Last week we spent a couple of days up in Raleigh, North Carolina. We — well, Carlos, actually, I think my name was “Plus One” or “And Guest” — were invited to attend a Mexican Independence Day Celebration given by the Mexican Consulate at the Contemporary Art Museum in Raleigh.
It’s a three hour drove; I drove, Carlos played the part of Miss Daisy. And he’s gonna kill me for saying that … I think.
Anyway, as we arrived I heard a group of people shouting; people with signs. And we were pointed toward a second walkway to use to enter the building since these protesters were blocking the stairs. As we stood at the doorway, the protesters began shouting “Shame on you! Shame on you!” I asked Carlos what they were protesting, but he didn’t know — they carried signs saying they paid taxes, signs about how this wasn’t the way to celebrate a holiday; signs about the 43.
After entering the party, we asked someone inside what was going on and were answered with a shrug and an “Enjoy the party.” At the top of the stairs we stopped to chat with a man from the consulate that Carlos knows and we asked him about the protesters and he said it was nothing.
So we stayed and we listened to speeches from the Consul General, Javier Díaz de León, some North Carolina senators and other folks. They spoke, naturally, about this new wave of anti-immigrant rhetoric from the right, and the Consul General ended his speech with a most appropriate quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.:
"We may have all come on different ships, but we're in the same boat now."
That stuck with me as we ate — the food was better the last year — and drank — the margaritas were good — and strolled around. Carlos spoke with a few other people he’d met from the consulate and each of them, when asked about the protesters, gave the same pat answer: It’s nothing.
That bothered me, and as we were leaving, I asked Carlos to find out what the protest was about, and so, once outside, he began speaking to the protesters, who shouted back at him, very loudly, and refused to listen. So he began again, in Spanish …
There was a great deal of back and forth, some angry shouts at Carlos, but he stayed calm and asked what they were protesting; I saw the signs about the 43 and I heard a few words in Spanish that I understood; I always joke with Carlos that I understand Spanish very well, but most Spanish speaking people talk so fast I get lost.
But I heard words like desaparecido, or disappeared, el secuestro … kidnapping; asesinado, or murdered, and corrupción. I heard them speak of the gente pobre and the gente rica—the rich and the poor—and the divide between the two in Mexico, much like we see here.
And the 43.
On September 26, 2014, forty-three male students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teacher’s college went missing in Iguala, Guerrero, Mexico. According to official reports, they commandeered several buses and traveled to Iguala that day to hold a protest at a conference led by the mayor's wife.
During the journey local police intercepted them and a confrontation ensued. Details of what happened during and after the clash remain unclear, but the official investigation concluded that once the students were in custody, there were handed over to the local Guerreros Unidos, the "United Warriors, a local crime syndicate and most likely murdered. Mexican authorities claimed that Iguala's mayor, José Luis Abarca and his wife, María de los Ángeles Pineda Villa, masterminded the kidnapping and murder of The 43.
Both Abarca and Pineda Villa fled after the incident, but were arrested about a month later, while Iguala’s police chief, Felipe Flores Velásquez, remains a fugitive. These events led to attacks on government buildings, and the resignation of the Governor of Guerrero, Ángel Aguirre Rivero.
The mass kidnapping, and murder, perhaps, of the students is the biggest political and public security scandal in years in the country and these people, all immigrants from Mexico, standing outside the museum that night, just wanted to be heard.
That’s all; someone to listen. And they thought this even would be perfect because maybe the consulate would just listen, perhaps offer to gather information, maybe help. But, instead, they decided to say the protest was ‘nothing’ and that they didn’t know what it was about.
But Carlos listened, and we spoke with several people there, and were given the information — in both English and Spanish — and when Carlos was done, the crowd applauded him, and shook his hand; that's him up there at the top.
Sometimes people just want a voice and the chance to be heard and sometimes just listening, and learning, and spreading the word, is all people need.
I have been, at many times, during our almost fifteen years together, pleased and happy and loving Carlos, but I don’t think I have ever been more proud. Just watching him listen; watching him make sure that these protesters know that we are all in the same boat, and we need one another to arrive at the shore safely, filled me with such pride.
I'm married to a truly remarkable man.
And by the way, here are The 43 … forty-three Mexican citizens who have “disappeared” because they raised their voices.