Boris Tsang/Sun Photography Editor

MEChA de Cornell displayed posters of the 43 Mexican students who disappeared five years ago — drawing attention to a still unsolved case that has drawn accusations of corruption and foul play.

September 30, 2019

‘They Were Students Just Like Us’: Cornellians Spotlight Missing Mexican Students On Fifth Anniversary of Their Disappearance

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The faces of 43 Mexican students were plastered on bulletin boards in Goldwin Smith Hall Thursday, giving students a glimpse of the victims of one of Mexico’s largest unsolved political crises.

Just five years ago, 43 Mexican students from Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers College were abducted on their way to a protest commemorating the anniversary of the 1968 Tlatelolco Massacre.

The Mexican government reported that the students were taken by local authorities and killed by the “Guerreros Unidos gang,” but independent investigators and a 2018 U.N report contended that the government fabricated evidence, and the whereabouts of the victims or their remains are still unknown.

This is the history that the e-board of MEChA de Cornell, the student organization responsible for the posters, wants Cornell students to understand.

MEChA, which stands for Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlán, has historically been a political activist group representing students of Mexican descent on high school and university campuses, but in recent years has expanded its mission to include all Latinx people and groups.

The organization placed posters in both Goldwin Smith and Carpenter hall, locations with high student traffic according to Tarcan, with the goal of spreading the student’s stories to as many Cornellians as possible.

“We should all be caring about these missing Mexican students because at the end of the day, they were students just like us,” said Steve Tarcan ‘20, political chair of MEChA.

“If we can just bring about awareness even on this small campus then we’re hoping it could be sort of a domino effect,” said Tarcan. “They can tell their family members they can tell their friends and eventually it’ll spread on and onwards.”

This is the second year that MEChA de Cornell has commemorated the disappearances with posters. Since 2014, the organization has used social media campaigns, a “die-in” held at Olin Library and posters to spread awareness of the Ayotzinapa disappearances.

Passing Cornellians noted that the posters inspired contemplation and curiosity. The Sun spoke to Gideon Amoah ’19 and Tarangana Thapa ’21 about their reactions to the posters.

“Seeing these faces shows that there’s a story to every person and I’m more curious to figure out their story their life, what happened,” Thapa said.

“I was just curious,” Amoah said. “I think everybody who sees it would want to know.”

Both had no prior knowledge of Ayotzinapa disappearances, but told The Sun that they wanted to learn the context after seeing the posters.

Tarcan and Diane Ceron ’20, the co-chairs of MEChA, expressed frustration with the Mexican government’s past efforts to uncover what happened to the victims, and with an attempt by Mexico’s current President, Andres Manuel Lopez Obreador.

“Last year they did start up, or try to build a new search to be able to find these students but it was more of a publicity stunt,” Tarcan said. “ It’s essentially because they’re not trying and its because they feel like people don’t care.”

“The first thing is acknowledging that it happened because I feel like the government has definitely been tip toeing around this issue and not even being held accountable … especially Peña Nieto,” Ceron said.

Enrique Peña Nieto served as the president of Mexico when the Ayotzinapa incident rippled through the country and generated protests against his administration’s handling of the disappearances.

In 2018, Mexican Human Rights Commissioner Luis González said that the Peña Nieto investigation had “ grave human rights violations”. In an earlier report the U.N. Human Rights Office said that Mexican authorities had tortured dozens of people during the inquiry.

“We just want to show other Cornell students this is the reality of some people’s lives,” Tarcan said. “We should be caring and we should be doing something to make it known.”