Identity

The Orlando shooting is hitting Latinos especially hard

People mourn the shooting victims at a church service in Orlando, Florida. Source: Getty Images

For gay Latinos, the shooting was especially cruel. It came on the night of Pulse nightclub's Latin Night.

Luis Arancibia woke up to a phone full of horrifying text messages on Sunday morning. Some of his friends were dead, others had been frantically messaging him to check if he was alive.

He was supposed to head to Pulse nightclub with friends, but decided to get some rest instead. Those who went out experienced the worst mass shooting in US history, with 50 killed and another 53 wounded by gunman Omar Mateen.

Tonight, Luis Arancibia says he can’t sleep. He’s at home waiting for the names of the dead to be released.

“You’re clenching with any newsflash that it could potentially be one or two people that you know, it’s terrifying,” he told SBS. “I’m a gay Latin, so it hit even closer to home for me and my close friends.”

Orlando is a city full of immigrants, many drawn by one of the biggest employers in town, Disneyworld.

Mr Arancibia works in hospitality at a Hilton hotel. He migrated from Peru.

“Orlando is such an international population – within the gay community we have a very close-knit group of Latinos that have migrated here and made Orlando their home,” he said.

Saturday night  was Latin night at Pulse. The club was known as having one of the best Latin nights around.

“The mood was set up for a Latin Night - Latin music, Latin entertainers,” Mr Arancibia said.

The club was even known to fly in Latino personalities from other major cities for the events. The first shots were fired during a reggae track spun by DJ Riviera, according to The Daily Beast.

Normally a time for celebration for gay Latinos, the timing of the shooting means they will now bear the brunt of the pain.

“It hits closer to home because it increases the odds of you knowing the people who were potentially hurt,” Mr Arancibia said.

Most of those at the club would have been Latinos, he said, a suspicion borne out by the steady drip of names released by authorities as they work to confirm victims’ identities.

Many Latinos in Orlando would have recognised one of the first names to be released, Edward Sotomayor, a prominent gay Latino travel agent.

“Every single time you would see Eddie you would just feel better,” Luis Arancibia said. “He was a loving, happy person who just knew everyone in our community.”

Mr Arancibia also holds fears for his friend Frank. Friends have checked hospitals and spoken with police. They say authorities told them Frank may be among to bodies still lying on the floor of the club, yet to be identified.

For Luis Arancibia, the weekend was especially cruel. “I cannot understand it. It’s just surreal,” he said.

“It’s a community that does nothing but welcome people with open arms and to make sure that everyone feels comfortable and safe – and I’m one of those people.”

“I wasn’t born and raised in Orlando but when I came here I was welcomed by loving caring people in the gay community – and many of them were Hispanic – and they’re very supportive of each other,” he said.

Asked if there was one thing he wanted to make clear to people around the world right now, Luis Arancibia was adamant: now is not the time for politics.

“Now is a time to think about the people that are waiting for names - people who are crying both inside and out,” he told SBS. “People need to know that Orlando is a loving place that endured a tragic human catastrophe by a man full of hate.”

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