43 chairs for 43 missing students. This past Monday, Sept. 26, USF student organization Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (MEChA) stood in solidarity for the second year in a row with the students kidnapped in Mexico back in 2014. Empty chairs, each decorated with an illustration of one of the missing students, sat along the path in front of Kalmanovitz Hall to commemorate their unlawful kidnappings and murders.
President of MEChA’s chapter at USF, and senior sociology and critical diversity studies major, Vanessa Guitron said “The reason why we set [up the remembrance] was to commemorate the lives who have gone missing at the hands of state produced violence,”
Two years ago to the day, a group of 57 university students departed their town of Ayotzinapa, in the Mexican state of Guerrero, commandeering several buses for a trip that would have taken them to Mexico City. It was there, on Oct. 2, that they were to participate in celebrations commemorating the anniversary of the Tlatelolco Massacre. The massacre, which occurred in the midst of the Mexican Student Movement of 1968 and just days prior to the 1968 Summer Olympics, saw the death of an estimated 30 to 300 students and civilians by military and police, with an additional 1,345 arrested.
The group never made it to Mexico City but at some point 14 of the 57 students who embarked on the trip were able to leave the group and their accounts of what occurred conflicted heavily to police reports. A revolution unraveled following initial speculation of tampering by law enforcement. Demand for clarity has led to an extensive review of witness accounts and evidence that have led to the arrest of over 80 suspects connected to the crime, 44 of them being police officers.
The story garnered international attention and led to demonstrations across the world in support for those affected by the disappearances. Much of that had to do with the strong presence of topics relating to the kidnaping on social media, with the hashtags #YaMeCanse (“Im Tired of It”), #AyotzinapaSomosTodos (“We Are All Ayotzinapa”), and #HastaEncontrarlos (“Until We Find Them”) appearing heavily in the trending section of Twitter.
Two years after, those same hashtags have become de facto slogans for a movement that not only seeks justice for the disappeared, but justice against state-sponsored violence. ‘Ayotzinapa Somos Todos’ appeared on USF’s campus last year when MEChA held a candle lit vigil in honor of the first anniversary of the kidnappings.
Guitron conceived the idea of empty chairs holding illustrations by pulling inspiration from vigils in Mexico that had photos and candles placed on top of school desks. “I think it’s so easy for us to forget what’s going on in the world and I believe it’s important for us to be tied to our community, and not just in a US context but a global context,” said Guitron about the significance of USF’s participation in such an event.
One of the reasons MEChA decided to acknowledge the second anniversary of the kidnapping was partly due to the fact that Mexican authorities have not yet found the remains of 41 of the 43 disappeared students, but for the most part, MEChA just wanted people to pay attention and never forget. “By putting the chairs it’s a way to remember them, and have people reminded that this happened,” said Guitron, who would like to see the demonstration continue into next year, and potentially even beyond.
Sonia Hurtado, senior sociology major and MEChA’s vice president, said the disappearance of the 43 hits close to home for her considering the similarities she, as a student, shared with the disappeared. “They were our age, what they wanted was the same things that we want as advocates in MEChA and also just as students, trying to navigate higher education and trying to become future educators,” said Hurtado, whose feelings were mirrored by Guitron. “I like to see myself as a social justice advocate […] and those 43 students were also social justice advocates, fighting for their basic essentials and rights, and to know that people who do [the same thing as me] are being persecuted for those actions is both eye opening and scary,” said Guitron.
PHOTO CREDIT: RACQUEL GONZALES/FOGHORN