It’s been nearly two weeks since the Orlando massacre and, aside from the still raw shock and grief for many, it’s been interesting to see what’s been reported, not reported, speculated on, debunked, and used as a rallying cry for everything from gun reform to, predictably, closing the borders.
In the initial hours after the tragedy it wasn’t even clear that the shootings happened at an LGBT nightclub. The LGBT community was swift to point this out, even if the Governor of Florida appeared to go mum on that. Mainstream media followed up, mostly responsibly, covering how the horror affected the LGBT community in Orlando, and nationwide, in what is the traditional month of LGBT pride.
What has been reported on less is that it was Latin night at Pulse nightclub. What’s been covered even less than that, is who the Latin victims were. Nearly half were were Puerto Rican. And that’s devastated a community within a community within a community, as well as the island of Puerto Rico, which has had its share of economic hardships of late, and has led to an exodus of young Puerto Ricans (who are American citizens, remember) to Orlando.
From Mother Jones:
As many as 23 of those who died were identified as being Puerto Rican. Although it’s unclear how many were actually born on the island, many of the victims had family there. As they grapple with the unspeakable loss of loved ones, these families also face unusual challenges in the wake of the largest mass shooting in US history, from the potentially steep cost of burial and other expenses, to navigating the complex web of victims’ services as a Spanish-speaker with limited English.
Although pledges to help are coming from the government, advocacy organizations, and private companies, even those families who receive some assistance may struggle to cover all the costs, especially those with large extended families who may have wanted to fly in and support relatives in Orlando. “Once they arrive here to be able to claim the remains of their loved ones, it’s like where do they stay? How do they get from point A to point B?” said Samí Haiman-Marrero, a local Orlando business owner and a part of the core team of Somos Orlando (“We Are Orlando”) a coalition of organizations that formed after the tragedy to act as a bridge between families who need assistance and organizations that can help. They have connected families with resources that offer a variety of services, including housing, or grief counseling in Spanish.
Some of the issues this killing brings up are hefty burial expenses for families wanting to bury the bodies in Puerto Rico. And the longstanding taboo against homosexuality in Puerto Rico, with much more deeply ingrained machismo and homophobia than one sees in many Latino communities in the mainland U.S.
And freelance writers like Verónica Bayetti Flores say that the massacre robbed the LGBT Latinx community in Orlando, but everywhere as well, a feeling of sanctuary.
“When I’ve been in a queer club, on Latino night, I just feel whole. It feels freeing to have so many people that are sharing that experience with you, to hear rhythms that connect you back to your culture, to know that being Latino doesn’t make you any less queer, to know that being queer doesn’t make you any less Latino, and to know that we’re actually really essential part of both of those cultures.”