Mexicans in NYC Demand Accountability for Missing Students

Protestors in front of the Mexican Consulate on Oct. 22 (Photo by Pamela Granda for Voices of NY)

Protestors in front of the Mexican Consulate on Oct. 22 (Photo by Pamela Granda for Voices of NY)

Torrential rain did not stop a group of outraged protesters from gathering outside the Mexican consulate in New York City on Wednesday evening. Struggling to keep their candles lit and holding up soggy posters, they all chanted in unison: Vivos se los llevaron, vivos los queremos.

Alive they took them, alive we want them back.

They were referring to the 43 student teachers who went missing after a clash with the police at a political event on Sept. 26 in Mexico. Details surrounding the incident remain unconfirmed. However, The New York Times has reported that the students were detained by police officers in the city of Iguala as ordered by the mayor and his wife, whose family is said to be part of the gang “Guerreros Unidos” (United Warriors).

The mayor, his wife and several police officers have since disappeared. On Thursday, the governor of Guerrero, the state in which Iguala is located, resigned.

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has said that the state needs to take responsibility [link in Spanish] for what happened. There is no indication that the federal government will take part of the investigation.

“The federal government needs to get involved and clear up what has happened. The mayor and police are gone and they need to show up and be punished,” said Joel Magallan, executive director of Asociación Tepeyac of New York. “We need to keep international pressure so the same thing doesn’t happen in other Mexican communities.”

Tepeyac, a nonprofit based in New York, initiated Wednesday’s protest and joined other groups who want to raise awareness about what is happening in Mexico. Magallan said that while they do not expect the consulate to do anything as it is a representative of the government, international solidarity will keep the pressure on.

He stressed the critical role social media has played in delivering accurate accounts of the events, both domestically and abroad. And it was through social media that protesters, many of whom were not from Guerrero, found out about Wednesday’s protest.

One of them was Claudia Rea, a 27-year-old from the state of Jalisco, who learned of the protest through the Facebook group, “Mexicanos en la Ciudad de Nueva York” (Mexicans in New York City).

“I’m outraged. Even though we’re not in Mexico, we know what’s happening,” said Rea. “I came out here to make some noise.”

Professor Daniel R. Fernandez, acting director of the Mexican Studies Institute at CUNY, said that he has seen a great amount of involvement from young people in New York City, who have been following the events through forums and Facebook.

“It’s important that demonstrations like these are happening here. The youth should voice their discontent and they have the tools to do it,” said Fernandez. “But it’s important to remember that the narcos are using it in the same way.”

Indeed, the cartels have used platforms like YouTube to publicize executions of civilians. Just last week, The Daily Beast reported that when a cartel found out that a woman it had kidnapped was a journalist who had been writing about them, they killed her and tweeted her murder through her account.

As for the fact that this event has been largely underreported, Fernandez said that it is because reporters in Mexico live under a government that offers no protection.

“Mexicans are so tired of the violence that one way to cope with it is to ignore it. I don’t know that you can blame them,” he added. “It shocks us because unaccounted kidnappings are unheard of, but there, violence is so perverted and it just keeps going up.”

Meanwhile, in New York, members of the Mexican community say that they will remain active until someone is held accountable for the students’ disappearances. One of them is Moisés Castrejan. Although the 13-year-old has never been to Mexico, he was part of the group protesting in front of the consulate. His mother is from Iguala.

“I came here to demand action for the student teachers who went missing because we need to be heard,” he said.

“My mom told me there was never violence there when she grew up, so why now? When I go there, I want to be able to go to a place where I will want to return.”

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