There’s something really special to me about Latin music. There’s nothing quite like hearing the first few notes of a song from your childhood — the bongos, the cajon, the trumpets. Growing up in Miami, my music was never hard to find. I never went to a party that didn’t play the song “Suavemente,” never walked more than a block without hearing Daddy Yankee blaring from the speakers of a store or restaurant, and, unfortunately, I spent a lot of Sundays waking up to my mom blasting Luis Miguel, which we all knew meant it was time to clean.
So many of my childhood memories are intricately bound to my identity as a Latina — eating lechon on Noche Buena, chismeando with my Cuban family and friends, falling asleep to my mom singing to me in Spanish — but the memories of dancing to Latin music will always be my happiest ones.
I am very proud to call myself a queer Latina, but I am a white Latina and some people do not acknowledge my Cuban heritage unless I mention it. It can be hard for me to find community in places outside of Miami since my Latinidad isn’t easily recognizable. Since I left Miami for Georgetown, the only way I have successfully been able to find community is through Latin music. That is what made the tragedy in Orlando so personal for me.
I can’t stop seeing myself in the stories and accounts I hear. A friend of the victims didn’t feel like going to Pulse on Saturday night, so his five best friends went without him. They are all dead now. Another victim just wanted to go dancing, wanted to dance salsa and merengue and listen to our music. We went to the same high school and she was shot twice in the back.
How can I reasonably convince myself that this could never happen to me? How do I grieve for my community? How do I deal with the guilt for feeling relieved this didn’t happen at another gay night club, like Town in Washington D.C.?
I know I don’t experience oppression and discrimination the same way other members of my queer Latinx community do, but I do know that our music is what brings us all together in spite of our differences. We live in a society that perpetuates violence and oppression against members of my Latinx community and constantly seeks to further divide us. Going to Latin nights at clubs has always been a way to resist that, to build community and to create a space free of fear.
Gay bars and clubs have served similar purposes. Many members of the queer community have been abandoned by their families because of their identity, and nearly all of us live in a world that tells us to hide who we are or threatens to kill us if we don’t. LGBTQ clubs are one of the few places queer people can go be their authentic selves without fear of violence. They were, anyway. That’s why it’s important that it was Latin night at Pulse.
Reading through the names of the victims reminded me of the violence members of my community face every day. Sotomayor, Guerrero, Martinez, Perez, Torres, Flores, Rosado, Menendez, Rios, Velazquez, Fernandez, Rodriguez and so many more. The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs found that among LGBTQ and HIV-affected individuals, people of color and trans women were more likely to be murdered. Of the reported LGBTQ homicides in 2015, 62 percent were LGBTQ people of color. The NCAVP also reports that Latinx people make up 43 percent of survivors of anti-LGBTQ violence and black LGBTQ people make up about 23 percent of survivors. Keep in mind that white people participate in these surveys in greater numbers than do people of color, so these numbers more than likely underrepresent the violence against LGBTQ people of color.
Through a report from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, we also know that queer people, particularly queer people of color, trans and gender non-conforming folk, and queer youth “are disproportionately targeted by the police and subjected to traumatizing forms of state violence.” So where do we go? Where can we find safety and security in a society bent on killing and assaulting us? Where can we let ourselves be authentic? Clubs? Gay bars? Not anymore
We cannot forget Pulse was an LGBTQ club. We cannot forget it was Latin night. We cannot forget Latinxs, specifically Puerto Ricans, were most affected by this tragedy. We cannot let people use this massacre as an excuse to engage in Islamophobia. We cannot stay silent on the issue of gun control. We have to acknowledge that masculinity is toxic. We have to accept that queer people of color need safe spaces. But most of all, we need to act. Silence and inaction perpetuate violence against members of my communities and other oppressed groups. We are living in fear. We are out of safe spaces. We need more than thoughts and prayers.
To the 49 beautiful queer folks whose lives were taken on June 12, rest in power. Que en paz descansen. I hope wherever you are, you keep dancing.
Caitlin Opperman is a senior in the College.