International Youth Day – Jonatan Montoya is Traveling the World and Fostering Awareness for HIV and AIDS”

Meet Jonatan Montoya: At 32 years old, Jonatan seeks to become the first person from Mexico to complete the 7 Wonders Walk, traveling the world on foot, following the route of the Seven Wonders. His mission? To dive deeper into his own body, mind, and spirit while raising awareness and funds for HIV-related work on this journey. Recently, #GenEndIt and The PACT, supported by UNAIDS, were able to catch up with Jonatan in honor of International Youth Day (August 12th) and we are honored to partner with him on this day to share his inspiring insights and story.

Tell us a bit about yourself? How old are you? Where are you from and how was it growing up?

My name is Jonatan Montoya, I’m 32 years old. And I’m on the path to become the first Mexican to walk around the world. 

While doing so, I’m taking the chance to call on the governments of all nations to honor their commitments to global health by adopting the Global AIDS Strategy to end AIDS as a public health threat by 2030.

I’m a 90’s child. My parents were fairly young at the time of my birth. My dad was 18 and my mother was 16. Being raised by alcoholic teenagers, in a Catholic household, in a Catholic country, attending pretty conservative schools had its challenges. I grew up in silence. Never truly speaking up but always resisting internally against religion’s dogma and homophobia.

I’m a late bloomer. I became the man I am today so slowly that most of my life I thought there was something wrong with me. 

Now I know life is about living and that being homosexual is not wrong. It’s only human. 

Having an alcoholic father had an impact on me. I would’ve loved for him not to be this way. But honestly, I would’ve loved even more not being imposed a set of religious beliefs while growing up. This is what made things difficult for me.

And this is what is making my relationship with my parents difficult today as they’ve adopted an even more conservative mindset in recent years. 

As a follow up – How has your background influenced you? (regarding your work with HIV and AIDS, human rights, and social justice)

I got tested for the first time when I was 15 years old. And got tested compulsively for several years until one day around my 20’s I simply stopped having sex. I went celibate for over a year out of fear (and ignorance) about this and other infectious diseases. 

I’ve seen friends, boyfriends, partners and sexual patterns get infected with HIV through the years. Growing up has been painful in that regard. I have a lust for life and at the same time there has been moments where I’ve been truly afraid of living… 

So, I’m taking control of my life and my health one step at the time, and I’m making my mission to inspire others to do the same as soon as possible whatever their status. 

I wish for a world where no one lives in fear of living. 

P.S. I could’ve used a more comprehensive sexual education growing up, that’s for sure.

What are your thoughts about young people and HIV and HIV-related issues (for example: the state of comprehensive sexuality education, law and policy, and opportunities for young people to acquire the resources they need to lead – specifically in Latin America?

Specifically in Latin America, we are living in a culture full of double standards, stereotypes, male-dominated, misogynistic, homophobic. Even gay men and men who have sex with other men express this homophobia… including me and sometimes I don’t even notice, which is terrifying. 

We’re taught that heterosexuality is the norm and “correct way to be”. And this puts us at risk in many ways, because we aren’t allowed to learn enough or even be interested to learn about very important things like sexual education and HIV. 

My thoughts… We can do better.

And of course we’d love to know your take on HIV and its intersectional issues happening around the world?

You know, I’m no expert, but what I’ve learned about HIV so far has made care enough to walk and advocate for this cause until we can get to zero new infections.

It’s a humbling experience. Until recently I was not aware of the many resources available for people living with HIV and this is just the tip of the iceberg.

The general public needs to understand what HIV really is. 

I went to buy condoms yesterday and the pharmacist looked at me like I was buying a gun! When it’s the opposite.

There’s 40 years of history here. 

So let’s walk together for this cause!

I’ll walk the new 7 wonders for the next 7 years addressing this topic publicly every chance I get but I’ll need your help guys.

Thank you for taking an interest in what I’m doing. I believe we can do wonders together. 

We are excited to dive into your project! Are there any key details about the 7 Wonders Walk you would like to share?

Let’s see… 

When I decided to do this, the goal I had in mind was not to set a new world record or anything like that but simply to answer the call to adventure and build something for myself along the way.

Now, the price I’m paying to be me and do what I’m doing is high, and it’s only recently that I understood what walking for a living really means. 

Who would’ve known that by trying to be radically true to myself I’d end up doing something this interesting, culturally-relevant and exciting!

I didn’t see it coming. The same way I can’t foresee every challenge and threat that lies ahead but I trust the process. 

Today I’m talking to you, who knows what tomorrow brings.

What inspired you to embark on this courageous journey?

In one word: Love. 

I have been living with my life-time friend and partner Salvador for six years when I decided to do this. I’ve known him for 17 years now. And… truly, even though I love him so much I’ve learned to love myself even more and I had no choice. Loving us as a couple I grew up wings and now I’m flying. Corny I know but true.

What are your goals for the 7 Wonders Walk project this year (2021) and beyond?

You know.. by walking around the world I’m being selfish, the most selfish I’ve ever been. And I’m proud of it. I built this new purpose for myself and in my heart I know I can do it.

But at the same time the question remains…

Can someone like me do something like this?

I gotta keep walking and see for myself. 

I walk driven by the power of my spirit, my lust for life and my curiosity. 

So my goal is to reach wonder after wonder building bridges until I become the man I want to become. 

How else do you think young people need to be supported in order to be an effective part of the global community response to HIV?

We need to make sure young people see young people speaking for themselves, solving problems, raising questions, challenging stereotypes, making visible statements, defending minorities, working to end AIDS… 

Nobody invited me to walk in the name of anyone or anything, I decided to this, tired of being told what to do, what to believe, what to care about, who to be..

Am I making a statement by living like a nomad, carrying only two pairs of underwear, one pair of boots, a cellphone and a tent? 

I hope so. 

And I hope in the end it counts for something. 

We think it’s important to also address the COVID-19 situation. How has this impacted and/or changed your work around youth and HIV?

It’s too soon for me to say I’m doing any work around youth and HIV. 

Yes, I’m doing something out of the ordinary with a great potential for impact. But for now the real work is been done by you guys. 

Thank you.

For my part, I know these are challenging times for everyone, but even in the middle of a pandemic we shouldn’t give up on our dreams. That I’m convinced of.

You are very inspiring, and we’d love to leave this last question open for you to say anything else you want to add or say or express in honor of International Youth Day this Aug 12, 2021!

To the young:

The world needs us. I know you know it. Share knowledge. Walk for something. Walk in the mud. Walk in the rain. Walk away! Get lost and re-enter society forever changed. LIVE! Love. Expand your heart. Expand your mind. Question everything you think you know. You won’t care until you see it with your own eyes. So go see it! Make a fire. Get to work. Sing. Listen. Do nothing. Dress up. Get naked. Know your smell. Know your taste. Teach. Ask for directions. Ask for help. Ask away! I believe in you. I’m just like you. Please, BELIEVE YOUR SPIRIT! 

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