September 20, 2021

For Latino community, nightclub shooting left gaping loss

750x422Thirteen miles from Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, Luis Conde and Juan Rivera Velázquez built their version of the American Dream.

A decade ago, the longtime couple opened a Kissimmee beauty salon that drew clients from throughout Central Florida, many of them fellow Puerto Rican transplants. Alta Peluquería D’Magazine was the place to go before a quinceañera, prom, pageant or wedding.

And there, away from the violence and crime of the island where the men grew up, away from the homophobia that still permeates Latino culture, the two found success, a sense of family, a freedom to be themselves.

“You left that island, that beautiful island with the ocean and all the mountains, and you say, ‘OK, I’m going to Orlando because that is safe,'” said Marytza Sanz, a native of Puerto Rico and a friend of the couple who died in the club. “And look what happened.”

As the names of those killed in the massacre began to trickle out — Guerrero, Montero, Reyes, Fernandez — tens of thousands of fellow Latinos in Central Florida felt a collective chill. These were their people.

Of 49 dead, at least 36 were Latino — most of them Puerto Rican but also Mexican, Ecuadorean, Venezuelan and Dominican. The club’s theme on the night of the shooting was Latin night, when the club became a crossroads of the Latino and gay communities.

“Now, the LGBT community and the Hispanic community, the two unlikeliest of friends, are going to be linked together forever through tragedy,” said Carlos Carbonell, a gay 41-year-old Panamanian immigrant who runs an Orlando software company.