UC Berkeley students, faculty rally to raise awareness of missing Mexican students

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About 70 UC Berkeley students and faculty members rallied at Sather Gate on Friday to raise awareness of the disappearances of students from a Mexican teacher’s college in Ayotzinapa, in the southern state of Guerrero.

Forty-three student-teachers from the school, which is known for its radicalism, were reported missing in late September after being arrested by authorities for protesting against recent violence in the area.

Campus protesters say the disappearances are fueling both a domestic and international movement condemning the violence and corruption of the Mexican government.

“I think this is a turning point for the country,” said Ivonne del Valle, an associate professor in the department of Spanish and Portuguese and a rally organizer. “We need to keep international pressure high. It seems like the country can’t take a turn for the worse, but it could. We want to say that this is it. We have reached the limit.”

A week after the students were declared missing, 28 burned bodies were found in a mass grave near the city of Iguala, located about 70 miles from the capital of Guerrero. The bodies have yet to be identified.

According to David Lemus, a UC Berkeley junior who was at the rally, individuals in Mexico who act against the government are in danger of facing the same fate as the missing students.

“(The disappearances) are a message that the Mexican government is sending to people,” Lemus said.

Protesters read aloud a list of all 43 missing students, following each name with “ausente,” the Spanish word for “absent.” Rally leaders also read a letter written by professors and students from various U.S. colleges, including UC Berkeley, denouncing the Mexican government’s lack of transparency.

“(Transparency) may seem like a small step in dealing with these cases, but it would in fact be a big step,” said Estelle Tarica, associate professor in the department of Spanish and Portuguese who was at the rally.

While the movement has gained momentum in Mexico and Latin America, many people in the United States are unaware of the nation’s recent turmoil, according to Richard Grijalva, a graduate student in the rhetoric department and a rally organizer.

“No one has spoken up about it at Cal,” Grijalva said. “We are supposed to be a school that prides itself on activism.”

International media coverage of Mexico’s political turbulence has been limited, according to Roberto Lovato, a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley’s Center for Latino Policy Research who spoke at the rally.

The U.S. government also has a history of providing the Mexican government with arms and training for security forces, Lovato said.

“Something smells really awful, not just in Mexico, but in the U.S. capital,” Lovato said, adding that the current situation is an “abysmal cheapening of human life.”

Contact Adrienne Shih at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @adrienneshih.