Latino advocates mourn Pulse shooting victims: ‘90% were Hispanic’

Advocates call for expanded outreach amid concerns that media narrative of Orlando attack has failed to fully address impact on Hispanic community

At a press conference conducted in English and Spanish on Monday and held in the sweltering heat of a parking lot, Zoe Colon of the Hispanic Federation had a message: the Orlando shooting was an attack on Latino people.

The gathering was of various Hispanic organizations in central Florida, standing together in solidarity. The killings of 49 people at the Pulse nightclub was a crime against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, but the mass murder also happened during the clubs Latin night, which was frequented by those who loved Latin music and Latin dancing whether they identified as queer or not, many Floridians who have danced there said.

About 90% of the victims were Hispanic, mostly of Puerto Rican background, Colon said. Just as some gay rights campaigners have criticized the media for not acknowledging this was an attack on gay people, she felt the media had ignored the fact this was an attack on Hispanics, and said that left specific needs for the community that urgently needed to be addressed.

We need hotlines for information and services that are bilingual, she said. We need crisis counselling thats in English and Spanish.

Colon said the victims and their families had roots in Puerto Rico, Colombia, and Venezuela, and that a number of Mexican families were affected. The tragedy of informing the next of kin of their loved ones murder was an even more difficult conversation for newly arrived immigrants or overseas relatives, she said, who might not even know why their loved one might be at that club, and who are not ready to confront that.

The Democratic Florida congressman Alan Grayson said that the fact that so many Hispanics were killed led to specific issues the authorities now had to solve. I got a call from someone representing the mother of one of the victims, he said. She lives in Latin America, and needs a visa to attend her sons funeral. That was tragic and well certainly help with that request.

From the group Misin Boricua, Nancy Rosado, a former NYPD sergeant who was also a first responder on 9/11 at the World Trade Center, said that learning about the attacks had hurt her heart as a Latina and as a lesbian.

Referring to the killer, Omar Mateen, Rosado said: My sense is that this man was a fundamentalist, and he just chose, for whatever reason, to go after the LGBT community and to go on Latin night, so it was a two-fer.

Mateens motives appear murky following reports that he frequented Pulse himself, as well as his claim of allegiance to Isis and other Islamist groups, and his ex-wifes description of him as violent and mentally ill.

The Latino factor has been minimized a bit, said Rosado, perhaps because of an initial belief that those shot came from many ethnic groups. But when you find out that 90% of those hurt were Hispanic hello!

Carlos Guillermo Smith, who describes himself as a gay, cisgender male and a proud Latino and is a public policy specialist for the campaign group Equality Florida, said he had an emotional reaction following the shooting, because when I came here, I saw my community mi comunidad standing with the LGBT community, right when we need it most.

Guillermo Smith was also concerned about a kind of racial erasure of the victims in the media, even as news organizations played up Mateens religion: Theres a lot of sensational reporting around this incident, and a lot of it has to do with sensationalism of scapegoating our Islamic brothers and sisters in a time when we need to be coming together. I think what has been lost in that message is that this was an attack against the Latino community and the LGBT community.

He explained: For me its personal, because Im gay, because Im Latino, because Im a Floridian. The images I keep seeing of these tragedies, of moms and dads hugging their kids, they are families that look like my family.

Where and when the attack hit hurt Guillermo, too. Ive been to Latin night. Ive been to Pulse many times. I wasnt there that night, thank God, he said. Its always been a place of communida, for listening to Latino music or Beyonc, to have a good time and let our hair down. To dance. To be free.

As sunset approached, an enormous gathering of mourners massed on the lawn of the Dr Phillips Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Orlando for a candlelight vigil to commemorate the dead and pray for the living. Many people held a candle in one hand while gripping a photo of a loved one usually Hispanic in the other. The photos were of those gunned down in death, or who are still struggling to stay alive in one of three hospitals, including one just down the street.

Many of the gathered were consoling one another quietly in Spanish. In interviews with the Guardian, several mourners said that Pulse had a special place in the Latino community.

Christ Lozada, who is gay, described Pulses Latin night as the perfect place to be … people go there just to have a good time. Like many people, he described Pulse and its Latin night in the present tense, as if confident the night would return.

Theres never been any situations of violence, Lozada continued, describing how Omar Mateen disrupted not just an LGBT gathering place but an important touchstone for the Latino community. Its a great to celebrate with other Latin people, gay and straight people just coming together and celebrating the fact that were Latin and just having a good time.

Lozada came to the vigil with his friend, Jose Cruz, who is straight and who loved Pulses Latin night, too. I would even bring other straight friends, he said with a laugh. The club had no bullshit, no fighting. Sometimes you could go to other clubs and there was violence, fights would break out. You never had to worry about that at Pulse, he said.

Stela Romn-Santos, whose family is originally from Puerto Rico, came to the vigil to support her brother, who stood next to her but appeared too shaken to talk. He and his group of friends had lost seven friends, his sister explained for him, and another one was still in the hospital.

I dont see this situation that has happened as having a gay-only impact, Romn-Santos said. Were gay or straight, were human. I feel ashamed for the people who commit crimes like Mateens, because they taint what humans are.

The group of friends filled out as day gave way to night, most holding pictures of a smiling <a draggable=”true” href=”” data-link-name=”in” body link” class=”u-underline”>Shane Evan Tomlinson, who died at age 33. The young men put their arms around each other other, brown skin on brown skin, physically holding each other up, and sometimes speaking in Spanish. When night finally came, they lit candles and held up photos of their friends as tears began to flow.

This is our group, said David Rodriguez, gesturing to his friends and to the dead pictured in the photos.

Pulse its where we go every Saturday, he said.

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