would help us all grow and become stronger.

Juan was also buena gente -- smart, funny, full of love and energy and curiosity, and a great dancer. We will miss him too much.

Mara Mahia said...

I have just discovered that Juan died.

About ten years ago Juan was the Editor of El Diario's Opinion Section. Back then I was a struggling writer and Juan gave me the amazing oportunity to have my own column at El Diario. I think I never thanked him enough for giving me such a tremendous opportunity. Back then there was not even Internet and every week I will stop by at El Diario to give him a floppy disk with my column. He had ALWAYS a smile, and that was the best award he gave me for free every single week.

Working with him taught me a great deal about journalism and generosity. He was always respectul and inspiring. He was funny, polite and very very generous. He patiently adviced me about my columns and talked to me about Puerto Rico.

I had not seen him since those years, until today when out of the blue I googled his name.
I feel struck by his dead.

I would have liked to thank him properly for being such a giving person. That's something I will always regret.

I will miss his smile.

Andrés Duque said...

Mara

I am an avid reader of your columns at Hoy. If you check back on this post, please get back to me at andresito_ny@yahoo.com - There is a private celebration of Juan's life on June 24th that some of his friends are organizing and I'd like to give you the information.

Andres