by Julián Bugarín Quezada
It was only my first morning in my bed after flying home for summer vacation from Portland where I was studying. Like so many millennials, the first thing I did upon awaking was checking my phone for any texts or social media updates. The first post I saw on Facebook was an article from the Los Angeles Times. The headline read: “About 20 people dead in gay nightclub shooting, Orlando police say”. Without opening the article, I ran downstairs to share the news with my mother. It was then that the two of us realized the severity and significance of the event. The shooting took place in a popular gay bar on Latin Night during Pride Month. After reading the entire article aloud, my mother and I were silent for about a minute just staring at the tile floor. Finally, I looked up at my mother and she said: “When you first came out, this was my biggest fear, knowing I would be the mother of a gay son: that one day you might never come home like all of those boys in that club.”
To cheer us up after hearing the news from Orlando, my dad decided to take my mom and I up into the San Gabriel Mountains for some fresh air and pizza for lunch. Driving up the mountain, I continued to read for updates and any more information about the victims and survivors. The death toll suddenly rose from 20 to 49. Then, the first names also began rolling in. Guerrero, Cruz, Martínez, Vega, Fernández, Reyes. All so familiar and rolled so effortlessly off of my tongue. I knew that the majority of them were all definitely queer or trans as well. My jotería was under attack.
Growing up in the time of Proposition 8, I was and still am all too familiar with the blatantly homophobic rhetoric espoused by conservative political and religious leaders—and occasionally friends and family members—who labeled me perverse, flawed, untrustworthy, incapable. After last summer’s Supreme Court decision on gay marriage, though, I bought into the belief that our movement was nearing its end. The cis white gay establishment made many of us believe that there wasn’t anything left for us to fight for. But upon moving to predominantly white Portland, the pseudo-paradise that I had been indoctrinated into crumbled as I became more aware of issues within my queer community: homelessness, transphobic attacks, and deportations of undocuqueer folk.
The shooting didn’t have to happen at this specific Latin Night at Pulse Club in Orlando. It could have just as easily occurred where other large Latinx and gay communities exist: Los Angeles, Miami, New York, San Antonio, Chicago. Anyone of us could have not coming home after listening and dancing to cumbias, merengues, salsas, and bachatas. Our mothers’ worst fears could have come true. This creates such a difficult situation where many of us don’t know if the Latin nights at our favorite gay clubs that had quickly become our sanctuaries are actually safe for us. What and who do we have left to find love, hope, and healing after this deliberate attack on our queer Latinx existence?
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Latin Night is sacred space for so many queer and trans Latinxs who seek a space for belonging. I’m sure Pulse was that space for many of those lost in Orlando.
The very first thing I did after coming home from the mountains on Saturday was go into my room and blast the hits of my reina, Celia Cruz. Especially since I came out, her performances of “La vida es un carnaval”, “Quimbara”, “Yo viviré”, and “La negra tiene tumbao” have allowed me to embrace my Latino gay femininity that over time has slowly been chipped away at by racism, machismo, misogyny, and homophobia. I remember, during high school, going into my room and watching her music videos, trying to emulate her arm movements, how she held her hands and fingers, the exaggerated rolling of her R’s in her lyrics, her gritos de “¡azúuuuucar!”. She was my liberator on Saturday.
I also texted my best friend to make sure he was okay. Even though I knew he was safe in Portland, I couldn’t help but feel as though I needed to reach out to him and let him know how I much I really love him. Going through all of my emotions made me truly reflect on the self-acceptance he has given me these two years that I have known him. Even through our quick texts every day, I always feel a little bit happier, a little bit more loved, and a little bit more celebrated. We didn’t have a chance to hang out to say goodbye before I flew home, and I think that Saturday’s events were a reminder of why I was so scared. We honestly never know what lies ahead for the fates of our chosen family members. Tell them you love them. Tell them you cherish them. Tell them you miss them. Tell them you celebrate them.
I spent time on Saturday with the queer Latinx and Chicanx books that I have accumulated from my Amazon hauls over the year. There is always one book in particular that I am always excited to look through: Butterfly Boy: Memories of a Chicano Mariposa by Rigoberto González. His tales of confronting racism, homophobia, anti-fatness, and violent bullying, and pursuing a rather unconventional program of study at his university all reflected so many of my experiences as a gay, fat, brown, second-generation Chicano. Before I went to bed on Saturday night, I took a gander through the first chapter of his book and was struck yet again by the symbolism of butterflies and their resiliency that so beautifully reflects the journeys queer Chicanxs pursue.
I’m grateful for our music and stories, and for having an accepting mother, which I acknowledge that, especially for many of us queer and trans folks, isn’t always a reality.
I still haven’t been able to wrap my mind around what happened. But I know that the least I can do is keep my loved ones close and continue celebrating my jotería.
Julián Bugarín Quezada is a gay Chican-Latino student originally from Southern California but currently studying in Portland, Oregon. He has a deep love for cheesecake, dogs, Celia Cruz, and queer Latinx literature.
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