Judd Winick’s Pedro & Me: Friendship, Loss, and What I Learned is the 2013-2014 Common Book at the University of California, Los Angeles. Each year, a committee of faculty, students, and staff, and the university’s Faculty in Residence, coordinate the Common Book selection. This year, Pedro & Me was chosen “because it provides a platform to discuss relationships, sexual orientation, health education, loss and love, and other topics relevant to the experience of first year students.”
Judd, a cartoonist, and Pedro Zamora, an AIDS educator living with HIV, met as castmates on the third season of MTV’s reality show, The Real World. They roomed together and became very close friends.
Pedro had been speaking about HIV/AIDS and safe sex at schools, churches, conferences, and all kinds of outreach and activist events in communities all over the country since he was diagnosed with HIV. He’d auditioned for The Real World with the hope that he could share his story with a nation of young adult viewers. His condition worsened during the four-month season, and his health declined rapidly once filming ended. Judd was among the friends and family who were at Pedro’s side when he died in November 1994.
Judd took over a lecture tour that his friend had scheduled but hadn’t been able to complete, and he continued to lecture about HIV/AIDS education on Pedro’s behalf for three years. Pedro & Me, Judd’s tribute to his friend, was first published in 2000.
At summer orientation sessions, all new Bruins, including first-year and transfer students, received a copy of the special UCLA-edition of the book. Everyone read Pedro & Me before returning to campus for True Bruin Welcome Week, a transition week of “fun, informative, and supportive activities and programs” meant to help every student “find your place, make friends, and share in the True Bruin experience!” Small group book discussions, facilitated by Residential Advisers and attended by faculty, staff, and alumni, were held in the days leading up to the first Fall 2013 classes.
Through the academic year, the campus community has developed programs and events that connect to the themes of the Common Book. The Center for the Art of Performance collaborated with the Office of Residential Life and First Year Experience to bring author and cartoonist Judd Winick to speak on campus in October. Students were invited to create and submit ‘zines, “do-it-yourself, cut-and-paste, copied-on-the-cheap, hand-folded, self-distributed booklets that tackle any topic, idea or theme,” to exhibit during his visit. There’s more visual art at the library, where the History and Special Collections has archived AIDS awareness posters from 44 countries around the world (check out the enormous Digital Collection!)
There have been many more opportunities to connect Pedro & Me and its message with existing offices and initiatives on campus, like the Art & Global Health Center, the Student Health & Wellness Center, the Student Wellness Commission, the UCLA AIDS Institute, and Diversity @ UCLA.
Public service is one of the five pillars of the UCLA community’s True Bruin ethical standards, so it always features prominently in Common Book programming. Through the UCLA Volunteer Center, a contingent of UCLA Bruins took part in the AIDS Walk Los Angeles on October 13, 2013; Team Pedro surpassed their fundraising goal and contributed $1,325 to AIDS Project Los Angeles! And this month, students are sharing Pedro & Me with the greater Los Angeles community, promoting literacy as well as AIDS awareness, by donating the copies they received at the beginning of the year to the Recycle Your Common Book Drive. Twenty years after Pedro Zamora’s death, his legacy lives on and his life’s work continues, with the help of his friend’s special book.
Pedro & Me • Square Fish • 192 pages