September 19th, 2011 marked the end of the southern caravan. The event concluded in the zócalo of Mexico City with speeches and stories, hoorahs and tears. The caravan as a whole was a powerful experience for those on it. It certainly impacted the lives of everyone that traveled with it.
An important thing to know before I delve into this final event is this: It was not just La Red that made up this Caravan for peace. It also consisted of multiple organizations from the different states and cities of Mexico. Many groups came together –which is important— to create what was the caravan to the south. Groups which are all crying to be more than just “human resources”, more than a statistic.
A stage was built and students from one of the universities were already present when Ryan and I arrived to the central square in Mexico City. The music they were making was loud enough to cover the entire area. Intermittently, they would announce that the caravan would be arriving shortly –about an hour—and would say a few words to rally the crowd around them.
Soon, several groups of people – Frente Del Pueblo, Movimiento Urbano Popular, and others – began to march into the zócalo. As they walked they chanted several different things. One person would begin, “Alerta, alerta, alerta” and the crowd would reply “Que camina la lucha por la paz en America Latina”. Alert, Alert, Alert; (we are) walking the struggle for peace in Latin America.
Finally, around 7pm, the Caravan arrived. The crowd cheered as the fourteen buses drove into the zócalo. As the people came down from the bus, they gathered into groups and began to walk around the square. Their excitement was apparent. Some marched in silence, others chanting. But everyone was eager to begin the last piece of the caravan. They had been through much already, but were ready for a little more.
Speaker: “Vivos se los levaron!” --Alive they were taken!--
Crowd: “Vivos los queremos!” --Alive we want them back!—
These words were exchanged many times between the stage and the gathered people. They refer to all the people who have been disappeared, killed, or otherwise taken due to the cycle of violence in Mexico.
Javier Sicilia, after a short speech beforehand, came to the stage. The crowd by this time was large, numbering in the thousands, and people waited and listened to what he had to say. He spoke sadly and slowly about the reality of Mexico. He began: “We are collateral damage. To the polls and statistics, we are collateral damage… a number without a name.” “…It is for this reality that both crime and the State has reduced us to, and also to take your pain, countenance, and anger that I ask for a minute of silence.”
Silence. Reflection. Sicilia invited the crowed into a moment of silence to remember those who were killed and disappeared. It is something he does frequently when he speaks. You don’t give pause to a statistic. You give pause to the life of a human. What he really invited them to do was to help restore their humanity. To acknowledge them not as numbers without names, but as people who have families and loved ones.
This was the essence of his speech. To reestablish dignity. He also asked some provoking questions to the powers that be.
To the criminals he asked: “What kind of happiness are you pretending to build for yourselves if your foundations are built on death, suffering and torture?”
To the government: “How will we care for this house that we demolished if our foundations are built on indifference, contempt, and robbery of citizens?”
Javier finished by recognizing the movement was made up of people without power. Ants, the poorest of the poor, the forgotten, the nameless. But it was in this unity --of all men and women, of all those from the east, west, north, and south—that peace, justice, and dignity could be created.
He finished to cheers and applause. (To read his whole speech: Spanish ; English ) *not a perfect translation
After Javier Sicilia, it was time for victims and family members to tell their stories. (I will also note that it was at this time that the members of the press left.)
Though there were many stories, in recognition that this is an extremely long post, I will only tell you of one. It was the last one of the night…
Maria is a mother of four sons. With hesitation, she participated in the May 8th march to Ciudad Juarez. I was told that at that time she was afraid, so afraid that she could hardly speak. It was surprising to me when I heard this because on this night in Mexico City, she spoke with such force and emotion, even without knowing the language, you could still tell what she was saying. Maria was afraid in Juarez because each of her sons was disappeared. Taken. Maybe killed. She told that story on stage in the center of Mexico City. Her voice was that of a mother distraught. Every word was filled with both anger and grief. “Where are my children? I want them back.”
Her call was that of change. Change for Mexico so no other family would have to go through what she has been through. Change for peace and justice. Change for compassion and not indifference. The story of her despair, and many stories similar to Maria’s, were told on this night. Each of them bringing an indisputable sense of reality and personal-ness.
The caravan to the south was an effort to make this movement personal. Its purpose was to accompany Mexicans of all different areas by telling and listening to stories. Stories of the indigenous, vendedores (sellers), families, and migrants were all told to one another. Together they marched for peace. Together they strengthened the bonds of justice and dignity.
So here it ended: a group of people in Mexico City. Weary from their travels, filled with grief for the victims, and hopeful that their actions would be heard. And though the caravan ended on Monday, the work of it has just begun. The people working with La Red por la Paz y Justicia are re-energized and will be continuing to tell the story of the oppressed and nameless people of Mexico. We will see where the stories take them.