At the Orlando gay club where a gunman perpetrated the worst mass shooting in modern American history, DJs were playing reggaeton, bachata, merengue, and salsa, according to The New York Times. The vast majority of the dead were Latino; more than half were Puerto Rican.
The discourse following the attack at Pulse nightclub has focused largely on terrorism, guns, religion, and homophobia. But this was an attack on a very specific kind of event: a queer Latin night. There are many such nights happening at clubs in cities across America every week of the year.
To understand more about the particular history and meaning of such gatherings, I spoke on Thursday with Ramón Rivera-Servera, the author of Performing Queer Latinidad: Dance, Sexuality, Politics and an associate professor at Northwestern University’s School of Communication. This interview has been edited and condensed.
Spencer Kornhaber: Just to start, do you have anything in general to say about your reaction to what’s happened?
Ramón Rivera-Servera: As a queer Puerto Rican myself with family connections to Florida, there’s that immediate “me” reaction, about how you feel reflected in that scene, in that space, in that experience, and the violence. But immediately I also had this punch-in-the-gut feeling about how this tragedy would be immediately co-opted and put at risk other vulnerable populations. I’m thinking here about anti-Arab, anti-Islam sentiment. My first social-media posting was about recognizing the trauma but also warning us to be careful not to go into the easy pigeonholing of large categories of population that in our queer activism, and in our Latino activism, we work against.