In Chicago, a vigil for missing students in Mexico

In Chicago, a vigil for missing students in Mexico
Photo by Teresa Puente

The disappearance and possible murder of 43 students last month in Mexico has resonated in Chicago’s Mexican community.

Around 100 people gathered for a vigil Friday night in Pilsen to call attention to the disappearance of the students and also the discovery of mass graves in Mexico.

“Every day is a day of death in Mexico,” said Almairis Montes, 36, a community activist who spoke at the vigil.

She has relatives in the southern Mexican state, Guerrero, where the students disappeared.

According to authorities, police in Iguala, Mexico, shot at buses carrying the students. They were then handed over to police officers in another town and the police turned the students over to a drug gang.

They have not been found but several mass graves and 28 bodies were discovered. However, Mexico’s attorney general said the students were not in the graves found.

But who is in those graves?

The Mexican public does not trust their government is telling the truth about what happened to the students. People in Mexico are angry and frustrated and took to the streets for protests and even threw stones and smashed windows at the attorney general’s office this week. Mexico's President Enrique Peña Nieto does not like to speak about the violence in his country but was pressured to do so after the students' disappearance.

So far around three dozen police officers and more than two dozen cartel members, including the head of a local cartel, have been arrested.

It is estimated that more than 100,000 people have been killed or disappeared in Mexico’s drug war since 2006 and many of them are innocent. Guerrero is a state that has been hit hard by the drug war.

The community in Chicago wants the Mexican government to be held accountable.

Montes, who also has lived in Guerrero, said the problem runs deeper than just the latest disappearance.

“There are women disappeared. Business that have been shut down,” she said.

She said the people have to speak out.

“If nobody says nothing, everything stays the same,” she said.

Tonatiuh Ayala, 47, a carpenter originally from Mexico City, also spoke at the protest.

“There have been too many murders, too many executions. Why have we waited until now to protest?” he said.

The U.S. government and the international community also should hold Mexico accountable.

“This isn’t a war against the narcos,” Ayala said. “This is a war against the people.”

What happens in Mexico matters to the U.S. and not just because we have a large Mexican community here.

If Americans did not consume drugs, the cartels would not profit and kill often in collusion with corrupt police and government officials. And illegal guns from the U.S. fuel the cartels.

At the vigil in Pilsen protesters chanted.

“Vivo se los llevaron.
Vivo los queremos.”

“Alive, they were taken.
Alive, we want them back.”

They read out loud the names of each of the 43 missing students. And then in an act of performance art two masked men made a sculpture humanizing the disappeared.

“We can’t forget they are people. And they are going to keep discovering mass graves,” Ayala said.

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