Ilka Tanya Payán

Ilka Tanya Payán

Ilka Tanya Payán (January 7, 1943 - April 6, 1996) was a Dominican actress and attorney who later became a prominent AIDS/HIV activist in the United States. Born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, she immigrated to the United States at the age of thirteen, settling permanently in New York City. She became widely recognized for her role in the Spanish-language telenovela "Angelica, Mi Vida" ("Angelica, My Life"). It was from her role on this serial that provided Payán with the experience to move on to bigger roles in Hollywood with a small role in the film Scarface, and a guest role on the television series Hill Street Blues. Prior to these roles, she had worked in local theatrical and television projects in the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Spain.

She also worked hard to encourage the New York Latino Theater Community. She was a founder of Hispanic Organization of Latin Actors [HOLA] , and was heavily involved with International Arts Relations [INTAR] .

She became an attorney in 1981, and practiced immigration law. It was around this time that a former lover infected her with HIV (he has since died of the disease). It was not until 1986 that she tested positive for the virus. Caught completely off guard by the discovery, she revealed her status to her husband, her then 22-year old daughter, niece, and several friends. She and her second husband separated several years later, and ultimately divorced. Fortunately for him, he escaped infection.

Keeping her status private for many years, she finally publicly disclosed her status in 1993. Payán’s announcement shocked many in the Hispanic community because she was one of the first Latino celebrities to publicly disclose her status. While it was widely believed that the death of singer Hector Lavoe in June 1993 influenced her, Payán in an interview with the New York Times said that it was an encounter with a man who she liked that helped her make this important decision. After asking her point-blank if she was positive, she admitted it to him. She later heavily debated whether or not to keep living with her secret or accept that she was living with a medical condition, and not with a punishment as many evangelical preachers at the time had labeled the disease. At the end she decided that she no longer could live a lie and decided to tell others about her status in order to educate others about the realities of living with the disease. [ [ Conversations/Ilka Tanya Payán; An Actress Openly Faces AIDS And Receives an Audience's Ovation] from New York Times 05/12/1993]

The announcement did not go well with some of her ten sisters and six brothers. Many who lived in the Dominican Republic were chided over the fact that her revelation was received negatively in that nation. The general consensus in the in Latin America during the second half of the 1980s and early 1990s, was that AIDS/HIV was a disease that only affected homosexuals. However, Payán was heterosexual, and this stereotype provided her with a new found mission in life. Payán spent the final three years of her life educating the public about the realities of AIDS. On December 10, 1993 she was given the honor of being chosen as the featured speaker at the United Nations panel for World AIDS Day. Speaking to this world body of diplomats allowed her to discuss the importance of educating citizens of developing nations on how to protect themselves and prevent the spread of the disease.

The years preceding her death, Payán worked in the legal department for the Gay Men's Health Crisis, a non-profit, volunteer-supported and community-based AIDS/HIV organization that has led the fight in educating the public on AIDS/HIV prevention. [ [ Jairo Pedraza on HIV in Latin America] October 1998]

She died from complications from AIDS in her Hell's Kitchen home on April 6, 1996.

On March 1, 2002, New York City renamed a park in the predominantly-Dominican Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights in her honor. The "Ilka Tanya Payán Park" is located on the Greenstreet bounded between 156th and 157th Streets, and Broadway and Morgan Place. [ [ New York City Parks and Recreation Department: RENAMING A PARK IN MEMORY OF ILKA TANYA PAYAN: SOAP OPERA STAR, IMMIGRATION LAWYER, AND AIDS ACTIVIST] 26/02/2002]

On September 27, 2005 the "Ilka Tanya Payán Theatre" located at the Times Square Arts Center was opened in a dedication ceremony. The playhouse will serve as an experimental theater for Latino actors and productions. [ [ Teatro llevará nombre de Ilka Tanya Payán] from El Diario La Prensa 20/08/2005]


External links

* [ Ilka Tanya Payán] on the Internet Movie Database

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