On September 26th, 2014, 43 students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers’ College of Ayotzinapa went missing in Iguala, Mexico.
On November 20th, people of Vancouver’s Mexican diaspora and allied community members took to the streets to protest the lack of government response to the fact that these students plus over 20,000 more have gone missing in the past 8 years. These students were apparently on their way to hold a protest against discriminatory funding and hiring practises by the Mexican government. They were intercepted on their journey by local police and confronted. They were later turned over to the Guerreros Unidos (United Warriors), a local drug cartel, and most likely killed.
These atrocious acts of censorship and abuse of institutional and political power mirror the recent Burnaby Mountain protests and the acquittal of Darren Wilson. There are clearly many layers of injustice here; why has there been so little investigation on the whereabouts of these 43 students? Why is police brutality still so prevalent when they are meant to protect us? Why does the Canadian government still consider Mexico a “safe country” for refugees? Why have so few Vancouver publications reported on the protests that happened in the heart of Downtown?
“What if 43 UBC students went missing at the hands of police? This week Vancouver held local elections. But democracy does not exist when you can’t hold your government accountable. This is what the students of Ayotzinapa were doing. They were studying to become rural teachers and their biggest crime was being young, poor and idealistic.” – No One is Illegal
UBC students, Alejandro Dounce and Bernado Garcia Espinosa, who both originate from Mexico participated in Thursday’s protest and shared their experiences with The Talon.
On the structure of the protest:
“It worked like a forum, where protesters were able to take up a microphone and speak to the rest of us about what troubled them; their reflections, and/or calls for action. One of the more outspoken protesters mentioned that Enrique Peña Nieto – the Mexican president – started taking the Ayotzinapa issue seriously only after the outrage started going global.”
“The importance of protesting from Vancouver is to show solidarity with our people back home and to show the government that those of us who make up the international Mexican community are not happy with what is going on. It gives a global dimension to our plight, and protesting from outside the country, to some extent, allows us to denounce the state crimes of our government in an international stage.”
“On November 20th, 237 marches in solidarity took place around the entire world, including in Mexican cities.”
“It starts with the Mexicans that are scattered around the globe and little by little it trickles out to people who don’t necessarily have ties to the country. The BC Teachers’ Federation was present at the protest, and the president spoke out against the state crime, declared the union as standing in solidarity with our movement, and called for the Canadian government to denounce what was happening in Mexico. One of the best things we could ask for is official international pressure on the president.”
“We’re in a privileged position where we’re largely unaffected by the day to day corruption and injustices that occur in Mexico so, in a way, we owe it to the people back home who face that on a daily basis to spark a worldwide conversation about what is happening in our country. This is the value of solidarity.”
“The thing that made me the happiest was seeing the union of Mexicans united all around the world. There were pictures of the protests in Mexico City showing all sorts of backgrounds, ethnicities, ages, roles, etc. marching against Peña. Learning that Mexicans stood up in Mexico City, in Paris, in Vancouver, in Cancun and so on is a very touching; unity bound by our culture and against a single cause – our clear inconformity with the way things are being run.”
“We had a shift in government on 2012. From 1929 to 2000, we were governed by a political party called PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party). In 2000, the first president from a different party – PAN (National Action Party) – was elected. In 2006, the second PAN President declared a ‘war on drugs’ that has led to massive casualties. People weren’t happy about the insecurity that developed, and so in 2012 we went back to PRI. One of the most important points Peña tried to make while he ran for office, was that he was less about fighting drug cartels and more about empowering the economy and ensuring Mexico became a world leader.”
“That background considered, it doesn’t come as a surprise that Peña would’ve paid more attention to Ayotzinapa if the image of a stable Mexico, a Mexico that’s attractive to foreign investors, that he is trying to present to other countries is being soiled by protests happening around the world.”
“In Mexico the media is largely influenced by political affiliations, and only 30% of the population has access to the internet. So for large, large sectors, television and newspapers are their only source of information. Many still believe Peña was able to win thanks to catering to lower economic sectors, far more unaware of the day to the day news regarding corruption, or more details over the shady backgrounds of his party. So, even if a vast majority of the internet world is clearly against Peña, there’s a lot of work left to be done. We want to inform voters, get the information to other Mexicans.”
On continuing struggles:
“One of my close friends in their 20s was unhappy with the state of affairs and wanted to go to one of the three protests that took place yesterday in Mexico City. But she kept second guessing herself because of how the government might respond to what were supposed to be peaceful protests. Excessive use of force or unprovoked violence by police, soldiers passing off as civilians and inciting violent outbursts and so on… she, and some other friends, were afraid of what might happen.”
On geographic privilege:
“We didn’t have to be afraid of how the government [in Vancouver] would respond, of how brutal police might be with us for expressing our dissatisfaction with the Mexican government. In a sense, being in a city outside the country gives us a safety blanket that people back home didn’t have when they took to the streets. And, I think, this is the bare minimum we could do to support the people in Mexico who protest despite any fear they might have and any repercussions they might end up enduring.”
“I think the most important thing for me was always exposure. Social media has become the ground for the movement to take off. Students have been the most active members to push this forward, to speak up, to criticize and the reaction that pushes other members to hop in.”
“So, social media has served hugely as the way for this whole “movement” to take off. Students and protesters have coordinated through Facebook, spoken up on Twitter, shared pictures in Instagram. In that sense not only is participating from here our way of showing solidarity and taking an active role, it’s a way of trying to give exposure to the movement.”