Living in Minnesota for this many years, I am used to feeling a part of a very specific subgroup of people. I’m not just a Latino in Minnesota but a Puerto Rican. Not just a Puerto Rican but a gay one.
It’s hard not to feel like I’m always just a little bit on the outside looking in. That, however, is not new to me, nor am I pained by it. It’s simply the story of my life.
Growing up Puerto Rican, on US army bases, I’ve always felt a part of many worlds. I’ve always spoken both English and Spanish; I don’t remember a time I knew one and learned the other. Culturally, I’ve always felt I had one foot firmly in the island’s culture and the other in mainstream US.
Which culture weighs more heavily in my mind, or which language my brain is thinking in any particular moment depends on that moment and the context. A few days back on the island and I am back to dreaming in Spanish, or Spanglish.
Growing up between cultures, between languages, I have spent a lot of my life feeling like, no matter what group of people I am with, I am always on the outside looking in. I know that can sound weird or lonely, but it has actually felt empowering. One of my formative memories of growing up is of a parent-teacher conference requested by my kindergarten teacher, Ms. Robinson, an American teaching at our Department of Defense elementary school in Germany. Ms. Robinson called my mother in to let her know that her son was willful, disobedient, and –worse yet–did not know how to pronounce his own name. Mami was alarmed until she heard the teacher describe how she’d call me, “I say JAY-vier, come here. JAY-vier, listen to me. And he just ignores me!”
Mami and I laughed all the way home. That day and always, my mother instilled in my siblings and me a deep sense of pride. The fact that we spoke two language, knew more than one culture — that was an asset. It meant we knew more than other people. The rest of that school year whenever I got in trouble with Ms. Robinson, I just felt smug, as if to think, “yeah, well we’ve already established that you are dumb.”
This week, being on the outside looking in has not felt empowering. I woke up Sunday to a text from our dear friend Carla, telling us she was crying about how the massacre in Orlando must make us feel, how personal this is. I had no idea what she was talking about, wondering what words autocorrect turned into “massacre” and “Orlando.”
John slept in and I went downstairs to make coffee and get my day going. I grab my phone and go to Twitter.
A massacre, indeed. A night club under siege for hours, with almost fifty dead. Not just fifty clubgoers dead, fifty people at a gay club. Not just a gay club but a gay club on a Latin Night. The victims are not just almost all Latino they are mostly Puerto Rican.
A massacre of gay Puerto Ricans.
A lifetime of feeling empowered by being on the outside looking in and, here, from Minnesota, I feel … like I don’t know what the fuck I’m feeling, actually. I admire the righteous anger, but that’s not quite what I am feeling. It’s that plus sadness but that’s not quite it. Is it despair, emptiness?
There is no outside from which to look in.
So many gay Latinos have a Pulse Bar, a place where you went or go to be yourself. In Puerto Rico when I was home on vacation from college, it was Krash on Avenida Ponce de León. When I lived in DC, it was Escándalo, a tiny bar where I learned to follow when dancing salsa and merengue.
If this enraged, closeted maniac had been at either of those places back then, when I was in my twenties, that’s how mami and my pops would have found out I was gay. That was my immediate thought Sunday morning.
Today my folks and the Puerto Rican community as a whole have a dramatically different relationship to gayness and outness. There is so much more space than when I was growing up, but still–I can’t help but wonder if any of those 49 dead are being outed to family and friends in the most public and violent manner imaginable.
Sunday I was chastised on Twitter for highlighting that the victims were gay:
— Joshua (@j_w_84) June 12, 2016
My twitter bio says I love to argue and hate to lose, but not Sunday and not today. Not about this.
Think yourself better because you see “past” the fact that they were gay and Latino. Knock yourself out. You must think that is a compliment, your ability to see through us, like cellophane.
It matters they were gay. It matters that they were Latinos. It matters that they were Puerto Rican. It matters.
In the middle of so much pain, beauty emerges. It comes in the form of stating a simple truth:
If you can’t wrap your head around a bar or club as a sanctuary, you’ve probably never been afraid to hold someone’s hand in public.
— Jeramey Kraatz (@jerameykraatz) June 12, 2016
It comes in the form of generational cry of agony from an “aging dyke” apologizing to the younger generation of LGBT folks: “This wasn’t supposed to happen to you.”
It comes in the form of an Orthodox Jewish congregation visiting a black gay bar in DC, where very different people came together and felt as one.
It comes in the decision of two families to bury their beloved sons together, honoring their love. “I think my son wanted to do that. That’s why,” the father of 22 year-old victim Juan Ramón Guerrero said. “I don’t care what the people think. I don’t care.”
In San Francisco, New York, and Minneapolis, vigils for the dead have failed to include queer latinos. Here at home, Outfront Minnesota has apologized.
I accept their apology. I don’t have the energy to feed anger right now, certainly not with allies. We grow when we acknowledge wrongs and move forward together.
I see debates on Facebook about whether straight people can say “I am Orlando,” whether it is right for anyone who has not feared holding hands in public to claim solidarity in this particular way.
I can’t police how others mourn.
I want everyone to own this tragedy as a human tragedy. All I ask is that, as you connect to this pain in your own personal way, as you stand on the outside looking in, do not erase us in the process.
Digan sus nombres
Stanley Almodovar III, 23
Amanda Alvear, 25
Oscar A. Aracena-Montero, 26
Rodolfo Ayala-Ayala, 33
Antonio Davon Brown, 29
Darryl Roman Burt II, 29
Angel L. Candelario-Padro, 28
Juan Chevez-Martinez, 25
Luis Daniel Conde, 39
Cory James Connell, 21
Tevin Eugene Crosby, 25
Deonka Deidra Drayton, 32
Simon Adrian Carrillo Fernandez, 31
Leroy Valentin Fernandez, 25
Mercedez Marisol Flores, 26
Peter O. Gonzalez-Cruz, 22
Juan Ramon Guerrero, 22
Paul Terrell Henry, 41
Frank Hernandez, 27
Miguel Angel Honorato, 30
Javier Jorge-Reyes, 40
Jason Benjamin Josaphat, 19
Eddie Jamoldroy Justice, 30
Anthony Luis Laureanodisla, 25
Christopher Andrew Leinonen, 32
Alejandro Barrios Martinez, 21
Brenda Lee Marquez McCool, 49
Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez, 25
Kimberly Morris, 37
Akyra Monet Murray, 18
Luis Omar Ocasio-Capo, 20
Eric Ivan Ortiz-Rivera, 36
Joel Rayon Paniagua, 32
Jean Carlos Mendez Perez, 35
Enrique L. Rios, Jr., 25
Jean C. Nives Rodriguez, 27
Christopher Joseph Sanfeliz, 24
Xavier Emmanuel Serrano Rosado, 35
Edward Sotomayor Jr., 34
Yilmary Rodriguez Sulivan, 24
Shane Evan Tomlinson, 33
Martin Benitez Torres, 33
Jonathan Antonio Camuy Vega, 24
Franky Jimmy Dejesus Velazquez, 50
Juan P. Rivera Velazquez, 37
Luis S. Vielma, 22
Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon, 37
Jerald Arthur Wright, 31