Ayotzinapa comes to New York City

April 30, 2015

Hannah Fleury reports on the New York stop of a caravan for the missing students.

HUNDREDS OF protesters came together in New York City on April 25-26 at a series of events and marches to commemorate seven months since 43 students from Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers' College of Ayotzinapa, Mexico, were abducted from their bus caravan by municipal police.

The struggle to find the 43 students organized the delegation of parents of the missing students, who traveled through the U.S. to share their story. Caravan 43 traveled to more than 43 cities along three separate tours in the West, Central and Eastern regions of the country, finally culminating for the week of April 22-28 in a gathering in New York City of all the forces to meet with human rights representatives at the United Nations.

The parents of the missing students spread the word about their three demands for their movement:

-- The return of the 43 missing "normalista" students, alive. The parents have rejected the government's closure of the case and demand answers about where their loved ones are.

No to the elections. Parents are calling for the cancellation of upcoming elections in their home state of Guerrero due to the excessive corruption of the electoral and party systems in Mexico. They are also calling for the resignation of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.

Stop Plan Merida (Plan Mexico). The parents place the blame on Plan Merida, dubbed "Plan Mexico" by critics, for the economic devastation, 27,000 disappeared and 100,000-plus deaths in Mexico since its implementation in 2007.

The Ayotzinapa caravan in New York City
The Ayotzinapa caravan in New York City (Queens ISO)

In addition to these three main demands, parents had 10 talking points that were part of the message they brought to audiences during the caravan.

In their journey to different cities, they aimed to pressure the U.S. government to halt its funding to Mexico and support their demands. During their visit, they met with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) and prompted the Austin City Council to pass a resolution in support of their demands for an independent investigation of the students' disappearance.

At the United Nations, the parents participated in the 14th session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, where they called on the forum "to address the issue of the forced disappearance of the 43 Normalista students."

DURING THEIR week in New York, the families of Ayotzinapa's disappeared also took part in rallies and forums in neighborhoods with a dense Mexican and Latino population, such as Sunset Park, Washington Heights, Harlem and Jackson Heights/Corona. They participated in a Truth Tribunal organized by the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and a community forum at the Teacher's College of Columbia.

Throughout the week, a main priority for family members and organizers was to connect with and encourage solidarity from immigrant, Black and Latino communities as well as with students and teachers in the U.S. who are fighting similar struggles against neoliberalism and education reforms.

On April 25, approximately 80 people came out to rally in Corona, an immigrant neighborhood in Queens, and then march to neighboring Jackson Heights along Roosevelt Avenue, one of the neighborhood's major arteries.

Protesters drew connections between police brutality in Mexico and in the U.S. Members of the Caravan originating in Ayotzinapa and solidarity activists from California participated alongside local community members. That evening, more than 100 people packed a Jackson Heights church to hear the testimonies of three family members of the missing normalistas alongside two family members of victims of NYPD murder.

Maria de Jesus, the mother of Eduardo Barolo Tlatempa, talked about how her family of poor campesinos had been proud of her son's achievement of attending university to become a teacher. They saw it as a privilege to have their son in the school. She spoke about how her family relies on the government because their hard work isn't enough to survive and how she couldn't have ever imagined that this would happen.

But starting on September 26, 2014, her family's life was turned into a nightmare. She stressed how outraged she was when the government tried to slander the 43 students after disappearing them, claiming they were involved in organized crime. "It was very sad to see the government lie and lie and lie," she said.

The theme of impunity was a recurring one throughout the testimonies. Several of the speakers, both from Mexico and New York City, pointed out that the government won't hold the responsible police accountable because they are part of the same institution.

"It's useless to make pleas to the system. We actually have to unite and tear the system down ourselves," said Nicholas Heyward Sr., whose 13-year-old son was killed by a rookie cop in 1994.

"No amount of money will stop me from demanding justice for my aunt and all the other families dealing with [police violence] in this country," said Cynthia Howell, the niece of Alberta Spruill, who died of a heart attack following a no-knock warrant raid on her apartment, in which the broke down her door and threw a concussion grenade in her living room as she was getting ready to go to work. The police later admitted they were acting on bad information.

"It is very important for me to be here with these families who have struggled and share that pain and the fight," Howell concluded. "We will continue to fight because they will kill us one way or another."

The meeting highlighted some of the similarities in the demands of the struggles of the people of Mexico and the U.S.--more schools instead of militarization, transparency, and, of course, justice for victims of police violence. As Anayelli Guerrero de la Cruz, the sister Joshivani Guerrero de la Cruz, said, "It's very important for us to know that the people in this country are supporting us, that we are not alone."

THE FOLLOWING day on April 26, more than 800 activists marched energetically and boisterously in solidarity with the 43 disappeared students. The march commemorating seven months since their disappearance began in Washington Square Park and traveled over 40 blocks to the United Nations.

Parents and family members of the disappeared students led the march, demanding, "Vivos se los llevaron, Vivos los Queremos" (They took them alive, We want them back alive).

Police initially attempted to keep demonstrators on the sidewalk, but activists were determined to maneuver their way onto the streets. From 9th Street to 42nd Street, traffic was halted along 3rd Avenue as the protesters made their voices heard on the street.

Caravan43 organizers, alongside many other Mexican and Latin American solidarity activists, led the march. Throughout the demonstration, activists counted loudly up to 43 to mark the number of disappeared, ending in a chant of "¡Justicia!"

Activists at the march also made connections with the current battle against the racist police murder of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, chanting, "From Baltimore to Mexico, police brutality has got to go!" This chant among many others rang loudly throughout the streets of the march stopping traffic and getting the attention of pedestrians.

Some other popular chants at the march were, "Ayotzina vive vive, la lucha sigue sigue" (Ayotzinapa lives, the struggle will continue), "Aqui, alla, la lucha seguira" (Here, there, the struggle will continue), "Ayotzi aguanta, el pueblo se levanta" (Ayotzi resist, the people are rising), "La migra, la policia, la misma porqueria" (Immigration, the police, same shit), "¿Porque? Porque nos asesinan? Si somos la esperanza de America Latina" (Why, why do they kill us? If we are the hope of Latin America" and, "¿Quien fue? ¡Fue el Estado!" (Who did it, the State did it!)

"The movement that has coalesced around the families of the 43 is a huge crisis for the Mexican government. This was really the straw that broke the camel's back," said marcher Aurelia Gomez, an assistant professor from Pennsylvania who helped organize a contingent from Philadelphia.

Parents and marchers meeting with representatives of the United Nations on April 27 were determined to continue to build the movement both in Mexico and the U.S.

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