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Ayotzinapa

By Elena Poniatowska

On October 26, 2014, a national assembly of Morena (Movement for National Regeneration) was held at the Zócalo in Mexico City, marking one month of the disappearance of the forty-three students of the rural teachers’ college of Ayotzinapa. Amid the crowds chanting “Vivos se los llevaron, vivos los queremos” (“they were taken alive, we want them back alive”), award-winning writer and journalist Elena Poniatowska took the podium to denounce the lack of democracy in Mexico and, especially, the lack of opportunities for the poorest communities, who are never given a voice in the political sphere. Deplorably, the government attempted to criminalize these students, trying to link them to various drug cartels or simply write them off them as agitators, rather than own up to its responsibility in the massacre of these young men, who dreamed of becoming rural teachers. In remembrance, Poniatowska read out a list with the names of each of the disappared students, along with a short biography. She asked that after each one, the crowd respond “here,” as if it were a classroom roll call. This list is presented below.

  1. Jhosivani Guerrero de la Cruz, age 20, from Omeapa. Slim, willowy face, slanted eyes, his nickname is “Coreano” and he has to walk 4 km to the highway to catch the bus and 4 km back because he wants to be a teacher in his village Omeapa.
  2. Luis Ángel Abarca Carrillo, age 21, from Costa Chica, San Antonio, municipality of Cuautepec. His nickname is Amiltzingo. Very affectionate, he is a member of “Casa Activista” where students can register to receive political information. In this organization the name of Lucio Cabañas resonates strongly. The upper classes of Guerrero consider the student teachers to be agitators because their hero and role model is the guerrillero Lucio Cabañas, who was also a teacher.
  3. Marco Antonio Gómez Molina, age 20, his nickname is Tuntún de Tixtla. He loves going to rock gigs, and his favourite bands are “Saratoga”, “Extravaganza” and “Los Ángeles del Infierno”. He’s the one who always makes people laugh at Casa Activista.
  4. Saúl Bruno García, age 18. Known as Chicharrón, he’s always kidding around; he’s the kind of person who always tries to make you laugh, always joking and very friendly. He’s from Tecuanapa and is missing his left ring finger because it got caught in the mill when he was grinding corn. Saúl Bruno García shaved everyone’s heads at “Casa Activista”. A classmate had photos of when everyone got shaved on his mobile phone, but the police confiscated it.
  5. Jorge Antonio Tizapa Legideño, from Tixtla. He is 20 years old –says his mum–, and has a dimple in his left cheek. He loves working in the field, growing grains and vegetables because the funds from the state government are never enough for the 500 students.
  6. Abel García Hernández, from Tecuanapa, is a young 19-year-old farmer. He has a birth mark behind his right ear, is very thin, and is 5’3” tall.
  7. Carlos Lorenzo Hernández Muñoz, age 19, was baptized as “el Frijolito” (the little bean) and is from the Coast. Very talkative, always willing to help. “El Frijolito was the first one to come forward to donate blood when requested for a patient in Tixtla.”
  8. Adan Abraján de la Cruz, age 20, farmer, is from the neighbourhood of El Fortín, in Tixtla, a village looked after by the Community Police. He plays on the Pirotécnicos de El Fortín football team, his friends consider him a good player.
  9. Felipe Arnulfo Rosa, farmer, is from a ranch of the municipality of Ayutla and is 20 years old. He fell backwards as a child and has a scar on the back of his neck.
  10. Emiliano Alen Gaspar de la Cruz, baptized as “Pilas” (batteries) because he is very bright. “He doesn’t kid around, he’s amiable, has his head screwed on straight, and he likes to keep everything in its proper place.” Emiliano was one of the first 20 first-year students who registered at Casa Activista two months ago. Of the 43 student teachers who were kidnapped on the September 26, ten were Casa Activista members.
  11. César Manuel González Hernández, age 19, is from Huamantla, Tlaxcala. Likes to kid around, his nickname is “Panotla”, but they also call him “Marinela” after the pastry brand because once he commandeered the company’s delivery van.
  12. Jorge Alvarez Nava, “el Chabelo”, age 19, from the municipality of Juan R. Escudero, Guerrero, has a scar on his right eye and is good-natured. He never swears or makes rude jokes and his patience means he has no end of respect for people. He is one of the most tender-hearted members of Casa Activista. His parents are waiting for him on the playing field of the Ayotzinapa Teachers’ College and they hold each other when they speak about him.
  13. José Eduardo Bartolo, Tlatempa, age 17, is from Tixtla. A first year student at the Rural Teachers’ College. His father is a builder by trade and is hoping for his son to become a professional.
  14. Israel Jacinto Lugardo, age 19, is from Atoyac and his friends call him “Chukyto”. His mother holds up a poster with her son’s portrait and she shows it to the motorists during the protest at the toll booth of Palo Blanco, at the Sol highway. “He’s of a stocky build and has a scar on his head. His skin is light brown, and his nose is a bit snub. He’s a good boy, he came to study full of hopes and dreams.”
  15. Antonio Santana Maestro, his nickname is “Copy” because he’s a very good public speaker. “He’s well-known at Casa del Activista, a gathering place for many young people. Copy plays guitar, and he likes videogames, he plays PSP games… but his main passion is reading…”
  16. Christian Tomás Colón Garnica, age 18, from Tlacolula of Matamoros, Oaxaca. His father travelled from their village as soon as the kidnapping of the 43 young students was denounced. “I’m a day labourer, I earn $44 dollars a week at most, and that’s when I do earn something, because sometimes there’s no work. My boy wants to be a teacher, that’s the profession he wants, but they wouldn’t let him, he was stopped… What are we going to do?”
  17. Luis Ángel Francisco Arzola, age 20, his classmates know him as “Cochilandia”, but nobody knows why. He came with the nickname. “He’s a serious, hard-working young man, and we’re here waiting for him and we want him to know that we’re not going to stop until we find him.”
  18. Miguel Ángel Mendoza Zacarías, from Apango, municipality of Mártir de Cuilapa, is 23 years old, and his classmates think of him as “a grown-up already”. They’re all between 17 and 20 years old. In their village, Apango, he used to work as a barber to earn a living. He is short, and “cool”, according to his friends, because he’s supportive of them, gives them advice, gives everything without asking anything in return. He looked after his parents and siblings. He came to the Teachers’ College sharing the seat on the bus next to a classmate “but the shooting started and unfortunately he ran one way and I ran the other, he was arrested by the Iguala police, I managed to escape, but since then I can’t find him…”
  19. Benjamín Ascencio Bautista, age 19, they call him “comelón” (big eater) because one day he ate all the biscuits at a conference. He’s from Chilapa. Before starting his studies at the Rural Teachers’ College of Ayotzinapa, he was a community educator at the National Council for Educational Development (CONAFE), where volunteers are trained to teach reading and writing in marginalized, isolated, rural and indigenous communities throughout the country.
  20. Alexander Mora Venancia, age 19, is from “El Pericón”, municipality of Tecuanapa, Guerrero. Nobody could dissuade him from wanting to be a teacher. He loves teaching. At first he helped out in the fields but he wanted to study… “And I demand –says his father– that the authorities do their job properly, that they don’t cover up those responsible for the massacre committed by the police and the mayor of Iguala. Just as they were taken away alive, I want them to be brought back alive…”
  21. Leonel Castro Abarca, farmer from the community of “El Magueyito”, municipality of Tecuanapa, doesn’t have a nickname and to his friends “he is a serious person, but with a sense of humour.” He dreams of becoming a teacher, to help his people get ahead.
  22. Everardo Rodríguez Bello, age 21, is from Omeapa. He is known as “Shaggy” because he looks like the Scooby Doo character. Auto mechanic technician from CONALEP (National Council for Technical Education), he gets very angry about inequality especially when it comes to food: if you get six tortillas and he gets five, he protests.”
  23. Doriam González Parral, from Xalpatláhuac, Guerrero, is 19 years old. He is short and “looks like a little kid,” “and that’s why they call him “Kinder.”” He is very funny when he’s kidding around. His brother is also studying at the college… The two brothers started school together, their brotherhood is notorious, and they were both kidnapped together…”
  24. Jorge Luis González Parral, age 21, is Doriam Kinder’s older brother. He is a serious classmate who has worked in different taco restaurants and, although he enjoyed it, he wanted to get ahead and chose to become a teacher like his younger brother, Kinder. His nickname is “Charra” (knife) because he has a scar on his leg that looks like a knife wound…”
  25. Marcial Pablo Baranda, age 20, speaks an indigenous language and wants to be a bilingual teacher, alongside other bilingual teachers who come from even poorer villages. He is short, friendly, and is a cousin of Jorge Luis and Doriam. His friends call him “Magallón” because his family plays in a tropical music band under that name, and they sing songs from their village, Costa Chica. He’s always singing cumbias and he plays the trumpet and snare drums.
  26. Jorge Aníbal Cruz Mendoza, from Xalpatláhuac, also friends with Kínder, “his nickname is “Chivo” (goat) and he is serious, and although he gets on well with everyone he almost never horses around…”
  27. Abelardo Vásquez Peniten, from Atliaca, Guerrero, likes football. In a recent match he scored lots of goals… “He never horses around, people respect him because he never disrespects anyone and doesn’t go around criticizing people. Apart from football he loves studying because he keeps reading book after book after book.”
  28. Cutberto Ortíz Ramos, from Atoyac, is known as “El Kománder” because he looks a bit like the singer of corridos norteños. “He has an intense gaze, is stocky, tall, friendly, and speaks politely. He works hard growing food in the College fields… And he loves one particular Spongebob joke: he laughs and makes a perfect impression of Spongebob’s laugh…”
  29. Bernardo Flores Alcaraz, farmer, is 21 years old, and has a mole on his chest that looks like a tiny cat’s paw. “He dreams of becoming a teacher and helping children and adults who can’t read or write. In rural areas there are many people who have had no education and his dream is to teach them… the 43 students went out with their collection tins to raise funds to do their teaching practices, it’s not fair for their life to be cut short and for them to be left to die in a pool of their own blood…”
  30. Jesús Jovany Rodriguez Tlatempa, from Tixtla, nicknamed “el Churro”, is 21 years old, the eldest of four siblings, and “the only support for his mum,” according to his cousin, who marched for five hours holding up a picket with his portrait. He was invited to the fundraising day on September 26. He is an extremely kind-hearted young man who supports his 1-year-old niece because his sister is a single mum and he is the paternal figure. His cousin furiously demands that he is brought back and asks for justice for the boys from Tlataya in the state of Mexico, who are many.
  31. Mauricio Ortega Valerio from Matlalapa or Matlinalpa near “La Montaña”, is 18 years old and his nickname is “Espinosa” because when he got his head shaved –a tradition for first-year students at Ayotzinapa Teachers’ College– he looked a bit like Espinosa Paz, the singer.
  32. Martín Getsemany Sánchez García from Zumpango, age 20, likes to play football and supports the Cruz Azul team. His whole family is looking for him. He has eight siblings and during the march on September 22 in Chilpancingo, his family held up a banner with his photograph.
  33. Magdaleno Rubén Lauro Villegas, age 19, known as El Magda, is “a gentle and kind friend who is studying to become a bilingual teacher, to teach indigenous children who don’t speak Spanish…”
  34. Giovanni Galindo Guerrero, age 20, known as “Espáider” (spider), “because he’s stalky and has his own style of running and jumping as if hanging from cobwebs like Spider Man…”
  35. José Luis Luna Torres, age 20, from Amilzingo, Morelos, his friends call him Pato (duck), because he looks like Donald Duck and has a voice like a duck. He is serious, gentle, always speaks politely. He’s friendly but quiet and doesn’t kid around much.
  36. Julio Cesar López Patolzin, age 25, from Tixtla. “He doesn’t have a nickname. They call him simply “El Julio.” He’s friendly but very quiet, doesn’t kid around much, only hangs out with a handful of people but is always pleasant…”
  37. Jonás Trujillo González from Costa Grande del Ticuí, municipality of Atoyác de Álvarez. “They call him Beni because his brother, Benito, also studies at Ayotzinapa College but in the second year… Therefore they’re the Benis… He’s tall, chubby and gets along very well with his brother. They both look very much alike, although he’s taller and his skin is lighter…”
  38. Miguel Ángel Hernández Martínez, age 27, “his nickname is “Botita” (little boot) because his older brother, who also studies at the College, is called “El Bota” (boot) so he automatically got called “Botita” although he isn’t little, he’s of medium height and fat, never messes around, is always friendly, wholesome, never annoying: he doesn’t make rude jokes, he’s friendly and likes to help out, always looking out for people, a boy who is very supportive of everyone, in class he explains things to the teacher and gives a hand…”
  39. Christian Alfonso Rodríguez, age 21, from Tixtla, longs to be a teacher and likes folk dance. His nickname is “Hugo” because he always wears Hugo Boss T-shirts. During the march on September 22, his cousin’s voice got hoarse from explaining over and over: “He’s not just my cousin, he’s my friend… he’s a very dedicated person, he works very hard at his studies and at dance and it’s not fair that someone who is so committed and does his utmost, should suffer tragic consequences at the hands of the government…”
  40. José Ángel Navarrete González, age 18, shares a room in the college with two other young men, where there is not a single piece of furniture, not even beds, just some frayed foam mattresses.
  41. Carlos Iván Ramírez Villarreal, age 20, is nicknamed “El Diablito” (the little devil). “The truth is that he is kind, he never picks on anyone, he’s gentle, he wants to be someone but in a nice way, he never acts the fool…”
  42. José Ángel Campos Cantor, age 33, from Tixtla, is the eldest of the 43 kidnapped students. “Although he is older he never takes advantage of others; on the contrary, he is very supportive and is friends with everyone…”
  43. Israel Caballero Sánchez, from Atliaca, a village halfway between Tixtla and Apango, his nickname is “Aguirrito” because he is chubby. He’s studying to become a teacher in indigenous communities and when his friends call him Aguirrito he protests: “Don’t be bastards, don’t give me that shit…”

Ayotzinapa is devastated. Mexico is devastated. The students of the Ayotzinapa Teachers’ College have kept their classmates’ worn-out shoes, their clothes, even the pieces of cardboard they used as beds. They’re waiting for them to come back, despite the fact that the extraordinary priest Alejandro Solalinde, protector of migrants, who officiates mass at Ayotzinapa, was told by various witnesses that the students were murdered, dismembered, thrown into a mass grave, and set fire to. No answer can be sufficient to explain this horrific crime. The photograph of the student Julio César Mondragón, from the state of Mexico, whose eyes were taken out, is circulating on the internet. His flayed face. What we have here is a national catastrophe. In five states there are protests in support of the forty-three “disappeared” students. Mexico is bleeding to death. The international community is outraged and considers Mexico to be the most dangerous country without war for young people. Mutilated youths, dismembered youths, murdered youths. The outrage resonates throughout the world. The mother of the student from Guadalajara, Ricardo Esparza, who attended the Cervantino festival in Guanajuato, said she was grateful for receiving the dead body of her son so she could bring him flowers. Isn’t her conformity monstrous? Or as Gloria Muñoz Ramírez asks, “How deep does the terror implanted by the government run at the heart of our society?” When faced with terror, all that is left is the unity of the people who rise up and call out, as they have done for days: “They were taken alive, we want them back alive.”

Translated from Spanish by Juana Adcock, a poet and translator working in English and Spanish. She was born in Mexico and has been living in Scotland since 2007. She completed a masters in creative writing at the University of Glasgow in 2009, and her work has been published in Magma Poetry, Gutter, Glasgow Review of Books, San Diego Poetry Annual, Fractured West, Four-Fold and the anthology Be the First to Like This: New Scottish Poetry. Her first poetry collection, Manca, published in 2014, explores the anatomy of violence in Mexico.


Published Nov 13, 2014   Copyright 2014 Elena Poniatowska

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