Memories of a Penitent Heart

In 1987, Miguel repented of being gay as he was dying of AIDS. A personal documentary about family, faith, and the painful costs of prejudice.
Cecilia Aldarondo
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Brooklyn, New York
United States
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Memories of a Penitent Heart is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization. Contributions for the purposes of Memories of a Penitent Heart must be made payable to Fractured Atlas and are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.

The documentary film MEMORIES OF A PENITENT HEART is nearing completion, and you can help us finish it!


In 1987, my uncle Miguel gave up being gay as he was dying in a New York City hospital. After making history as the world’s first-ever Puerto Rican heart transplant recipient, he succumbed to AIDS, leaving behind a live-in partner, a devout Catholic mother, and a lot of unanswered questions. It all began in 2008, when my mother handed me a box of 8mm home movies that she’d found in the family garage. Spurred by this discovery and troubled by rumors about Miguel’s death, I began digging into my uncle’s mysterious past. Did he really repent of being gay on his deathbed? Did his devout Catholic mother push him into it? Did he really have AIDS? And what happened to his partner, who disappeared after Miguel died?            


      Aquin and Miguel before Miguel's historic heart transplant.


Miguel wearing his heartbeat; a gift from Aquin post-transplant.

After two years of false leads and dead ends, Miguel’s partner resurfaced—25 years after he’d disappeared. But he wasn’t the same man: he’d reinvented himself as ‘Father Aquin,’ a Franciscan monk. In the film, I travel to California to hear his side of the story—and it is even more heartbreaking than I imagined. Like many partners during the AIDS crisis, Aquin was sidelined during Miguel’s illness, and effectively cut out of the grieving process after a 12-year relationship. It was also a miracle: a second chance for Aquin to put Miguel to rest, and an opportunity for me to get to know the uncle I never really had.



Production stills from Puerto Rico. Top: The Old San Juan cemetery where Miguel is buried. Bottom: A San Juan street at night.


With production complete, we can see the finish line! We have over 60 hours of beautiful footage that we have shot across the country: California, where Aquin now lives; the San Juan haunts where Miguel spent his childhood; New York, where Miguel went in search of Broadway fame; and Orlando, where Aquin traveled to reconcile with Miguel’s surviving sister. Alongside a wealth of recently discovered archival material, the raw components of the story are in now in place, and the post-production team is ready to get to work. We just need to raise the dough to finish it!


Memories of a Penitent Heart is the first feature-length documentary to explore a very common occurrence during the crisis—faith-based discrimination against people with AIDS—from the perspective of a descendant reckoning with her family’s responsibility. Miguel’s mother Carmen was a loving but misguided woman, who was too blind to see the ways that she was failing her son. This film demonstrates what happens when well-meaning family members shut out their LGBT members, even when they don't know they're doing it. Most of the time, bigotry isn’t driven by hate—most of the time, bigotry is driven by 2 things: fear and ignorance. And a lot of the time, bigotry looks like love. Memories of a Penitent Heart explores what happens when that love goes blind.

Miguel’s story also narrates an under-explored chapter of AIDS history: the many gay Latinos who migrated to New York in search of freedom and acceptance, only to be caught up in the whirlwind of the crisis. These men are at risk of being forgotten by history; Memories helps to remind us that entire communities of color were devastated by the AIDS crisis, and continue to be disproportionately affected with AIDS in the US. This multi-layered personal story also refracts on cultural issues that continue to reverberate, such as machismo, exile and assimilation, and the influence of Catholicism on Latino family dynamics. 


We can’t tell you how much your support means to us—so let us say it with goodies! For every contribution, you get a very special token of our appreciation. Exclusive access to footage and audio, one-on-one time with the director, even your name in the credits for all eternity—and of course, the film itself! So take a look—even $1 backers get a public thank you on the website.



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raised by 332 people in 1 month
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Verified Nonprofit
$40,000 USD goal
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This campaign ended on June 18, 2014
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  • $1USD
    The Big Thank You

    Thank You! Look for your name on our website as an official supporter of this film and get access to exclusive BACKER ONLY updates and blog posts. (fully tax-deductible)

    6 claimed
  • $10USD
    Personal Shout-Out

    All of the above + we want to give you an OFFICIAL Social Media Shout Out to show our gratitude! (fully tax-deductible)

    28 claimed
  • $25USD
    Own the Film!

    All of the above + You get to be one of the first to get your very own own Digital Download of Memories of a Penitent Heart in its entirety! (fully tax-deductible)

    81 claimed
  • $35USD
    Postal Service

    All of the above + we will bring it old school and send you real SNAIL MAIL. Cecilia will personally send you a handwritten postcard containing ORIGINAL ART inspired by the film. (amount over $3 is tax-deductible)

    15 claimed
  • $50USD
    Your Name in Lights

    All of the above + because we couldn't do it without you, your NAME will be in the CREDITS of our film for eternity! (minus the postcard) (fully tax-deductible)

    53 claimed
  • $75USD
    Private Q&A with the Director

    All of the above + you are invited to join our EXCLUSIVE VOKLE SESSION with Director Cecilia Aldarondo. Cecilia will answer your questions and give you insight into the process of making the film! (minus the postcard) (fully tax-deductible)

    0 out of 100 claimed
  • $100USD
    For Your EYES Only

    All of the above + you get EXCLUSIVE access to BEHIND THE SCENES footage that no one else will. (minus the postcard) (fully tax-deductible)

    26 claimed
  • $150USD
    The Artifact Museum

    All of the above + you will get PRIVATE entry to an Online Artifact Museum that we've created, displaying a wealth of found archival material (pictures, letters, audio, and video) from which we craft Miguel's story. (Minus Exclusive Behind the Scenes Footage and postcard) (fully tax-deductible)

    6 claimed
  • $500USD
    The Full Film Treatment

    Everybody has a story that hasn't been told. Cecilia will lead a private ONE-ON-ONE session, in which she will help you to develop a treatment for your very own autobiographical documentary. We will comb through your home movies, pictures, letters and personal effects to determine the important facets of the story YOU wish to tell. (In-person for NYC residents, via Skype for out-of-towners; minus the postcard) (fully tax-deductible)

    0 claimed
  • $1,000USD
    Champagne Editing Party

    All of the above + a PRIVATE 1-hour editing session with Editor Hannah Buck, Director Cecilia Aldarondo, AND a bottle of Champagne in our Brooklyn studio. Watch us craft a scene before anyone else! If you are not in the New York area, we'll Skype you from the studio! (minus the postcard) (fully tax-deductible)

    0 out of 5 claimed
  • $3,000USD
    Private Screening

    All of the above + Get your friends together or go one-on-one with Director Cecilia Aldarondo at a PRIVATE SCREENING of the film upon its completion. For those of you who can't make it to NYC, Cecilia will join via Skype! (Travel not included, minus the postcard) (fully tax-deductible)

    0 claimed
  • $5,000USD
    Associate Producer

    All of the above + Associate Producer credit in the film and on all our promo materials! As a thank you for being such a pivotal supporter, we will take you out for a VIP DINNER with Director Cecilia Aldarondo, plus 2 tickets to a PREMIERE screening. (travel not included) (amount over $103 is tax-deductible)

    0 claimed
  • $10,000USD
    Executive Producer

    All of the above + EP CREDIT and VIP SCENIC TOUR! Exec Producers make all the difference. As our most crucial champion, Director Cecilia will take you out for PRIVATE one-day TOUR of the places that Miguel knew and loved best in EITHER New York OR San Juan, Puerto Rico! We'll visit all the sites important to the film, and discuss it all over--lunch on us! If you have any questions about being an Exec Producer, contact us! (Cecilia's travel included; additional travel costs not included) (amount over $503 is tax-deductible)

    1 out of 5 claimed
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