Puerto Ricans

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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.

Dyer vigilia
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

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


Father Refused to Claim Pulse Nightclub Shooting Victim

pr flags at city hall
Puerto Rican flags were planted on the lawn of the Dr. Phillips center in honor of Pulse nightclub shooting victims. /city of Orlando

All the Pulse nightclub shooting victims’ bodies have been released to next of kin. Even the shooter’s body has left the Orange County Medical Examiner’s building off Michigan Avenue, according to information released this week.

“We effectively and efficiently completed the identification, notification and autopsy process within a 72-hour period – a monumental task,” according to an earlier statement by OCME, which worked with the Florida Emergency Mortuary Operations Response System to complete the gruesome task.

But it was touch and go for one particular shooting victim whose father didn’t want to claim the body. Because the son was gay. Because the father was ashamed. Finally and after much convincing, the body was released to Orlando-area relatives and he has been buried. (Thanks to the commenters on this post for your concern.)

This young man shall remain anonymous so as not to further victimize the deceased, who was Puerto Rican. But Orlando Latino confirmed the information with several sources. The tale is part of the untold stories of the Latino victims of the Pulse nightclub massacre.

Social Conservative

The fact is, Puerto Ricans on the island are socially conservative and oftentimes anti-LGBT. While the U.S. Supreme Court declared that same-sex marriage was constitutional in June 2015, gay marriage didn’t reach Puerto Rico until April 2016 – 10 months after the highest court’s ruling – because a San Juan district court said the Supreme Court’s decision didn’t apply to Puerto Rico.

“The district court’s ruling errs in so many respects that it is hard to know where to begin,” wrote the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston in slapping down Puerto Rico’s claim.

But the local court didn’t “err” in reflecting the island’s social conservatism, an attitude it shares with many other Spanish-speaking pew gay pollcountries.

In Puerto Rico, 72 percent of Protestants oppose same-sex marriage, according to a 2014 Pew Research Center study of social and moral issues in Latin America. Among island Catholics opposition was significantly lower –  45 percent. Puerto Rico is about evenly split between Protestants and Catholics. Overall, about 55 percent of islanders oppose same-sex marriage.

 The highest opposition – over 80 percent – is in the Central American countries of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. Meanwhile, Uruguay scored the lowest, 31 percent opposition, which is even lower than the 34 percent of U.S. Hispanics who do not support gay marriage, according to the study.


Support for same-sex marriage is higher among younger generations. About   48 percent of the 18 to 34 year olds in Puerto Rico favor it, a figure that drops to 26 percent for people over age 35.

The pain of being Puerto Rican and gay is real. In the island’s macho culture (relative to the states), anti-gay bias is not subtle and has reached the highest levels of government.

Bias None too Subtle

In 2009, Puerto Rico’s Senate president alleged during a radio interview that a fellow senator was like  “el petardo que no explota” or like a firecracker that doesn’t explode, insinuating he was gay. The statement was denounced by pro LGBT groups.

Perhaps this why it took pop star Ricky Martin a while before declaring his sexual orientation. He is now the most famous gay Puerto Rican and no doubt his coming out in 2010 helped many others to do the same. In Puerto Rico, everybody loves Ricky Martin – he is famous, wealthy, good looking and more.

But nobody knew the Orlando shooting victim. No coming out on Oprah for him. And the victim’s family – or at least his father –didn’t accept the son’s sexual orientation, adding further insult to the sad and sensational circumstances of his death.

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