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Few Latinos at the Republican Convention

GOP conv. logo

As the curtan is about to rise on one of the most anticipated Republican national conventions in a long while,  one of the questions that begs an answer is, will there be Latino participation and, if so, what will that look like?

The last Republican to win the White House – George W. Bush in 2000 – brought Mariachi music to the convention, held that year in Philadelphia where the Democrats will meet this year. It was a hamhanded, although apparently sincere attempt, at Hispanic outreach that was preceded by a “Change the Tone” whistle stop tour of California during which Bush focused on racial inclusion and even spoke some Spanish.

In truth, there weren’t many prominent Latinos with speaking slots in 2000, except for George P. Bush, son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, whose wife Columba is Mexican.

Still, that year, Bush earned 34 percent of the Hispanic vote, according to Pew Hispanic Center. Four years later, he did even better, grabbing a 40 percent-share of the Latino vote – better than even Ronald Reagan‘s 37 percent in 1984, the year Reagan sought re-election. At the 1984 convention, Katherine Ortega, U.S. Treasurer and  a Latina originally from New Mexico, was the keynote speaker.

The 2004 Republican National Convention didn’t boast Latino speakers, except for Brian Sandoval, then Nevada attorney general and currently the state’s governor and Central Florida’s own Mel Martínez, elected to the U.S. Senate in that year’s November election.

In a fascinating and now supremely ironic twist,  Zell Miller, a conservative Democrat and then Georgia State senator, was the keynote speaker who had lamented earlier,. “I barely recognize my party anymore.”

Mitt Romney, meanwhile, had some prominent Hispanic speakers, including Sandoval, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (who introduce Romney), New Mexico Gov. Susana Martínez, then Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuño and wife Luce Vela Fortuño, then U.S. Senate candidate Ted Cruz.

Harsher Tone

How things have changed.

Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, takes center stage Monday as one of the most polarizing presidential candidates in modern times. He has spent months during the primary campaign alienating Latino voters, stating for instance that Mexicans are rapists and criminals, and that as president he will build a wall along the border with Mexico and make Mexico pay for it, among other things.

Having thus offended not only Mexicans but Hispanics in general as well as others, what Hispanic stands for Trump?  What Hispanic is scheduled to speak at the convention or has been asked to speak at the convention? Bear in mind that Trump esentially has ceded the Latino vote to Democrat Hillary Clinton, who polls show has an over 40-point lead among Hispanics versus Trump, according to a Pew Research Center poll.

The Republican National Committee finalized its convention plan today, Sunday. Combing through it, the first Latino and a Monday night prime time speaker is Mary Ann Mendoza, the mother of an Arizona police officer Brandon Mendoza who died in a crash involving a a drunk driver who was undocumented. She is described as an immigration reform advocate.

Mendoza is part of a night entitled  “Make America Safe Again,” which includes two other moms whose children were killed in an accident involving an undocumented immigrant or allegedly murdered by an undocumented immigrant. Their pain is real. However,  Trump appears to be  doubling down on the trope of Mexicans as criminals. 

Tuesday Night

There are no Latino speakers scheduled for Tuesday night whose theme is “Make America Work Again,” which is odd considering that Hispanics make up 16 percent of the U.S. labor pool or about one of every six workers,. The figure is higher in certain industries such as construction. Hispanic labor force participation is expected to rise to about 20 percent or one of every five workers in 2020, just four years from now, according to the Department of Labor.

Wednesday Night

This night of the Republican convention, or “Make America First Again,” showcases prominent Hispanics and former presidential primary rivals Florida Sen. Marco Rubio via satélite – after he said he wouldn’t appear at all –and  Ted Cruz.

Thursday Night

The final night of the Republican convention, “Make America One Again,” would seem an ideal night to demonstrate some measure of inclusiveness. There are no Latinos scheduled to speak.

Note: Donald Trump’s children – Ivanka, Eric, Tiffany, Donald Jr., as well as his wife Melania – have primetime  speaking slots.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor

Latino Community Mourns Pulse Shooting Victims

Pulse Vigilia
The vigilia for Pulse club victims, families and survivors drew a diverse crowd. / Maria Padilla

The Hispanic community paused recently to honor the victims, families and survivors of the Pulse shooting in a Spanish-language vigil at the Dr. Phillips center in Downtown Orlando.

The event was coordinated by the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Metro Orlando, which since the Pulse nightclub shooting June 12, has worked nonstop to provide services, answer questions and calm the community, alongside many other community organizers and volunteers.

The shooting was the single worst in American history. About three-quarters of the shooting victims were Latinos, the single largest group from Puerto Rico.

The stress of tending to the needs of the community, combined with the sorrow of the massacre, lined many tired faces at the Hispanic Chamber’s vigilia. Chamber officials appeared subdued and some even sobbed.

The vigil brought out survivors from the Boston marathon bombing. It showcased songs and short speeches, including Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs and Orlando City Commissioner Patty Sheehan, each of whom addressed the crowd in Spanish.

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Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer at the Spanish-language vigil. /Maria Padilla

“So many of the victims were of Latino descent,” Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said to Orlando Latino. “It’s important that we recognize the multicultural nature of the event.”

It wasn’t always so, as many Hispanics earlier complained that officials and others were downplaying the ethnicity of the victims, who had gathered at Pulse that fateful evening for Latin night.

It was as if being LGBT and Latino were mutually exclusive.

“I am Hispanic and openly gay,” local entrepreneur Carlos Carbonell told the crowd. “Both of my families are mourning.”

City Commissioner Tony Ortiz, whose southeast district is heavily Hispanic, spoke of love and lives that were cut short, although his was the lone vote against same-sex marriage in the Orlando City Commission.

“Todos, todos, todos, todos somos hijos de Dios,” Ortiz said. “Todos somos seres humanos.” All of us are children of God. We are all human beings.

“Orlando United is more than a hashtag,” he added.

Indeed. First Baptist of Orlando is holding a vigil Tuesday, June 28, that will bring together followers of Orlando’s largest evangelical Hispanic churches, including Iglesia El Calvario and Fuente de Agua Viva, in an event titled ¡Amamos Orlando! (We Love Orlando) and headlined by Christian singer and pastor Marcos Witt.

Fuente de Agua Viva may livestream the event direct to Puerto Rico, where its parent church is based.

What: ¡Amamos Orlando!

When: Tuesday, June 28, at 7: 30 p.m. (Doors open at 6:30 p.m.)

Where: First Baptist Orlando, 3000 South John Young Parkway, Orlando

Cost: Free

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor

Patron Saints Say ‘Presente’ at Victims’ Memorials


An altar to la Virgen de Guadalupe at the impromptu shooting victims’ memorials at the Dr. Phillips center in Downtown Orlando./ Maria Padilla

Under a  Sunday cloudy, gray sky and a drizzle of rain, visitors walked among the impromptu Pulse nightclub victims’ memorials at the Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center in Downtown Orlando.

Exactly a week after the massacre took place, visitors took in the shrines in silence: photos of the victims, teddy bears, tons of flowers, a bottle of white wine (with cork), a white sofa with dedications and signatures, balloons, signs and a wet Bible opened to the pages of Malachi, which is the last book of the Old Testament.

Dozens of American flags stood upright in the rain. Many more Rainbow LGBT flags flew all around. And one large Mexican flag lay on the ground at one memorial. All apropos of the facts that have come to light about the victims.

Puerto Rican Flag

The Mexican flag was the only ethnic flag placed at a memorial. /Maria Padilla

It seemed odd, then, that no Puerto Rican flags were visible since so many of the victims were Puerto Rican. It’s a well-known fact that Puerto Ricans carry their red-white-and-blue-with-a-single-white-star-on-blue-background everywhere. And I mean Everywhere.  Why no bonita bandera here, of all places?

Because so many of the victims were Latino – at least 36 of the 49 victims have Hispanic surnames or 73 percent – the memorials have a distinctly Hispanic symbolic  flavor. But you have to know what to look for.

Virgen de Guadalupe

I saw dozens of  candles that mamá or abuela would buy in the botánica to pay respects and say prayer directly to their favorite or patron saint. These were no ordinary tea candles or tea lights. These were candles in familiar long glass containers that represent something deep in panHispanic culture, for it is through the patron saints that Latinos speak to God. And each Spanish-speaking country has a patron virgin or saint. Puerto Rico’s, for instance, is the Virgen de la Providencia and/or San Juan Bautista (St. John the Baptist).

The Virgen de Guadalupe was heavily represented among the memorials. She is the patron saint of Mexico but, really, the Virgin of the Americas and therefore all Latinos. At the shrine to the Virgen de Guadalupe in Mexico City worshippers walk to the cathedral on their knees in fulfillment of a promise. An amazing sight to see.

Hispanics pray to God through their patron saints. / Maria Padilla

Also presente is San Judas Tadeo (Judas Thaddeus), a disciple of Christ who is appealed to in desperate and difficult times – or sometimes so that situations do not get worse. This saint also is a Mexican favorite.

Another common candle is Angel de la Guarda or Guardian Angel, whose prayer reads:

“Guardian Angel, sweet company, do not leave me neither night or day. Do not leave me alone for I would be lost. Neither live nor die in mortal sin. Jesus in life, Jesus in death, Jesus forever. Amen.”

Other Patron Saints

Below are the names and significance of other candles of patron saints spotted at the Dr. Phillips center victims’  memorials. Which ones did you notice?

• Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre – the patron saint of Cuba.

• Virgen de la Milagrosa – dates to the Sisters of Charity of France.

• Nuestra Señora de San Juan de los Lagos – patron saint venerated by Mexicans and Texans.

• Sagrado Corazón de Jesús – represents Jesus’ heart and His divine love for humanity.

• San Martín de Caballero – St. Martin of Tours, a Roman soldier who turned in his armor to do battle in the form of acts of love and charity.

• Oración del Señor – The Lord’s Prayer

• Oración de Justo Juez – Prayer to a Just Judge: Hear my pleas and petitions, bless me in all my anguish and afflictions.

• San Miguel Arcángel –  St. Michael the Archangel led God’s armies against Satan’s forces.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor 

Many Latinos Among Gay Club Victims

francisco hdz
Francisco Hernández of Orlando waits outside Orlando Police Department headquarters to hear word about his partner Paul Henry. He was holding Henry’s driver’s license for safe keeping. /Maria Padilla

The Orlando area woke up Sunday to the horrific news that a shootout had occurred at Pulse, a gay club just south of Downtown Orlando, where law enforcement said there were 50 dead and at least 53 injured. Because the club was holding a Latin night, many of the dead and injured are expected to be Latinos.

As of this writing, six victims have been identified, all of them Hispanic. And since half of the Hispanic population of Central Florida is Puerto Rican, the group is likely to figure, perhaps prominently, among the victims. The dead thus far are Edward Sotomayor Jr., Stanley Almodóvar III,  Luis Omar Ocasio-Capó, Juan Ramón Guerrero, Eric Iván Ortiz-Rivera and Peter O. González-Cruz.

The incident has been declared the worse shooting in American history – and certainly in Orlando, where just 24 hours earlier The Voice contestant Christina Grimmie was shot and killed by an assailant unknown to her at a theater east of Downtown Orlando. It was an Orlando weekend of unusual deadly violence.

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer wipes the sweat from his brow as he confers with law enforcement officials. / Maria Padilla

Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in Florida, a move that immediately opens up financial resources among law enforcement to be used in the investigation, which includes FBI, Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Orange County Sheriffs Office and the Orlando Police. The FBI identified the assailant as Omar Mateen, 29, of Port St. Lucie, about two hours from Orlando. He was killed in a gun battle with police inside the club, and is believed to have had terrorist ties.

Everybody Was Dancing

The shooting started about 2:05 a.m. Sunday just as the club, where over 300 people had gathered, was about to close. Many bar patrons at first thought it was part of the  music or entertainment.

Francisco Hernández, 24, of Orlando was waiting outside the Orlando Police Department headquarters to hear word about his partner Paul Henry, 40, and told this account:

“I was dancing. We were all dancing in a little group. It was Latino night so they were playing reggaeton and hip-hop,” said Hernández crying as he told what occurred inside the club. “All of  a sudden I heard four to five shots. Everybody just sort of toppled down and stayed on the floor. Then we heard more shots and everybody started running and ducking for cover. People opened up the exit doors leading to a hallway with thin paneling and everybody tried to knock it down. I fell and almost got trampled until I was able to stand up and run outside. I was looking for my boyfriend but I couldn’t go back.”

Hernández, who was born in Puerto Rico, was holding on to his partner’s drivers license to make sure it didn’t get lost. “We were together for about a month but knew each other as friends for about  a year,” he said.

Meanwhile, Luis, 40, a Dominican who studied in Puerto Rico, was grazed by a passing  bullet near his stomach and was covered with a blanket that Orlando Police gave him, he said, because he had given his shirt to another person to stanch a bleeding arm.

Trying to Pay His Tab

Luis, who lives in Kissimmee but didn’t want to give his full name, said he was paying his tab at the bar when shots rang out. Somehow he landed on the other side of the bar with two to three people on top of him, he recalled. “I was waiting to be shot or taken out. What else can I do?” Luis said.

He had just been to the movies with friends to see The Conjuring 2, a horror movie, when they decided to stop at Pulse off Orange Avenue because they were passing by, coming face to face with an all too real horror. He said his friend is fine but didn’t know the status other acquaintances at Pulse nightclub, which he hadn’t visited in three years.

Locked in the Bathroom

Two African-America women were walking toward Orlando Regional Medical Center (ORMC) to look for one of the women’s nephew who was at the club. The aunt, who said she was a member of the Justice-Logan family of Orlando, didn’t know if her nephew was “alive or dead.” The nephew called his mom after 2 a.m. to say he was holed up in the bathroom of the nightclub. According to the aunt, the mother could hear gunshots as her son was talking then the cell phone went silent.  “I’ve been up since 3 a.m.,” the aunt said, trying to obtain information.

Blocks around Pulse nightclub were cordoned off as medical examiner vans and law enforcement took over the area. The nightclub is situated just blocks from ORMC, which is a Level 1 trauma center. Hospital officials said six trauma surgeons were called in during the night to tend to the injured.

The media set up camp at a Chipotle restaurant off Orange Avenue that couldn’t open for business because it  is just a few blocks from the crime scene. There, law enforcement and elected officials briefed the press about every two to three hours.

The first press briefings comprised mostly law enforcement officials but by early afternoon city,  state and federal elected officials were holding press conferences of their own before a press pool that had expanded to include national and international media.

Hostage Situation

medical examiners
Vans from the Orange County Medical Examiner stationed a few blocks from the crime scene. /Maria Padilla

Law enforcement spoke of a three-hour window – from 2 a.m. to 5 a.m. – during which officers couldn’t enter the club because it was a hostage situation. At 5 a.m. police stormed the club and a gun battle ensued, killing the assailant Mateen. In addition to a handgun and a semiautomatic rifle with extra rounds,  a “suspicious device” also was found with Mateen, according to the FBI, which declined to elaborate.

Minutes before the attack, Mateen called 911 to pledge his allegiance to Islamic State, according to law enforcement. It’s not clear how long Mateen may have been inside Pulse before he started shooting.

Congressman Alan Grayson (D-Orlando) said during an interview with public radio WMFE-90.7 FM that Mateen’s father said his son was incensed over seeing a gay couple kiss.