Ayotzinapa: For Better or Worse, Mexico's Turning Point

The disappeared students of Iguala have served to lend voice to the stories of a country that has been silenced for far too long. Ayotzinapa may be Mexico's long anticipated turning point.
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In recent weeks, the international community has turned the spotlight from Mexico's long-standing and brutal drug war to the shocking events occurring in the city of Iguala. Last month, over 100 teacher-trainees from the Rural Teachers College of Ayotzinapa marched into the city of Iguala, intent on protesting unequal hiring practices -- and they were met with gunshots. The following events that have since unfolded reveal a web of deceit and corruption.

The story involves clandestine graves, dead bodies, and corrupt officials. While these elements may sound like the makings of a dramatic soap opera to the international observer, they come as no surprise to citizens of Narco-ravaged Mexico. What is shocking is, instead, the people's reaction to these events. From cries for the President's resignation to protests in the streets, the story of Ayotzinapa may have sparked Mexico's long-awaited turning point.

What many in the international community do not seem to realize is that Mexico has, for several years, been a country robbed of its voice and stripped of its stories. The ordinary citizen has witnessed outrageous acts of violence that would seem unthinkable to the rest of the world.

I was sixteen years old when I was held at gunpoint for the first time. I instinctively duck when I hear loud noises, and I still wince at the sound of fireworks. My first summer back home from college ended in my brother's attempted kidnapping, and our subsequent flight from the city; and yet to this day I consider myself exceedingly lucky compared to many of my fellow citizens. The gun that was pressed against my temple was not fired. My brother drove away in a wild car chase that culminated in "only" a bullet through the hand. Most importantly, I am alive, and so is my family.

We have a phrase in Mexico, "like water for chocolate." It is used to describe an intense anger, like water that has been heated to its boiling point -- the essential ingredient for Mexican hot chocolate. The people of Mexico have been building up this heat for too many years. There have been scandals that should have rocked the nation but did not; empty words from presidents who promised change, and then failed to deliver; individual stories like mine that have gone unheard; and movements that have begun to press for reforms, but lost momentum halfway through.

But there is something about the Ayotzinapa tragedy and the way that it has resonated within the Mexican community that hints at change. Maybe it's the fact that the teacher trainees were young and eager to improve the lives of their community, something especially poignant to the people of a country that is so starved of advocates for change. Perhaps it's that the parents of the trainees have demanded to be heard in a time when silence is the norm. Or maybe, just maybe, Ayotzinapa is the tragedy that has finally made Mexico reach its boiling point.

Sometimes, we need to sink very low before real change can come about. Ayotzinapa is that low point. Over the past couple weeks; I have watched my Facebook newsfeed explode with people sharing news about Ayotzinapa. Hashtags like #AyotzinapaSomosTodos, decrying the situation, have topped twitter's trends. And most importantly, people are taking to the streets... by the thousands. It is hard to understand how monumental this is for those who did not grow up in Mexico. I have friends in the United States who talk about marches and peaceful protests as if they are commonplace. But in Mexico, particularly outside of Mexico City, protests are unheard of. And yet there they are, nationwide, across the globe, almost daily. A good friend of mine called me the other day, agitatedly whispered that it "smelled like Revolution," and then paused, as if he himself could not believe the words he had just articulated.

The disappeared students of Iguala have served to lend voice to the stories of a country that has been silenced for far too long. Ayotzinapa is the one story that has finally managed to come to the surface and unmask the facade of progress and reform that President Pena Nieto has been trying to sell to the world. It is the story to make all other stories come to light. Ayotzinapa may be Mexico's long anticipated turning point.

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