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Published On: Tue, Jun 14th, 2016

¡We’ll Never Forget the Pulse Orlando Massacre!

by Charlie Vázquez
 

The 59th Annual Puerto Rican Day Parade was a bittersweet affair for many of us who marched in or attended it—a numb limbo. A sea of Puerto Rican flags swung in the air as I approached the Plaza Hotel on Central Park South, the air electric with the pulse of salsa and reguetón music. I found a spot in time to photograph the Capicu Culture float in action, amidst a swelling crowd of young and old who took to one of Manhattan’s wealthiest neighborhoods to celebrate the resilience of the Puerto Rican people—the bedrock New York City’s Latino community.

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In the Boricua mecca of Orlando, Florida, however, there was little—if nothing—to celebrate. Cell phones rang unanswered with mounting despair as investigators struggled to identify fifty people left dead in the wake of a gunman’s madness. How he was allowed such easy access to military-grade weapons is a discussion for another day, but it’s been reported that two men kissing in Miami sparked his rage. What we have now is a long list of young people whose families will never see them again: the innocent enjoying their last Saturday night on the town.
 
Search for a list of the names and you’ll see they were our brothers and sisters and cousins, a mostly young Puerto Rican and Latino crowd that jammed into the Pulse Orlando nightclub on Latin Night to watch Boricua entertainers, to drink and dance to salsa and other Latin sounds while enjoying the company of others from the community—a sanctuary. No one should be able to turn such a festive affair into what is being called “the worst mass shooting in U.S. history”. No one should be able to unleash such horrors when there were signs of something coming.
Group of People Waving Gay Pride Symbol Flags

Group of People Waving Gay Pride Symbol Flags

 
I don’t agree that Puerto Ricans were targeted, as much as a gay crowd was. But if 25 of the 50 perished were Puerto Rican as some sources report, then the Pulse Orlando Massacre was bloodier than Puerto Rico’s most historic tragedies, namely the Río Piedras Massacre of 1935 (4 nationalist party casualties) and the infamous Ponce Massacre of 1937 (21 total deaths). The motivations for the violence incited may have been different, but our people (and now others) have given their lives, be it for independence as a nation or as individuals.
 
What can we do now?
 
Their grieving families need support more than ever. Activist Pedro Julio Serrano has gone to Orlando to meet with some of the victims’ family and friends, in a gesture of solidarity, but we must all lend our support however we can, even if by making a small online donation. These difficult turning points in history have much to teach the world, and it’s by demonstrating our compassion that we can, at least, try to help those about to embark on painful healing journeys—for others closure will never come. But we can try.
 
I know what having a space like Pulse Orlando meant to the victims, as I spent years searching for myself in underground queer clubs on the West Coast, when I went to live there (to come out) in the late 1980s. What a relief it was to find places where I could be who’d I’d always wanted to be, with the acceptance my own challenged people were beginning to understand. All of that changed when I returned in 2006, when I withdrew from nightlife to live as an out queer man in the Puerto Rican community I grew up in, to make a difference through writing and activism.
 
I was overcome by emotion when an LGBTQ contingent led by former NYC Councilmember Margarita López (an out lesbian for many years) marched by this past Sunday, holding Puerto Rican-rainbow flags and umbrellas. They rallied against the fiscal control bill approved by Congress with bullhorns in hand, shouting: ¡No a la Junta! Bystanders cheered them on with feverish enthusiasm, knowing that we face more urgent issues than worrying about who we choose to be and love. Only love has the power to reverse hatred, only love will save us in the end.
 
If Puerto Ricans en masse have learned to embrace their LGBTQ brothers and sisters (and still learning) after centuries of homophobia and misogyny—despite all the setbacks put in our way as the sons and daughters of the world’s last colony—so can the world. We won’t forget the Pulse Orlando Massacre and how it’s devastated our Florida families and those of the other victims. Dr. Martin Luther King once said that “No one is free until we are all free” and there’s still so much work to do.
 
Charlie Vázquez is an author as well as Director of the Bronx Writers Center at Bronx Council on the Arts. You can follow him @CharlieVazquez or on his Facebook page.
Charlie Luis Vázquez
Director, Bronx Writers Center, Editorial Trance CCO &

NYC Coordinator for Festival de la Palabra de Puerto Rico

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¡We’ll Never Forget the Pulse Orlando Massacre!