Co-chair Madeleine Stone takes a look back at York PEN’s first campaign of the academic year.
To kick off this this year, York PEN decided to focus to a campaign that would strike a chord in the university environment. The disappearance of 43 students in Ayotzinapa, Mexico should affect and anger all students across the world. Like us they were young and studying hard, in their case to become teachers. And, like many of us, they were actively involved in social justice. They demanded the right to free expression and freedom from government violence. But while on their way to a peaceful protest in Mexico City, witnesses attest that police blocked their buses and opened fire on the students multiple times, killing 43. After several corrupt investigations, resignations and disappearances, the families and local community surrounding these students are still no closer to finding the truth.
Our first event saw us hosting a charismatic and passionate speaker from the London-Mexico Solidarity Group (he has asked us not to widely publicise his name for safety purposes). Speaking on Mexican student culture, human rights violations and the stories of individual students who were disappeared, he shared with us the details of the ongoing struggle to hold the Mexican government to account for its actions. We not only learnt about government policy and wider human rights abuses, but were asked to consider how the disappearance of the Ayotzinapa students would have impacted on their families, friends and classmates.
After learning so much from our speaker, we decided to respond creatively with a night of poetry, music and film. Hosted in The Fleeting Arms’ community arts space, students read Mexican poetry (in both Spanish and English) that spoke with anger, sadness and bitterness about the disappearance of the students. As well as enjoying homemade Mexican food, we listened to De Vuelta A Casa, an album of political music inspired by the events in Ayotzinapa, watched a short film made by Bristol students, and wrote postcards to the families using Spanish phrases of solidarity. There was a letter to Philip Hammond, Foreign Secretary, expressing our frustration at the UK Government for uncritically entering into a year of partnership with Mexico without any close examination of their human rights abuses, which was signed by attendees, and a petition calling for the families of the 43 to receive protection from the harassment they have suffered. Perhaps the most striking part of the evening, however, was the 43 empty chairs that sat on the stage, one for each student whose voice had been taken away.
Those of us who make up York PEN hope that our small events have contributed to global pressure on the Mexican government to provide justice. The Ayotzinapa 43 have not yet been found. But the fight continues, both in the community from which they were taken, and around the world.