Mexico City lingers on me: the dust on my dress, the grit in my hair, the spring in my step–the ache in my heart. That feeling of taking the City, walking its streets, riding its buses. More tortilla and lime and aguacate than I can eat. Flan de coco, cocoanut flan, at Bellinghausen’s, the restaurant founded by Germans during the Mexican Revolution of 1910. The streets overrun with people. In the formerly elegant Zona Rosa where our hotel’s located, strip joints, gay male leather bars, addicts curled up asleep on the sidewalks. And yet…there are flowers everywhere, trees with green leaves shining from the last storms of the rainy season, and lovers, straight, gay and lesbian, holding hands, which never could have happened in the 1970s when I first came here to live.
But the story beneath all of this, what seethes and boils in this city is the rage and outrage at the six dead and 43 missing students from Ayotzinapa, Guerrero—the most lawless and corrupt state in the Republic of Mexico. The 43—impoverished young people from the mountains of the southern states, training to bring education to their tiny villages—have been missing a full month. The people in power don’t care about teaching barefoot children in the backwoods. The six dead, the 43 missing and the many wounded were on their way to a protest. No one knows what has happened to them. Police on the take from the cartels who run the state jammed them into squad cars and trucks. No one has seen them since.
Across the country, people are braced for the worst. If the students were merely imprisoned, surely their captors would have freed them if only to dodge the snowballing consequences: the supposedly progressive mayor on the lam with his family; the governor removed; journalists converging from all over the world. Were the students shot? Tortured? Dismembered? Dumped in the nearby Pacific Ocean? No one knows, but here in the capital, citizens are taking to the street.
Crowds surge toward Reforma, the main avenue, modeled after the Champs Elysees in Paris. They come in groups: union after union, high schools, colleges, the Mexican Communist Party and its youth division. A young girl tries to sell me candy in exchange for a donation to the cause. I give her all the money I have, about $20 American dollars. She thanks me profusely, tells her friends in disbelief. I would give more, much more to unravel the mystery of the disappearance.
Posters and banners everywhere. Effigies of the President of Mexico, the corrupt mayor, the spineless prosecutor, the governor. And on hundreds of individual cards, the faces of the victims in black and white ID student photos, all looking about 12 or 13. The blurred copies make them look like victims from another era–the 1950s, maybe the 1960s. There is an elegiac, an already-gone quality to the photos. The crowd counts to 43 over and over: uno, dos, tres…then starts again. Another group marches by with flaming torches that light up the descending night. I can smell the petroleum.
More people are running toward Reforma, filling the little feeder streets of the Zona Rosa, some strung together with a rope, like daycare kids out for a walk, so that no one will get lost. They will march to the Zocalo, the main square of the nation, where the Presidential Palace and the National Cathedral stand. From somewhere, Mercedes Sosa’s rich deep voice drifts from someone’s iPod. Todo cambia, she sings. Everything changes. And that is true tonight in the world’s largest city.
The Angel of Independence that towers over Reforma is lit up with mauve, the color of mourning, as on Good Friday. The rage is palpable. This feels like another revolution, much more than just changing the Mexican Criminal Code, a legal fact that has brought us here to train attorneys and judges how to do oral trials. That reform is necessary but not enough. Even the gigantic march is not enough. It will not be enough until massacres and mass graves and hired assassins are no more. It will never
be enough until the bleeding, bandaged sun comes up clean and new over the mountains and streets and huts of this martyred country.