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Latino Community In Orlando Bands Together In Wake Of Massacre


We're going to go back now to Orlando. Most of the victims in Sunday's mass shooting there were Latinos, specifically Puerto Ricans. Many of them left their families in Puerto Rico to come to Orlando. NPR's Adrian Florido has been spending time with some of those who are grieving.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: At a vigil for the victims, people put up little candlelit alters. Around the one for Anthony Laureano, his friends held hands and mourned in two languages.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: "We're here together."

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: "Because we're not different."

FLORIDO: Nearby, Francheska Garcia was holding a collage of photos of her friend Jonathan Camuy.

FRANCHESKA GARCIA: He smiled. You know, what I'm always going to remember is his smile.

FLORIDO: I notice there's a picture of him with the Puerto Rican flag here, huh?

GARCIA: Yeah, he was Puerto Rican. Yeah because usually our parents live over there, and we're the rebel ones that move here to make it, you know, on our own.

FLORIDO: Garcia says Camuy moved to Florida two years ago to escape Puerto Rico's economic crisis. It's something many Puerto Ricans are doing. They're settling by the thousands in central Florida. This is reinforcing bonds between Orlando and the Islands, but it also means Sunday's shooting shattered lives in both places. Earlier near where the shootings happened I met Luis Mercado. He works with local Spanish-language TV. We ducked into my car to escape Florida's stifling heat.

LUIS MERCADO: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: He says despite many Puerto Ricans arriving who speak little English, the Puerto Rican community is pretty united. On Sunday around 3 a.m., Mercado's phone started going off with messages in both languages. Two of his best friends - Juan Rivera and his partner Luis Condo - were at the Pulse nightclub. But there was no news of them. Over the next 18 hours, Mercado and his friend's families went from hospital to hospital hoping to hear Juan and Luis's names read from the list of the injured.

MERCADO: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: "Your heart is pounding," he says, as they read one name after the other but not theirs. And then they get to the end, and you start to cry."

MERCADO: (Speaking Spanish, crying).

FLORIDO: "You cry because you realize they must be on the other list, the list of the dead." Juan and Luis did die. They were among the best-known hairstylists in Puerto Rico and Orlando. Flowers pile up outside their salon.

For all the unity, the issue of many of the victim's sexuality is causing a little tension. This woman called in to one of Orlando's most popular Spanish-language radio stations to say her friend refused to mourn gay victims.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (Speaking Spanish). She's not going to put her flag halfway because that's not what her flag is all about.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: Right now though, people are starting to focus on the victims' families. I drove to a strip mall where volunteers were coordinating travel and lodging for those coming to Orlando for funerals.

SUZANNE GONZALEZ: She's just willing to offer a room in her home...

FLORIDO: One volunteer, Suzanne Gonzalez, says offers are coming in from airlines, hotels and regular people.

GONZALEZ: We've even got some attorneys offering, you know - offering help for how to help these people get the proper documentation to get here.

FLORIDO: They had actually just gotten word that a lawyer had secured an emergency visa for a Dominican mother to come to her son's funeral and then another offer for donated tombstones. They accepted. Adrian Florido, NPR News, Orlando. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Adrian Florido is a national correspondent for NPR covering race and identity in America.