On Wednesday, students walking through Goldwin Smith Hall were met with two bulletin boards covered with “missing person” fliers — one for each of the 43 students who went missing in Mexico four years ago.
The missing students, who attended a teaching college in Iguala, Mexico, had been part of a group of students who had hijacked buses to attend a demonstration in Mexico City, according to The New York Times. The night they hijacked the buses, police officers “opened fire” on students and took the 43 young men away, according to The Times.
Since the incident on Sept. 26, 2014, one of the missing students was found dead, according to The Times. It was reported that the “official account” is that the students were handed to a “drug gang” and subsequently killed after local police kidnapped them, but The Times notes that this account is “disputed by international experts.”
The fliers posted in Goldwin Smith Hall showed the faces and names of the missing students with the phrases “Vivos se los llevaron” and “Vivos los queremos,” meaning, “They took them alive. We want them back alive.”
Cornell’s chapter of Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlan, an organization that formed as a result of the Chicano movement in the 1960s and that seeks justice for marginalized groups, posted the fliers.
Barbara Cruz ’19, president of MEChA de Cornell, told The Sun in an email that the display aimed to get Cornell students to “pay attention to the issue” of the missing students. The display “worked really well,” she said.
“We were really happy to see lots of people go up to the commemorative display and actually look at the photos, look at the young men, start googling on their phones to find out more information,” she said.
However, Cruz said that an “entertainment student group on campus” had “rip[ped] off” two posters and “place[d] their own poster over our display” on the first day. The group whose poster was posted on the display was The Whistling Shrimp, an improvisational comedy troupe.
Cruz said MEChA de Cornell is “currently in discussions with the entertainment group for a formal apology,” noting that MEChA de Cornell was “really disappointed” in what the group in question had done.
“We at MEChA think this is indicative of a larger trend of thinking one’s organization or event is more important than what is going on in the larger world,” Cruz said. “It was extremely disrespectful, and we wish that that group and any other group that wishes to disrupt commemorations like this reflect on their actions and think about the families that are hurting.”
Josh Katz ’19 and Alex Newman ’20, the heads of The Whistling Shrimp, told The Sun in an email on Monday night that they informed MEChA de Cornell that they are “absolutely appalled with what happened.”
“The Whistling Shrimp is a group that strives to bring more happiness into this world, yet tampering with this commemoration was antithetical to that,” they said. “While one member did this, we take full responsibility for the actions of our members and would like to take this time to formally apologize for the harm that was done.”
Katz and Newman also said they will meet this week “to educate our members about the tragedy of Iguala mass kidnapping” and that the member who “repositioned the fliers” will meet with MEChA de Cornell “to coordinate a formal apology to the organization and the victim’s families.”
“This was done from a place of ignorance, and though there was no malicious intent, it does not excuse the disrespect of the action,” Katz and Newman said.
Cruz told The Sun that MEChA has arranged other actions over the past few years to mark the students’ disappearance. These included a “die-in” in Olin Library, in which students laid on the ground to symbolize a possible fate of the young men, an “open space” for reflection and an event involving the “yelling” of the students’ names and the distribution of fliers on Ho Plaza last year.
This year, she said, MEChA “wanted to do something that would last longer than 30 minutes, that people could not easily ignore as they walked past.”
Mexican President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador will take office on Dec. 1, according to The Times, and Cruz said she hopes he “will make finding the students a top priority.”
“We aren’t particularly hopeful, considering the xenophobic steps that President Obrador is taking against Central American migrants,” Cruz said. “But the families still deserve justice.”