The fate of the 43 students who disappeared from a school in Ayotzinapa in the Mexican state of Guerrero amid protests for education reform has been unknown for over a month. As protests in their names have grown against the Mexican government and cartels, students at Knox have rallied in solidarity. For some, the cause hits close to their own lives.
On Wednesday, Nov. 5, students from M.E.Ch.A. and Lo Nuestro voiced solidarity for the students missing from Ayotzinapa. According to representatives from the two clubs, somewhere between 20 and 40 students wore signs, attached to their shirts or book bags, that were emailed out to members of the campus demanding justice for the disappeared students. A crucial element of these signs was the hashtag for the town “JusticeForAyotzinapa”, which has been used by protesters and activists to draw attention to the issue.
Junior Yesica Rodriguez has a personal connection to violence taking place. Her hometown is located near the spot of the disappearances. “It was really frustrating to know that stuff’s happening so close to home. Like I’ve had bad personal experiences with the drug cartels in Mexico … It’s hard to think nothing has changed in the three, or four or five years that the war with the cartel has been happening.”
Although Mayor Jose Luis Abarca and his wife Maria de los Angeles Pineda have recently been taken into custody by Mexican authorities, questions still remain surrounding the whereabouts of the 43 missing students. While authorities point to the multiple mass graves that have been found with burned human remains, many do not believe the claims from those in power that those bodies actually belong to the missing students. Last Friday, men in masks claiming to be cartel members took responsibility for killing the students, under orders from the now deposed mayor. Thus far, none of the graves have had any physical evidence of the students.
Senior Michael Cooke learned of the depth of the tragedies surrounding Ayotzinapa when his professor, Claudia Fernández of the Modern Languages-Spanish department, decided to dedicate the first part of a class to explaining the associated problems in Mexico.
“I felt that since Lo Nuestro also serves as the Latino voice on campus traditionally, as well as M.E.Ch.A., then it makes sense if we join the work together,” Cooke said, commenting on Lo Nuestro’s decision to join forces for the solidarity movement.
Senior Araceli Salgado mentioned her aunt in Mexico, who wants to move to the United States to get away from the corruption and violence facing the region. In this regard, Salgado cited the need for more people to be aware of the situation and why she chose be involved in the demonstration. “We were a source of voice for those who don’t have the opportunity to [speak],” she said.
The main goal of the two groups was to raise awareness for the injustices taking place in Mexico. Connecting social media to the campaign was seen as a crucial aspect for getting the word out.
The students wearing the signs were able to have a more traditional effect on the spread of information as well. Sophomore Karina Martinez was given the opportunity to speak to her Spanish class on the importance of Ayotzinapa when Associate Professor and Chair of Modern Languages Jessie Dixon noticed her sign. This resulted in two more students joining the solidarity movement.
Ultimately, the solidarity movement on campus was for the families of the victims cartel violence, like that experianced in Ayotzinapa.
“What if [the disappearances] were to happen in the United States? … We would be having answers right away. More than one month later still no answers,” said Salagdo.
As protests continue to escalate, having already reached Mexico City demanding answers and justice, M.E.Ch.A. and Lo Nuestro hope to continue to spread awareness for Ayotzinapa and the larger problem of the cartel’s influence in Mexican governance. The groups hope to hold a candlelight vigil for the victims of Ayotzinapa before the term ends.