By Radhika Viswanathan
Published: March 29th, 2017
Antonio Tizapa is one of many Mexican immigrants who live in New York City. But he is one of just a few on the mission to bring awareness to the “Ayotzinapa 43,” the title given to a group of 43 Mexican students that went missing in 2014. Monday night, the Mexican Heritage Student Association (MeHSA) hosted Tizapa at Brooklyn College, where he discussed his fight for social justice in Mexico.
“Yesterday marks 30 months of our search for the missing students,” Tizapa said in Spanish, referring to the incident that occurred in Mexico in 2014. Over 100 students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College in Guerrero, Mexico had been travelling to Mexico City, but many of these students accidentally got on two buses that were to transport drugs across the border into Chicago. The local police attacked these buses, and after conflicting reports released by the Mexican government, no one is certain where 43 of these students are. Tizapa is the father of one of the missing students: Jorge Antonio Tizapa Legideño.
According to Tizapa, a majority of mainstream television reports have complied with the Mexican government’s various stories—either that the students were incinerated and thrown into the Colcula garbage dump, or that they were chopped up and thrown in a river by drug cartels—therefore taking the responsibility off of potential government actions. “We have independent investigators that have yet to find the DNA of the 43 students,” Tizapa said in Spanish. Therefore, he emphasized the Mexican government’s story to be “completamente falso,” or completely false.
Although Tizapa does not speak English, he has made his life mission to travel throughout the United States to tell his story, ask for support, hold the Mexican government accountable for its corruption, and find his son. He, along with a few family members of other missing students, has organized “Running for Ayotzinapa,” a group that runs marathons in order to bring awareness of the Ayotzinapa 43.
“It’s part of the culture of Mexico,” said Francisco Garcia, a member of Running for Ayotzinapa, in Spanish. “It doesn’t surprise anyone in Mexico. We hear about it happening in Syria, Afghanistan, and other countries in the Middle East, but you don’t need to go that far; you see the same number of people missing, murdered, disappeared, from Mexico, but the news doesn’t cover it.”
The activists also go to the Mexican consulate in New York City on the 26th of every month and march to 42nd Street chanting slogans such as “¡Ayotzi vive, la lucha sigue!” (“Ayotzi lives, the fight continues!”) and “¡Vivos los llevaron, vivos los queremos!” (They took them alive, we want them alive!”).
“A tweet, a share, a like, is a strong hit to the Mexican government because what they value is their image,” said Garcia, explaining the importance of their cause.
Nicole Rojas is the president of MeHSA. After hearing Tizapa speak at another event, she felt that it would be a valuable lesson for the other MeHSA students to learn about his story. “Most of us are either children of Mexican parents or born in Mexico so it could have been us,” she said. “Some of us are still unfamiliar with the case, so I wanted to create awareness of the case at Brooklyn College.”
In a country that seems to be moving away from globalization and towards nationalism, Monday’s event brought to light the human rights violations happening just across the border. “Journalists in Mexico are killed just trying to cover a story there,” Tizapa said in Spanish. “Gratefully we can speak about a human rights crisis in Mexico here, because the Mexican government will kill those who try to speak about the truth.”
As a student of Mexican heritage and in the broadcast journalism department, senior Sylvia Jimenez has been following this story long before Tizapa spoke at Brooklyn College. “The group has been rallying and protesting, but they have not really taken any legal steps,” she said, regarding Tizapa and his supporters. She is interested in finding out how students can petition the US embassy in Mexico to get involved in the situation.
“If I were in Mexico, I know I could get killed because of my big mouth,” Jimenez continued with a laugh. “The job of a journalist is to tell the truth, and I know I can get that done in the United States.”
Jorge Tizapa has a son who is now four years old and old enough to wonder where is father is.
“Whenever I see a boy on a motorcycle, I think of [Jorge],” Tizapa said in Spanish. He paused as his voice caught in his throat and wiped his eyes. “I’ve never changed my phone number because I still hope for a phone call from him.”
As Tizapa does during every event he organizes, audience members held the posters of the missing students. As each name was read, they responded, “Presente” (“Present”).