Wash. U. students hold vigil for the 43 students kidnapped in Mexico
Students gathered Thursday night to remember and raise awareness for 43 students from the Raul Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers’ College of Ayotzinapa who were kidnapped by local police and are now missing.
The missing students, along with others dead or wounded, were on their way to a protest in late September. On the way to the demonstration, they were intercepted by police and a shootout took place. Police arrested a number of the students and then reportedly handed them over to a local gang. Mass graves have since been found, and the identity of the remains has been called into question. Many people believe the bodies are the students’, but the families still demand that their children be returned to them alive.
Washington University students organized a vigil in the Center for Diversity and Inclusion to bring together those concerned about the disappearances and upset by the Mexican government’s actions. The organizers said they hoped to raise awareness about the students’ disappearance and show solidarity with them.
“They were students. They were our age. In another context, it could have been us. They were protesting for what they believed in,” sophomore Bradley Schlesinger, one of the five who organized the event, said.
At the event, sheets of paper with the missing students’ faces and quotes from family members hung along the walls. The phrase “iVivos Los Queremos!” or “We want them alive!” was plastered under their faces along with information about the missing students. People were encouraged to walk around and read the quotes.
The vigil itself began with a reading of the 43 students’ names. The five organizers of the event then read poems written by poets affected by the protests, many of which mourned the disappearance or criticized the Mexican government’s actions.
A moment of silence was held after the poetry readings, after which attendees were given the opportunity to speak about the issue. Those who spoke mentioned their gratitude for the fact that so many people came to the vigil, discussed the ways in which they were directly affected by the events occurring in Mexico, or pointed out ways that events like these should help change views on justice and appropriate action in these situations.
Graduate student Pablo Zavala said he felt the attendance at the vigil demonstrated that people cared enough about the students’ disappearance to take time out of their busy schedules to speak out against it.
“Now St. Louis can be included in places that are protesting and that know about it and that are going to stand for it. This also helps work against the Mexican state’s narrative—that it’s only…the people that don’t have anything to do that are protesting, people who don’t have work or a job or aren’t students,” Zavala said.
Graduate student Miguel Vazquez attended the vigil to show his disapproval of the government, which he felt should be working to help and support its citizens.
“The disappearance of 43 students is something very big. I mean, that shouldn’t happen in any country in the world at this time we all live in, the 21st century. So I came here essentially to show support that I disagree with the way that the government is treating the people,” Vazquez said.
As a long-term goal, the five organizers—Schlesinger, junior Stephanie Aria, senior Isabel Gloria, sophomore Alejandro Martinez and senior Dante Migone—wish to pressure Washington University into condemning the Mexican state’s actions and defending students’ rights to protest.
“Having the University condemn the killings I think is a goal because before we had planned the vigil, I hadn’t really heard any dialogues or discussions about the things that happen in Mexico on campus. I felt like that was something missing. I felt like we should be doing something and then I reached out to my friends and that was how this all happened,” Schlesinger said.
Meanwhile, hashtags such as #Ayotzinapa, #FuelElEstado and #YaMeCanse are being used by protestors around the world against the Mexican government and its actions in Iguala. Students at Washington University hope to expand that brand of activism to St. Louis.
The organizers hope to continue raising awareness of the disappearances by holding a panel discussion with faculty members, including Ignacio Sanchez Prado, director of undergraduate studies for the Latin American Studies program, and others knowledgeable about the protests before the semester ends.