UC Berkeley students hold candlelight vigil to honor those affected by natural disasters in Latin America

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Yukun Zhang/Staff

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Several campus students held a candlelight vigil in front of Sather Gate on Thursday night to honor those affected by the recent series of natural disasters in Latin America.

The vigil, which began about 6 p.m., garnered a crowd of nearly 70 people at its peak and provided support and solidarity for people affected by both the 7.1 magnitude earthquake in Mexico and the Category 4 hurricane in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. Students put up posters on Sather Gate with different forms of fundraising, including websites, a phone number and a Venmo account.

At the beginning of the event, the organizers emphasized that they hoped to build a community with and provide support for each other, and many of the speakers at the vigil spoke to the crowd in Spanish. People at the vigil placed candles on the ground beside the flag of Mexico. Others also taped the flags of Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and the British Virgin Islands to the right pillar on Sather Gate around the words “In memory of.”

Many of the organizers said they were trying to avoid donating to larger fundraising corporations, as the money does not always get distributed evenly to those in need.

“Historically, we donate to a cause and the money never gets to the poor people. … We want to reach the poor towns,” said Ivette Martinez, a campus senior and an event organizer. “Our next step is … reaching out to the organizations that are on campus.”

One of the fundraisers that was promoted on the posters at the vigil is led by the Mexican Association of Students at Berkeley, or MEXASB, for relief after the earthquake in Mexico. The promoted fundraiser is on YouCaring, but MEXASB is also hosting another relief fundraiser for the Mexico earthquake on GoFundMe. Both MEXASB fundraisers have raised $6,402 as of press time.

Another fundraiser that was promoted at the vigil is a relief fund for Puerto Rico after multiple hurricanes tore through the island. People at the vigil also promoted one fundraiser dedicated to Chiapas, a southern state of Mexico that was affected by the earthquake.

According to the event organizers, members of multiple campus organizations, as well as some students unaffiliated with any organization, all helped organize the vigil.

“We wanted to have a space for those who are trying to figure out what is going on in the world … to have a space of healing and to pay honor to those who’ve passed away,” said Andy Cabrera, a campus senior and an event organizer.

About half an hour into the event, Teokalli, a local community Indigenous dance group, approached the crowd. A wide circle formed around the group as others viewed the dance. The dance, or “danza,” was a ritual dedicated to those who have been lost in the earthquakes and hurricanes. Members of the audience also burned medicinal herbs and sage.

The posters from the vigil were left up after the crowd left about 7:30 p.m.

“I was born and raised in Mexico, so I have a lot of family (there) — not where the earthquake happened, but it’s my homeland,” said campus junior Carolina Mundo, who attended the vigil. “I knew a lot of people were going to be here. … It’s a time to reflect.”

Contact Sakura Cannestra at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @SakuCannestra.