'These Are My People': Writer Reflects On Orlando Attack In 'Washington Post'

Jun 14, 2016
Originally published on June 14, 2016 6:42 pm
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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Like millions of us, writer Justin Torres woke up Sunday morning to the news of the attacks.

JUSTIN TORRES: I kind of sat in front of the television for hours. I just watched and watched, and as soon as I saw Latin night at Club Pulse, I was just like, oh, my God. These are my people.

MCEVERS: Nearly all of the victims were young, gay and Latino. And they were having fun dancing in a place that welcomed them. That scene is one Justin Torres knows well, so he wrote about it for The Washington Post. His essay is called "In Praise Of Latin Night At The Queer Club." And I asked him to read a passage.

TORRES: (Reading) So when you walk into the club, if you're lucky, it feels expansive. Safe space is a cliche, overused and exhausted in our discourse, but the fact remains that a sense of safety transforms the body, transforms the spirit. So many of us walk through the world without it.

So when you walk through the door and it's a salsa beat, brown bodies, queer bodies all writhing in some fake smoke and strobing lights, no matter how cool, how detached, how over it you think you are, Latin night at the queer club breaks your cool. You can't help but smile. This is for you, for us.

MCEVERS: The way you write - you write about the world outside and then the world inside the club. And first I want to talk a little bit about just the world outside that you write about, you know, for people who are gay and Latino. What is that world like?

TORRES: It's politicized, and it's changing all the time. But it's never neutral, (laughter) right? I mean, you have a kind of politicized identity. And right now I think both the rights and advances of queer people and the rights and advances of Latinos in American society is constantly in the news, which means that there's constantly a lot of negativity being thrown out there as well.

And then the opposite happens when you walk into the club. And then it's just you, and people like you reflect it. And you're nothing special and everything special, you know, all at once.

MCEVERS: You write about the sacredness of Latin night.

TORRES: Yeah.

MCEVERS: And so it sounds like you've seen that. What does that mean - that it's sacred?

TORRES: Yeah. I think that for queer people, the bar has served so many more purposes than just a place to kind of drink and socialize. It's a place to kind of be transformed, right? The point is that it's a space where you are the majority. You know, people talk about the gay bar like it's church, you know?

And then for people of color, kind of these nights at Latin nights, you know, they're kind of doubly significant, doubly important. And it is sacred, right? I mean, it's - people - you go, and you worship, you know? You dance. You celebrate. You connect. And it's sexy, and you're kind of allowed to be free in a way that feels so difficult so often when you're out a kind of straight world. It is sacred and it's - it really chokes me up when I think about the violation of that space.

MCEVERS: Do you think - I don't know. Do you think you'll just, like, think twice the next time you go?

TORRES: No. I don't think I'll think twice. I don't. I will think of all those beautiful faces, all those beautiful boys and girls that were killed, but I won't be afraid. I won't be thinking about terrorism. And I'll be paying tribute, I hope, you know? I mean, I hope that everybody who's going out up and dancing and going to the queer church (laughter) - I think that they'll all be kind of paying tribute.

MCEVERS: Justin Torres, thank you so much.

TORRES: Thank you. It was great talking with you.

MCEVERS: And one last thing - in that essay, Justin Torres writes that if you go to Latin night at the queer club, you might hear a little, quote, "Latin cheese - or that Aventura song from 15 years ago." We found that song. Here it is, you know, if you like dancing.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OBSESION")

ADVENTURA: (Singing in Spanish). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.