Pedro’s mother had surgery where she could not have any more children after her seventh child. Pedro being born on a leap year and feet first made him a miracle baby. He, his mother, father, elder sister and brothers set sail to the United States in 1980 when he was eight, during the Mariel Boat Lift. Moments before sail, his four eldest brothers were instructed by government officials to stay in Cuba, due to being close to the draft age. At that time Cuba became a communist country, The Mariel Boat Lift was a chance for Cubans to leave Cuba and make way to Florida. 125,000 Cubans made the journey to the United States. The Zamora family made home in the suburbs of Miami.
At the age of 13, Pedro lost his mother to skin cancer. Pedro, being very close to his mother, He threw himself into school, making him an honors student. Pedro also made president of the science club, and captain of the cross-country team. Pedro was popular in high school, voted most intellectual and most all-around. After his mothers’ death, he inspires to be a doctor, but replaces her presence by going to parties and becoming sexually active with many sexual partners. He ignored safe sex, as he never received HIV/AIDS education in a way he could understand and learn at that age. In an interview with Hal Rubenstein for POZ magazine he says, “That I was never taught a health attitude about sex and my body” “good kids don’t get HIV. That’s what I was told.” Pedro did not believe he was at risk. At the age of 14, Pedro comes out to his father as gay after his older brother witnessed him with a boyfriend when followed at the request of his father. Hector supported his sons’ sexual orientation.
Pedro became an AIDS activist and educator. In his public speaking, he did not mention that fact of being gay. When interviewed by Hal Rubenstein for POZ magazine he says, “I wanted to put out there that I didn’t get AIDS because I was gay but because I had unprotected sex.” As a cast member of MTV series, The Real World: San Francisco that aired in June 1994, openly gay and living with HIV himself, Pedro took this opportunity to share his powerful message with more people. Described as happy, funny and upbeat, Pedro became close with 2 particular cast mates, Judd Winick and Pam Ling. While on the show, Pedro met another man, who was also HIV positive, Sean Sasser. In a short period, they fell in love but Pedro’s health was getting worse and faster than Pedro could have imagined. T cell counts (which are a type of white blood cells that fight off infections) in someone who is HIV positive and healthy has a range of 300 to 400 plus. On the show, Pedro had a T cell count of 32, his HIV has progressed to AIDS. Before the show ended Sean and Pedro, exchanged rings in a ceremony aired on an episode of The Real World: San Francisco.
On a MTV show tribute to Pedro Zamora, he talks to a group of students at Sacred Heart Cathedral Prep school on March 18, 1994 “this girl comes in and says the American Red Cross is here is asking us to donate blood, and the teacher says that anybody that goes and donates blood could be excused for the day. (jokingly) he says “ah this is my ticket out of taking the test.” “So I went and donated blood, and um about a month and a half later I received a letter from the American Red Cross saying that one of the test they had done was positive. It didn’t say HIV, it didn’t say AIDS. Finally after six months I went to a private doctor and got tested.” In November of 1989, Pedro tested positive for HIV. Pedro, speaking with another class says “ I walked out, as I was walking to the car it hit me. It was almost like 10,000 different emotions, different questions popped in my mind, and I just broke down and cried. The questions were like am I gonna die? when? how? am I gonna have enough time to graduate high school?”
According to Alex Escarano, best friend and roommate, “after the denial period, he started accepting. He went to Body Positive, which is a support center for HIV positive individuals. There he expressed his interest in maybe doing some educating. Since he knew that, there was such a great need for it. In addition, he went through certain training through the Red Cross, through HIV courses. So he got all this training and then he was put to sort of a test to speak in front of an audience.” Pedro speaks to large groups explaining, “its not who you are that gives you those decisions, its what you do. I was an honor student, it couldn’t happen to me.” Colleges all over the United Stated requested charismatic Pedro Zamora to use his intense public speaking on campus. When Pedro was nineteen, Eric Morganthaler, wall street journal reporter and friend wrote an article about Pedro. His story made the front page of the wall street journal that put him in the position of national focus. His work and accomplishments brought international attention to HIV/AIDS, including his testimony before congress in 1993. Appearances with Geraldo and even Oprah proved effective. When on the Oprah Winfrey show, Pedro says, “this is not a moral issue, it is a health issue and we have to look at it from that standpoint!”
Pedro focused on educating others about HIV/AIDS tirelessly. Pedro’s health and appearance worsened. In August of 1994, Pedro is admitted to St Vincent’s hospital in New York City. Pedro’s initial MRI diagnoses, Toxoplasmosis, an infection that happens when a person’s immune system is impaired. Another MRI and the final diagnoses came to be PML (progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy) a rare and usually fatal viral inflammation of the brain that breaks down the electrical impulses of the nervous system. The inflammation attacked his frontal lobe of his brain causing short-term memory loss. The doctors gave Pedro 3 to 4 months to live. 3 weeks later, Pedro was flown to Mercy Hospital in Miami. PML took away Pedro’s ability to speak. Former President Bill Clinton personally called Pedro and to thank him for his active work with AIDS.
At the age of 22, Pedro died at 4:40am on November 11, 1994 at Mercy Hospital. His legacy lives on after 20 years. Many organizations were created in Pedro's name, including National Pedro Zamora Foundation. The strength and bravery he obtained inspires me to continue his fight. My message now is the same message. I relate with Pedro when it comes to educating others and myself about HIV/AIDS. I also remember having unprotected sex at a young age. Although its no comparison to losing a mother, my life was anything but happy and I had lost myself and promiscuous sex became a regular thing for me. Fortunately, today I am HIV negative and no longer engage in unsafe sex. I only thank God. Pedro believed we are all meant for something bigger. I believe this to be true. I fell in love with Pedro and his story. He literally dedicated his life to educating others about HIV/AIDS. Thank you Pedro Zamora. For Pedro I will keep his words alive. “Most people have the facts. What we have to get across is how to make those facts part of peoples lives.”