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THE ORLANDO SENTINEL
Funerals Get Hispanic Touch Homes Use Spanish-Speaking Workers, All-Night Visitation Rooms And Kitchens To Reach The Booming Market.
Rebecca Panoff, Sentinel Staff Writer
June 22, 2004
BUENAVENTURA LAKES -- When Nelson Lopez was looking for a place to handle arrangements for his son Jonathan's funeral in July 2003, he found a place that made him feel right at home.
After 22-year-old Jonathan was killed in a car accident on his way to his wife's baby shower, Lopez found comfort at a small funeral home, Funeraria San Juan, which caters to Central Florida's growing Hispanic community. Jonathan Lopez's funeral was a celebration of his life, with Spanish guitars playing during a wake that went late into the night.
"They were more open and relaxed" than a traditional funeral home, the father said.
Part of the appeal of Hispanic funeral homes is that they cater to cultural traditions such as late-night or all-night funerals, said David Lowery, past president of the Florida Funeral Directors Association.
Lowery has 15 years' experience working for Hispanic funeral homes in South Florida.
Hispanic funeral homes are accommodating to families who want to bring food to a funeral, another cultural tradition.
Funeraria San Juan is tapping into a Hispanic market that is exploding in Central Florida. Osceola has the region's largest concentration of Hispanics, who make up almost a third of the population. And almost one in five Orange County residents is Hispanic.
Nationwide, the Hispanic population jumped 13 percent, to 39.9 million, between 2000 and 2003, according to the latest census figures. Funeral homes catering to the population are common in South Florida and in heavily Hispanic states such as Texas and New York.
Bob Healy, a 30-year funeral-business veteran in South Florida, opened Funeraria San Juan in December 2002, after learning of Central Florida's thriving Hispanic population while in Orlando the previous year to attend a national funeral directors conference.
After working so long for others, Healy had planned to open his own Hispanic funeral home in South Florida. But the market in Central Florida was enticing, so he moved to Kissimmee.
"I'm the first to come out here and market specifically to Hispanics," Healy said.
Funeraria San Juan served more than 100 families its first year, evidence that it has found a place for itself in the Hispanic community, said David Walkinshaw, spokesman for the National Funeral Directors Association
"There seems to be a market," he said. "They certainly found a niche to fill."
Funeraria Y Crematorio Porta Coeli, another funeral home in Osceola that markets to Hispanics, has all-night visitation rooms and a large kitchen for families who bring food. Funeraria Y Crematorio Porta Coeli held services for its first year and a half at Osceola Memory Gardens and now has its own building in Buenaventura Lakes.
The two owners of Osceola Memory Gardens are part owners in Funeraria Y Crematorio Porta Coeli.
Lowery said another reason customers gravitate to Hispanic funeral homes is because they feel more comfortable in a Spanish-speaking environment. Funeraria Y Crematorio Porta Coeli employees must be bilingual, said Michael Eddy, one of the owners.\ When they are able to speak in their native language, it brings comfort to grieving families, Walkinshaw said.
"I think it's not only the culture; it's being accommodated at the time of the death," he said. "It's really a comfort level if you can go to someone who is like you."
It doesn't matter to Hispanics who owns the funeral home, as long as they understand and appreciate the culture, Eddy said. Non-Hispanics own Funeraria Y Crematorio Porta Coeli, and only one of Healy's two partners is Hispanic.
Another funeral home that targets Hispanics is A Community Funeral Home & Sunset Cremations. It has two locations in Orange County. Hispanic co-owner Eduardo Bori, who has a non-Hispanic partner, said there was no sense in limiting business, so a name was picked to appeal to all groups.
"It's a big risk you take if you just have that [a Hispanic] name -- you might be eliminating other families," Bori said. He has a sign outside the Orange Avenue funeral home that reads "Funeraria Hispana," to show Hispanics he is ready to serve them. A similar sign is in the works for the other home, on Michigan Street.
Healy, who is chairman of the Hispanic Business Council of the Kissimmee/Osceola Chamber of Commerce, said the biggest part of his job is making sure families are comfortable throughout the grieving process.
He remembers the sister of an elderly Puerto Rican woman who had spent a long night mourning. The woman spent the entire night in the chapel but eventually took a break to sample the meat pastries that were available for mourners. After she tasted the pastries, she turned to Healy and told him she finally felt like she was at home in Puerto Rico.
"When someone says something like that to you, then we have achieved our goal," he said.