Elsie Soto was ten years old when her father, Norberto, died in 1993 from AIDS. “Not being at his bedside, not saying goodbye, not seeing the coffin go in the ground,” Elsie said, made it difficult to reconcile her father’s death. Her grief and shock were compounded by the stigma surrounding AIDS—all the private funeral homes her mother contacted refused to perform the service.
Lizzette Rivera’s mother, Zaida, died from AIDS-related complications when Lizzette was 15 years old, in 1984. Like Elsie, she never got to say goodbye, and there was no funeral. Growing up, Lizzette felt as if she carried her mother with her everywhere, “inside of me, inside my heart.”
Both women knew their parents were buried on Hart Island—the location of New York City’s public cemetery. But they didn’t know where on the island their parents were buried. And, until just a few years ago, they were prohibited from going to the island.