The red ribbon is a symbol for both drug prevention and for the fight against AIDS.
The artists who formed the Visual AIDS Artists Caucus wished to create a visual symbol to demonstrate compassion for people living with AIDS and their caregivers. Inspired by the yellow ribbons honoring American soldiers serving in the Gulf war, the color red was chosen for its, "connection to blood and the idea of passion -- not only anger, but love, like a valentine." First worn publicly by Jeremy Irons at the 1991 Tony Awards, the ribbon soon became renowned as an international symbol of AIDS awareness, becoming a politically correct fashion accessory on the lapels of celebrities. The Red Ribbon continues to be a powerful force in the fight to increase public awareness of HIV/AIDS and in the lobbying efforts to increase funding for AIDS services and research.
In some judging competitions, particularly in 4-H and FFA livestock and horticultural competitions, red ribbons may be given to a project that meets some of the judging criteria but falls short in other areas. Superior projects and exhibits are awarded blue ribbons (which are second-place ribbons in Canada).
After DEA Agent Camarena and Captain Zavala-Avelar were kidnapped, the DEA launched a massive investigation. The agents found local law enforcement uncooperative at best. DEA Administrator Jack Lawn and US Attorney General Edwin Meese sought greater support from Mexican officials including the Mexican Attorney General but to no avail. Orders from US Customs Commissioner William von Raab effectively closed the US/Mexican border for days putting pressure on the Mexican government to assist.
Soon, representatives of the Mexican Federal Judicial Police (MFJP) presented a tip to DEA Agents that claimed Agent Camarena had been mistakenly kidnapped by a man and his three sons. The MFJP informed the agents that a raid of the man's ranch in Angostura would take place the following morning and invited them to come. However, the MFJP raided the ranch before DEA agents arrived. During the raid, they shot and killed five individuals. Not long after, a passerby discovered the bodies of both Agent Camarena and Captain Zavala-Avelar by the side of the road not far from the ranch.
The DEA's investigation revealed that Agent Camarena had been tortured extensively before he was murdered. Audiotapes of the torture showed that medical doctors actually kept Agent Camarena alive in order to continue the interrogation. Evidence collected revealed that both Agent Camarena and Captain Zavala-Avelar were initially buried in one location and then moved to the ranch where they were found.
The dramatic events that followed Agent Camarena's disappearance were chronicled in national media here at home. They exposed the dark world of drug trafficking including how far drug traffickers would go to maintain power and control.
In Agent Camarena's home town, Calexico, CA, the public outpouring of support turned in to an organized community response in which citizens donned red ribbons. They became a voice for prevention in order to reduce the demand for illegal drugs and illegal use of legal drugs in America. The following year the California State PTA adopted the Red Ribbon campaign. Then, in 1988, Red Ribbon Week was recognized nationally with President Ronald and First Lady Nancy Reagan serving as the Honorary Chairs.
Today, the Red Ribbon Celebration brings millions of people together to raise awareness regarding the need for alcohol, tobacco and other drug and violence prevention, early intervention, and treatment services. It is the largest, most visible prevention awareness campaign observed annually in the United States.
This cultural pattern is referenced in manga and anime. The side opposing the protagonists is called "Red Ribbon" in Dragon Ball and in the original of Pokemon. By default, the protagonists have the symbolism of "purity of aim".