by Sonny Stephens
Forty-three desks covered Cross Campus on Saturday in recognition of the one-year anniversary of the disappearance of 43 Mexican students of the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College. A candlelit vigil was held that evening, where Yalies stood in solidarity with the disappeared students and called for what organizers described as “memory, truth, and justice for the Missing 43.”
The vigil was the culminating part of a larger-scale event called “Un Año Despues, Ayotzivive” whose goal is to educate students about the incident, call out the Mexican government on its corruption, and address the role U.S. policy plays in the lives of the Mexican people.
It began with a discussion at La Casa Cultural with Professor Michael Reed-Hurtado, a Colombian-American lawyer and journalist. Attendees watched a Vice News documentary about the event, and then listened to Hurtado gave his take on the incident as he answered questions.
“This is undoubtedly a crime of state, and it needs to be investigated as a crime of state,” said Hurtado. “For the victims, it is not sufficient to get the material killers. It is absolutely fundamental to get the answer as to why: why my sons and who ordered [the attack?]”
Following the discussion, the group of listeners marched to the desks at Cross Campus, candles in hand. When they met the crowd at the memorial, they lit more candles and listened to various speakers. Alina Aksiyote, BK ’16, delivered the opening words:
“This is not an isolated incident,” Aksiyote said. “There are disappearances everyday in Mexico.”
The event also featured an opening and closing song by Blue Feather Drum Group, Yale’s American Indian performance group. In solidarity with the students, Blue Feather performed to contribute to the strong sense of intersectionality at the vigil.
Besides demanding answers from the Mexican government, speakers at the event also criticized the United States’ ineffective and passive role in cracking down on violence and corruption in Mexico, citing the problems the U.S. has created by militarizing the conflict.
“I’m ashamed of the violence the U.S. has been sponsoring in Latin America for decades. Considering that the United States has provided the Mexican government with $2.3 billion in security assistance as part of the Merida Initiative – a multi-billion dollar aid package to train and equip Mexican security forces to fight, investigate, and prosecute narcotraffickers – the ‘Mexican Drug War’ is actually a huge misnomer.” Caroline Kuritzkes, ES ’18 said. “The Department of State, Department of Defense, Drug Enforcement Administration, and the CIA are deeply entrenched in Ayotzinapa and the hundreds of other cases that have vanished from historical record.”
The event ended with a final chant, and the pase de lista, or roll call, of the 43 students. During the roll call, students placed candles at each desk for the missing students, in a powerful and emotional conclusion of the vigil. While Yale may be thousands of miles away from Mexico, this memorial helped students realize that todos somos Ayotzinapa.