September 26, 2015…the first anniversary of the murder of 3 students and the disappearance of 43 students from the teachers college in Ayotzinapa, here in the state of Guerrero. Everyone knows that police, military, government, and drug gangs were involved in the affair—but everyone also knows that truth and justice are not common commodities here in this state and this country. And family members of those 43 students are no closer to knowing the whereabouts of their loved ones than they were one year ago.
|The school shield for the teachers college in Ayotzinapa|
Here in Tlapa, the Tlachinollan Human Rights Center of the Mountain (a group supported by Mission Mexico) is the legal counsel for the families of the disappeared students. To commemorate this first anniversary of the disappearances, they called for a five-kilometer “pilgrimage” from the diocesan seminary outside Tlapa to the zócalo (main square) of the city of Tlapa and then to a Mass at the cathedral of Tlapa.
|Photos of the 43 disappeared young men who dreamed of being teachers|
Most of the parents of the 43 disappeared students were in Mexico City today for a national event. But one mother—Calixta Valerio—from the village of Monte Alegre (where I happen to be invited to dinner next Sunday) was present, and she led the pilgrimage. Her eighteen-year-old son, Mauricio Ortega Valerio, is one of the forty-three disappeared students. Her husband, Eleucadio Ortega, is one of the most outspoken leaders of the family members of these disappeared students.
|Mauricio's mother, Calixta (in blue), leading the "pilgrimage (Photo by "Colectivo el Grito")|
The pilgrimage also involved family members of Antonio Vivar Diaz, a young man who was about to graduate here from a university in Tlapa with a degree in integral community development. He was very involved in solidarity with the families of the 43 disappeared students, and he was killed by federal police here in Tlapa on June 6, 2015. Antonio’s parents, wife and eleven-month-old son, and brother and sisters continue to seek truth and justice for this death.
|Antonio Vivar Diaz—killed by police on the night of June 6, 2015|
I suspect (I hope) that even newspapers in Canada will report on this first-year anniversary of just one of Mexico’s many forced disappearances. In a recent report given by Amnesty International, they placed the number of forced disappearances in Mexico since 2007 at about 25,000.
|"Pilgrimage" arriving in Tlapa today (Photo by "Colectivo el Grito")|
For those who are unsure about just what a “forced disappearance” is—and if this is not a part of your everyday life, I hope you feel grateful—Wikipedia gives the following definition: In international human rights law, a forced disappearance occurs when a person is secretly abducted or imprisoned by a state or political organization or by a third party with the authorization, support, or acquiescence of a state or political organization, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the person's fate and whereabouts, with the intent of placing the victim outside the protection of the law. Can most Canadians even imagine what it is like to live in a society where "forced disappearance" is an ever-present threat?
|Speeches in front of "city hall" in Tlapa|
Here in Guerrero the struggle will continue. “Ayotzinapa,” the location of the teachers college where the 43 disappeared studied, means in the native Nahuatl language “place of turtles” (you can see a turtle in the school shield in the first photo of this blog). I read the following comment on a website: Consider the qualities of turtles: tough and enduring, watchful, tidy, quiet and dignified, purposeful, respectful and gentle. Turtles keep trying, plan ahead, love their home territory and are smart. That describes the moms and dads, sisters and brothers, wives and children, grandmothers and grandfathers of these 43 disappeared students. And it describes the hundreds and thousands and millions of others who accompany them in their struggle for truth and justice—and for the simple answer to the anguished question, “Where are they?” "Alive they took them away; alive we want them back!"
|Wearing a sombrero with "43" on it is not only a humbling experience—it's a commitment|