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The 49 Lives Our Community Lost at Latin Night at Pulse

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Luis Vielma, 22, worked as an attendant at Universal Orlando’s “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey” ride. Jean Carlos Nieves Rodriguez, 27, had just purchased his first home a little over a month ago. Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22, was a student at the University of Central Florida and had plans to move in with his boyfriend.

All were at Pulse last weekend. All were part of a vibrant LGBT community representing Latinos of all ages and backgrounds. None had any clue that night that their lives would be stolen from them in a rain of bullets and hatred.

The Orlando Sentinel lifts up individual stories and photos of all of the 49 victims who senselessly lost their lives that Saturday night. Read them. They will sound very familiar. Even if you don’t know them, you do.

As we grieve, we especially remember the impact this tragedy is having on the LGBT and Latinx communities. “About 90% of the victims were Hispanic,” noted Zoe Colon of the Hispanic Federation, from Puerto Rico, from all over the continental United States, from Mexico, both documented and undocumented.

Below, important Orlando coverage from both news media and Latinx/LBGTQ writers and activists lifts up the stories of the victims and highlights the devastating, disportionate impact this senseless act of hatred has had on these communities.

From John Paul Brammer, “Why It Matters That It Was Latin Night at Pulse”:

I feel the pain of my LGBTQ brothers and sisters. In this time of great need, the solidarity of my community is what keeps me going. I get a text from someone I haven’t heard from in a while saying they’re thinking of me and asking if I’m OK. I get a Facebook message: “Hey. I appreciate you.” I get a hug, and we hug a little longer than we usually do. It’s a poignant togetherness, one that feels stronger, more powerful even than the one I felt the day same-sex marriage became the law of the land.

But there is another pain, a specific pain, that is proving harder to process. This pain has a voice, a face, and a name. He says “Hola cariño” as I step into the room. He kisses me on both cheeks. His name is Victor, his name is Manuel, his name is Luis and Jesús and Chuy, and maybe he is me, too, and in my head, he was gunned down. That’s the pain. That’s the sadness. That’s the thing that has ruined my peace of mind, the reason I couldn’t sleep last night. Us. They killed us.

From Justin Torres, “In praise of Latin Night at the Queer Club”:

Outside, there’s a world that politicizes every aspect of your identity. There are preachers, of multiple faiths, mostly self-identified Christians, condemning you to hell. Outside, they call you an abomination. Outside, there is a news media that acts as if there are two sides to a debate over trans people using public bathrooms. Outside, there is a presidential candidate who has built a platform on erecting a wall between the United States and Mexico — and not only do people believe that crap is possible, they believe it is necessary. Outside, Puerto Rico is still a colony, being allowed to drown in debt, to suffer, without the right to file for bankruptcy, to protect itself. Outside, there are more than 100 bills targeting you, your choices, your people, pending in various states.

You have known violence. You have known violence. You are queer and you are brown and you have known violence. You have known a masculinity, a machismo, stupid with its own fragility. You learned basic queer safety, you have learned to scan, casually, quickly, before any public display of affection. Outside, the world can be murderous to you and your kind. Lord knows.

Outside, tomorrow, hangovers, regrets, the grind. Outside, tomorrow, the struggle to effect change. But inside, tonight, none of that matters. Inside, tonight, the only imperative is to love. Lap the bar, out for a smoke, back inside, the ammonia and sweat and the floor slightly tacky, another drink, the imperative is to get loose, get down, find religion, lose it, find your hips locked into another’s, break, dance on your own for a while — but you didn’t come here to be a nun — find your lips pressed against another’s, break, find your friends, dance. The only imperative is to be transformed, transfigured in the disco light. To lighten, loosen, see yourself reflected in the beauty of others. You didn’t come here to be a martyr, you came to live, papi. To live, mamacita. To live, hijos. To live, mariposas.

From Steven Thrasher, “Latino community mourns Pulse shooting victims: ‘90% were Hispanic’”:

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 Pulse’s 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.

“There’s 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. “It’s a great to celebrate with other Latin people, gay and straight – people just coming together and celebrating the fact that we’re Latin and just having a good time.”

From Jorge Rivas and Rafa Fernandez De Castro, “Undocumented victims of Orlando shooting face unique challenges and fears”:

Victor is recovering in an Orlando hospital room after being shot twice during the Pulse massacre last Saturday night.

The 24-year-old Salvadoran is being consoled by three friends at his bedside, but as an undocumented man with no relatives nearby and no idea when his injuries will allow him to return to work, he’s worried about how he’s going to pay for the hospital bills—and what will happen to him if he can’t.

Victor, whose name has been changed to protect his identity, is one of two undocumented immigrants who were shot and survived during the nightclub attack. The other, a 33-year-old Mexican named Javier, is recovering in the hospital and reportedly in stable condition despite taking a bullet to the abdomen.

A third undocumented man, a 31-year-old Mexican, passed away earlier this week. He was one of three Mexicans killed in the attack, and although his identity has been released, his immigration status has not, which is why we are not publishing his name.

It’s unknown if there were any other undocumented immigrants among the 100-plus victims who were killed or injured during the Pulse shooting.

Immigration activists say family members of undocumented victims are often saddled with a financial burden they can’t afford.

“It’s very expensive to send their bodies back, people aren’t prepared for that,” said Yesica Ramirez, an organizer with The Farmworker Association of Florida.

Repatriation of the body is sometimes the only way families of undocumented immigrants can see their loved ones again. A trip to the United States is simply out of the question.

“For many families, no matter how much money they raise they still may not be able to get permission to come to the U.S.,” said Ramirez. “For the family to be watching this back in their countries and not be able to help their sons is painful; this all hurts the family back home too.”

We, along with the rest of the nation, the LGBT, and the Latinx communities, remember and honor them.