A group of about 60 UC Berkeley students attended an event Friday at Sather Gate to honor the anniversary of the disappearance of 43 Mexican students.
The Mexican students, who attended a college in Ayotzinapa, Mexico, were apprehended Sept. 26, 2014, by police. Although the Mexican government said the students were then turned over to a local drug cartel, which burned their bodies in a nearby landfill, independent human rights experts have said there is no evidence to support the government’s claims.
The event, organized by student group Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano/Xicana de Aztlan, aimed to bring awareness to the disappearances.
Participants stood in an arc around 43 chairs, each of which bore the face of one of the missing students. Behind the chairs, two students stood holding a red banner calling for “Ayotzinapa Justicia,” or justice for Ayotzinapa. To their left, students held another banner, which proclaimed, “La Lucha Sigue,” meaning “the fight continues.” Others held posters and signs covered with dates and statistics about this and other recent disappearances in Mexico.
“(The kidnapping) is an issue that really affects me,” said Jacob Fuentes, a UC Berkeley freshman who attended the event and has family in Mexico. “It could have been my family members.” He added that the event made him feel empowered and made him think about the power that the voices of students can have.
During the event, several speakers addressed a ring of onlookers, leading chants and calling the student body to action. One of the speakers urged students to “keep in mind (that) there’s so many people around the world … who are not getting an education and who are not as privileged as we are, so we should all be standing up for what is right, in our prayers and in our minds.”
Speeches were followed by a moment of silence for the missing students. The event concluded after event organizer and campus sophomore Ismael Chamu called the names of each missing student as if he were calling role, while onlookers answered “presente” in unison.
“I feel like it’s very important to spread awareness, for people to learn about what’s going on outside of their communities,” Chamu said. “We as students at UC Berkeley have the power to influence real life politics.”
Christopher Lopez, a UC Berkeley senior who also helped organize Friday’s event, said student involvement should continue beyond the event. He mentioned that a next step could be drafting a letter to UC faculty and Chancellor Nicholas Dirks to ask for their support in denouncing the Mexican government’s lack of transparency in dealing with the Ayotzinapa case.
According to Lopez, the next campus event regarding the missing students will be a screening this Friday of the documentary “Ayotzinapa: Chronicle of a State Crime.”