Months af­ter brother died at Pulse, sis­ter re­opens his salon

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -


Six months af­ter her brother and his long­time part­ner were killed in Or­lando’s gay night­club mas­sacre, Jessica Silva is re-open­ing the cou­ple’s beauty salon.

Half a dozen black salon chairs are in place. One of them faces a large photo of the brother Juan Rivera Ve­lazquez and his part­ner Luis Daniel Conde, who died June 12 in the worst mass shooting in modern US his­tory. It’s the same chair where Ve­lazquez once styled hair. Ve­lazquez’s black toy-sized dog, Juicy, again roams the salon in a pur­ple tutu, just like be­fore. Ve­lazquez’s big sis­ter, Jessica Silva, her mother and a cousin are ready to wel­come back the cus­tomers who re­lied on Ve­lazquez and Conde to make them feel beau­ti­ful.

The two men had owned the salon for about six years. “I re­mem­ber when he was start­ing, he said he was go­ing to be an artist. He was go­ing to make changes for women, make them feel more beau­ti­ful, free the best in them, and he did,” said Jessica Silva, Ve­lazquez’s sis­ter.

She spoke Thurs­day, shortly be­fore a small cer­e­mony to re­open the business. Silva and other fam­ily mem­bers shouted “woooo” as they cut a red rib­bon out­side the salon in a strip mall. Later, they ate ce­viche on cock­tail ta­bles. The new salon has a dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tion, and a slightly dif­fer­ent name. Silva con­sid­ered re-open­ing in the Kis­sim­mee, Florida, space where it once was, but she and her mother were haunted by his mem­o­ries there and de­cided to move shop five miles away to south Or­lando.

“My mom used to work with him. She worked be­hind him and when she moved her head half­way, she would see him,” said Silva, who is five years older than her lit­tle brother, who was 37 when he died. “When she went back to the old salon, she started get­ting ner­vous and anx­ious.” The name also is now D’Mag­a­zine By Juan P, in­stead of Alta Pelu­que­ria D’Mag­a­zine, as a trib­ute to Ve­lazquez. Ve­lazquez and Conde were a cou­ple for 16 years. Silva and her par­ents view re-open­ing the salon as con­tin­u­ing Ve­lazquez’s legacy, as painful as his ab­sence may be.

“This was his dream,” Silva said. “You can see me smil­ing but it’s not been easy what we’re do­ing to­day. There’s a lot of tears ev­ery time we put some­thing that be­longs to him, that was in an­other lo­ca­tion, and he’s not go­ing to be here to tell us, ‘OK, I don’t want this here. I want this there.’”

Ve­lazquez’s fa­ther, Ra­mon Rivera, said, “He left but he’s here like an angel for me.” The doors to the salon have been closed in the six months since Ve­lazquez and Condo were killed in the Pulse night­club, along with 47 oth­ers. Dozens of oth­ers were hos­pi­tal­ized, many with se­vere in­juries. Gun­man Omar Ma­teen, who was killed in a shootout with SWAT team mem­bers af­ter a three-hour stand­off, had pledged al­le­giance to the Is­lamic State group. Silva re­mem­bers be­ing awak­ened by a caller, then rush­ing to find her brother. “A friend of us called us at five in the morn­ing telling me that some­thing hap­pened there and they were there, and they posted pic­tures dur­ing the night,” she said. “I got in my car and I went look­ing for my brother. But un­for­tu­nately, I had to wait 24 hours to find out that I was not go­ing to be able to hold him, kiss him, and have him near us any­more.” Mon­day marks the six­month an­niver­sary of the at­tack, and hundreds of cen­tral Florida res­i­dents are ex­pected to join of­fi­cials in a me­mo­rial ob­ser­vance that day.

The open­ing of the salon is part of the heal­ing process for the fam­ily and the com­mu­nity, said Ch­eryl Grieb, vice chair of the Osce­ola County Com­mis­sion. “They re­ally wanted to keep the salon open be­cause, ini­tially, af­ter­ward, it was ‘Do we keep it? Do we not? Fi­nances?’ It was a back-and-forth ex­pe­ri­ence for them,” Grieb said. “In the end, they knew that this is what he wanted and they wanted to keep that dream alive.” —AP

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