Ricardo-Negrón-Floricua Ricardo Negrón moved to Orlando five years ago and works in nonprofit organizations that defend the rights of Hispanic communities. The Pulse shooting survivor is also an activist for the LGBTQ communities.
Image Courtesy of Ricardo Negrón

He moved to Orlando after finishing his law degree but found an opportunity to help mobilize Latinos to vote. After surviving the Pulse shooting his activism focused on fighting for justice for the LGBTQ communities.

ORLANDO, FL — When Ricardo Negrón moved to Orlando five years ago, it was shocking for him to witness the struggles faced by people who had immigrated to the United States from Latin American countries. As an English professor for adults working with the Florida Immigrant Coalition, he saw how professionals from all walks of life had to start their lives over from scratch.

“I saw people from Venezuela, Colombia, and México, folks who were retired from the army or were police officers, lawyers, and teachers; all of them would show up for two- or three-hour English classes after working all day,” Negrón told The Americano.

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He knows that Puerto Ricans, as U.S. citizens, don’t have to go through the immigration process. Seeing how much of a struggle that process was for others, however, was an eye-opener.

Meanwhile, Negrón was dealing with his own problems. After passing the bar exam and taking his oath as a lawyer in Puerto Rico, he was ready to move to Orlando and work as a paralegal in a law firm. He gave up his apartment and prepared to move. Then he received a call from the firm. They couldn’t hire him because of budget cuts. 

“I decided to go anyway and try my luck in Orlando. At least my aunt already lived here, so I had a place to stay,” remembers Negrón.

Originally from Yauco, he had planned on studying Florida law, working in the law firm, and then taking the bar exam for the state.

But it was in nonprofit organizations were he found his first job opportunity. Initially, he began working for the Florida Immigrant Coalition, then he joined the Hispanic Federation with the goal of registering Latino voters.

“It was interesting to see how Puerto Ricans felt a repulsion for politics. They thought things were the same here [as on the island]. I would explain that in Florida you don’t just vote for governor and president,” Negrón said.

It was March of 2016, so the federation only had a few months to register voters before the general elections. Negrón would visit food trucks in Kissimmee as well as Puerto Rican festivals, looking for people to register.

“It was interesting to see how Puerto Ricans felt a repulsion for politics. They thought things were the same here [as on the island]. I would explain that in Florida you don’t just vote for governor and president,” Negrón said.

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The activist would emphasize how voting directly affects quality-of-life issues because of how the government works in Florida, and how the outcome affects U.S. policy regarding Puerto Rico.

In the summer of 2016, Negrón had a life-changing experience. He survived the Pulse nightclub shooting. The dance club had become a favorite hangout for him and his former partner, who enjoyed the Latin flavor at the nightspot on Saturdays.

“When the shooting started, I was near the area that led to the patio. As the bullets stopped, I was able to run to the patio and out into the street,” Negrón said.

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The experience turned his career around. Soon after, he started working with the Hispanic Federation program that offered support to victims of the shooting.

Negrón’s way of dealing with the trauma of the experience was to dedicate all of his life efforts to prevent an incident like that from ever happening again. He co-founded Del Ambiente, a community initiative dedicated to holistically assisting members within LGBTQ communities, strengthening leadership, and providing information.

“We realized that mostly Boricuas were affected by the Pulse incident. Among the organizations providing help to victims, none of them were specifically geared toward helping the Puerto Rican LGBTQ communities,” Negrón said.

“[In Del Ambiente] we are all Puerto Ricans. We realized that mostly Boricuas were affected by the Pulse incident. Among the organizations providing help to victims, none of them were specifically geared toward helping the Puerto Rican LGBTQ communities.”

In 2018, Negrón started to work with Latino Justice, an organization that defends the rights of Hispanics. Their current focus is on the “Cada voto cuenta” program, which aims to make sure that voters have adequate resources and bilingual information available to them.

“I coordinate this electoral protection project,” Negrón said. “It was created during the 2016 elections. For the 2018 midterm elections, I coordinated a smaller scale version of the initiative in Florida, and now this year we are going to work the primaries first and then the general elections.”

The community leader said he has noticed how young people are interested in voting this year. He expects Latinos to not just register but actually vote. 

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