Hispanic Chamber to Hold Vigil for Pulse Victims

Phillips memorials

The Hispanic community will gather at the Dr. Phillips center in Downtown Orlando Friday evening for a Spanish-language vigil in honor of the Pulse shooting victims. / Maria Padilla

The Hispanic community is expected to gather Friday evening at the Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center in Downtown Orlando to honor the Pulse shooting victims in a Spanish-language vigil.

About 73 percent of those killed at the nightclub were Latino, based on Hispanic surnames. Most  were Puerto Rican, the dominant Hispanic demographic in Central Florida. Some of the victims were recent arrivals from the island, which is in the throes of a 10-year recession that has sent its residents fleeing to the states in search of a better economic clime.

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs,  city commissioners and other city and county officials are expected to attend the vigilia, organized by the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Metro Orlando. Participants are being asked to wear white in solidarity.

Orlando Forms Alliance

After the nightclub shooting, City Hall immediately cobbled together about 34 community organizations to form a partnership through which victims and their families could receive information and assistance at the one-stop location. They include Catholic Charities, Consulado de México, Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Office, American Red Cross, United Way and Florida Health and Department of Children and Families, among others.

More than 1,000 individuals and families have sought some form of help at the center, which will remain open indefinitely, according to City Hall.

“The center is part of our long-term commitment to assist anyone affected by the tragedy,” wrote Dyer in Mayor Dyer’s Blog.

Unusual or Creative Move

In  an unusual – some might say creative – move, the city of Orlando’s alliance includes several chambers of commerce, among them the Hispanic chamber, the sponsor of the vigilia; the Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce, the LGBT Chamber of Commerce Metropolitan Business Association, the African American Chamber of Commerce and the West Indian-American Chamber of Commerce.

(Full disclosure: In 2014, the Hispanic Chamber voted me among the 50 Most Influential Hispanics in Central Florida.)

Orlando City Hall looked to the chambers’ diversified memberships to assist in various areas. But the move has irked some Hispanic grass roots groups, which say that the business organizations are not closely connected to the non-business side of their communities.

After all, members pay to belong to the chambers – up to $550 and $620, respectively, for the African-American and Hispanic chambers – and are not the first stops for families and survivors seeking help, any more than Orlando Inc., Central Florida’s main business group, would be the first stop for other disaster victims.

Room for One More

The smaller organizations say they have been shut out from City Hall, although they, too, are providing vital services to the Hispanic community. They seek respect and a voice alongside the larger associations. For instance, the umbrella group Somos Orlando sprang up in the wake of the tragedy, stepping into the gap of culturally competent services. It includes over 40 organizations, some of them Hispanic Chamber members.

“No Hispanic organization has a seat at the table,” one organizer said.

Being Proactive

To be fair, however, the Hispanic Chamber has declared its solidarity with the Orlando community and has been proactive in advocating for Hispanics, issuing information in Spanish and organizing the vigil. The chamber said it has received “thousands of emails and calls” from people who want to help.

“Our City of Orlando and our community asked how the Chamber would assist, and we have stepped in for our community’s need. I’ve had the opportunity to hear, feel, relate, and at times grieve with my team, the families of the victims, survivors, and community at large,” wrote Hispanic Chamber President Diana Bolivar. “Our community needs us and we’ve spent countless hours of hard work and dedication – away from our personal families – to organize and share resources, compassion, and love for our community.”

The city’s response to the horrific tragedy at Pulse nightclub has been exemplary, even a textbook case for future study. Dyer’s extraordinary leadership has shone bright. The hearts of Hispanic grass roots and professional organizations also are with the community. Surely there must be room for each in Orlando City Hall.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor

What: Spanish-language vigil for Pulse victims

Where: Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts

Time: 6 p.m.

Information: Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, 407-428-5870


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