The Banyan Tree Project Launches National Digital Storytelling Initiative to End HIV Stigma for Asians, Pacific Islanders

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"Taking Root: Our Stories, Our Community" highlights authentic, emotional stories from the community to fight HIV stigma. The Banyan Tree Project--a CDC-funded community mobilization campaign--uses innovative strategies to engage Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders in HIV prevention. Watch the stories at Start the conversation #withoutshame.

"We're all living with HIV, whether we have the virus or not," says San Francisco Health Commissioner Cecilia Chung, who is also HIV positive.

May 19th, 2012 is the 8th annual National Asian & Pacific Islander HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. To commemorate the day, the Banyan Tree Project is launching a community-driven initiative to end HIV stigma and discrimination among Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders (AAs and NHPIs). “Taking Root: Our Stories, Our Community” is an innovative digital storytelling project produced in partnership with the Center for Digital Storytelling.

"We're all living with HIV, whether we have the virus or not," says San Francisco Health Commissioner Cecilia Chung, who is also living with HIV. "Real stories told by real people are the only way to get the community to understand how to break the cycle of shame. We can choose to perpetuate shame with our silence and judgment or we can choose to save lives with our love and compassion."

Taking Root examines the shame, silence, and discrimination isolating AAs and NHPIs affected by HIV from their communities. The stories are rueful, like the one told by Hatsume, a young Japanese-American woman living with HIV. They are also hopeful, like Eric Zheng’s story, which describes his journey from a young medical student recently diagnosed with HIV to his current role as an HIV physician. Taking Root stories are not testimonials or documentary-style interviews. They are short video narratives created by the storytellers themselves. They are honest and real.

As the U.S. implements HIV prevention models like “test and treat”, engaging communities in ending HIV stigma becomes more important than ever. “Test and treat” hopes to drastically reduce the chance of HIV infection by immediately putting patients who test positive on antiretroviral treatment regimens. The success of “test and treat” depends in part on getting more people tested for HIV and into treatment if they are infected. But communities with high levels of HIV stigma will continue to avoid testing unless the shame, fear and discrimination that haunts the disease is addressed.

“We know HIV stigma prevents many AAs and NHPIs from getting tested for HIV or accessing treatment services,” said Barbara Garcia, San Francisco’s Director of Health. “We need community-based and community-driven initiatives like ‘Taking Root’ in order to make an AIDS-free generation a reality.”

AAs and NHPIs are the least likely race or ethnicity to get tested for HIV—over two-thirds of AAs and NHPIs have never been tested for HIV (National Health Interview Survey, 2009). The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in three AAs and NHPIs living with HIV doesn’t know it. For AAs and NHPIs, the silence and shame that prevents discussions of sex or HIV also prevents them from getting tested or treated for HIV.

“Taking Root: Our Stories, Our Community” can be viewed at Taking Root is an ongoing initiative and will include stories from AA and NHPI communities across the U.S. and the six U.S.-affiliated Pacific Island Jurisdictions. Taking Root stories are promoted online and at community events nationwide.

About the Banyan Tree Project

Supported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Banyan Tree Project is a national community mobilization and social marketing campaign to eliminate the shame and silence surrounding HIV/AIDS in Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities (AA and NHPI). The Banyan Tree Project produces annual anti-HIV stigma messages and materials, the National Asian & Pacific Islander HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (May 19th), and provides capacity building assistance to community-based organizations serving AAs and NHPIs in the U.S. and six U.S.-affiliated Pacific Island Jurisdictions. The Banyan Tree Project is led by Asian & Pacific Islander Wellness Center in San Francisco. Regional partners include Asian Pacific AIDS Intervention Team (Los Angeles, CA), Life Foundation (Honolulu, HI), and Massachusetts Asian & Pacific Islanders for Health (Boston, MA). For more information visit

About the Center for Digital Storytelling

The Center for Digital Storytelling (CDS) surfaces authentic voices around the world through group process and participatory media creation. CDS programs support people in sharing and bearing witness to stories that lead to learning, action, and positive change. Over the past ten years, digital storytelling has emerged as an important participatory media production method used in a variety of community, health, educational, and academic research settings. Since beginning this work in the early 1990s, the Center for Digital Storytelling has drawn from well-established traditions in the fields of popular education, oral history, participatory communications, public health, and, most recently, what has been called “citizen journalism,” to train and work with small groups of people around the world, on the process and production of short, first-person video pieces that document a wide range of culturally and historically embedded stories. For more information please visit

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