Sixteen years ago, they sent fire trucks to the Twin Towers from my hometown in New Jersey. Eight months ago, I was in apartment lockdown in Paris after the terrorist attacks. And on Saturday night, I slept 2 hours away from the deadliest mass shooting in American history.
The headline read “Mass shooting in Orlando Gay Nightclub on Latin Night”. You know the details, you’ve binged on CNN, you know more than me.
I’ve never been to Pulse. I’ve never been to a gay club. But I’m a salsa dancer. I dance bachata, too. On occasion, I’m even compelled to dance merengue. It’s no secret that me and Latin nights are quite fond of one another.
Let’s take a step up the meta ladder. I am part of a community, a Latin dance community. If you are reading this, you probably are too. We share a common set of values and beliefs. That’s how we recognize one another. That’s why we can travel to a new city, roll up to a Latin night and feel welcomed and safe.
Granted, these values and beliefs can be fuzzy. They aren’t written down anywhere. Eddie Torres didn’t descend a mountain with stone tablets and disseminate rules throughout humanity (ok, he sort of did). But like good style, we know our values when we see them.
No, I will not list all Latin dance values. I will only list one that I am so sure of, every fiber of my being screams it to be truth: the Latin dance community is inclusive.
We are a welcoming community. Gay, straight, Muslim, Christian, Pakistani, American, young, old, hardcore salsero, casual dancer, tone deaf or rhythmless. There is a place for you here in our community. This is why I fell in love with Latin dancing. I always felt like a loner growing up. I never had a sense of deep belonging. I didn’t have deep friendships. But I was amazed when I discovered the dance community. Everyone was friendly, helpful and respectful. And in the case of my future wife, beautiful to boot!
News stories have described Omar Mateen as a loner. He didn’t belong anywhere. He didn’t have many friends. He found extremism instead of dance. By associating with ISIS, he gained his own community.
But instead of practicing inclusivity, Mateen practiced exclusivity. It’s us against them. Kill the gays. Kill the Christians. Kill the Americans. Mateen practiced a most brutal form of exclusivity. And because of it, 49 people are dead, 53 are wounded.
But the story doesn’t have to end here. Understanding our values and beliefs gives the Latin dance community power.
Human beings rule this planet because of the common myths we create. Without these created fictions, chimpanzees can’t live in societies larger than 100 without pandemonium. With created fictions, Homo Sapiens can organize million man marches. It is incredible what we as a community can achieve.
Let’s decide together what actions we can take that align with our values. What actions can we take to prevent atrocities like this from occurring in the future?
There are petitions like this one to regulate gun ownership. There are videos like this one worth sharing that educate people on the inner workings of the gun lobby. There is an upcoming election we can vote in that features a man who wants to build a “big wall”. There are many more (and better) ideas cooking in those big beautiful brains of yours. Let’s hear them.