Disappearance of 43 Mexican Students Reverberates in Long Beach

Jan. 15, 2015 / By

When news broke of the 43 missing students in Ayotzinapa, Long Beach resident Miguel Morales decided to go to Mexico to join the protests.

But after promoting a rally in Los Angeles on Facebook last week, the 26-year-old started to receive online threats.

“Todos que van para ya los van a levantar como los estudiantes (Everyone who goes there will end up like the students),” someone wrote on his Facebook page.

“I took it as a threat,” said Morales, who was born in Long Beach. “Things are getting sketchy.”

The 43 students in the state of Guerrero went missing in September after being attacked by police allegedly working with a drug cartel. José Luis Abarca, the former mayor of Iguala, is now facing charges in relation to the kidnappings. Some reports suggest Mexican federal authorities were involved. What is certain is that families on this side of the border feel the effects.

The tragedy that rocked the Mexican state of Guerrero has had reverberations in Long Beach, where many families come from that region. More than 162,000 Mexican Americans live here, and many have ties to Guerrero.

“These people have relatives who are losing their means to survive,” said Jorge Lopez, a Long Beach resident who predicts that the violence in their home state might drive more people to come to Long Beach.

Photo from LA area protest in December.

Photo from LA area protest in December.

A tight-knit community of immigrants from the state of Guerrero lives in an urban pocket of homes near Cesar Chavez Park. One of them, Abacuc Contreras, says his own cousin was kidnapped in Mexico. His cousin was released days later and is now in hiding.

“People can be really nervous, especially for people who are here. We are always worried about our family… You don’t know what you will find tomorrow,” said Contreras in Spanish.

Contreras knows the family of Giovanni Guerrero, one of the 43 missing students. “We know his grandfather, someone who is hard working,” he said. Contreras also works with Guerrero’s aunt in Long Beach.

Contreras sends money back to his mother and siblings in Guerrero when possible. He visits them multiple times a year, but his mother discourages him from visiting when it gets too violent.

Over 50,000 have been killed in drug violence in Mexico since 2006, and some argue that number could be almost double.

Professor Armando Vazquez-Ramos, who teaches Chicano and Latinos Studies at California State University Long Beach, said elected officials in California are beginning to see that the community here has a stake in what is happening in Mexico.

“Our own elected officials have to be more responsible for what’s going on instead of distancing themselves or presuming that this is going to go away on its own,” said Vazquez-Ramos.

This year, State Senator Ricardo Lara will introduce Senate Resolution 7, calling on Mexico to respect human rights. “We cannot sit idly by while atrocities occur next door, such as the suspicious disappearances of forty-three college students in Iguala,” Senator Lara said in a statement posted on his website. “I am calling on the Mexican government to work with human rights organizations, the international community and the United States to enact human rights reforms that address this, and other incidents, head on.”

But in Long Beach, people aren’t waiting for solutions on this side of the border.

Morales says he still plans on joining the protest movement in Mexico along with about a dozen of his friends from Long Beach.

“I’m angry that this government can stand by a dictating government that kills students,” he said.

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Michael Lozano

Michael is an editor and multimedia journalist born to Mexican parents who started their own Domestic Violence counseling center in Southeast Los Angeles. His mentorship has provided youth opportunities to share their stories online on NPR, KCET, the Long Beach Post, and other national websites. His articles have been syndicated and translated into multiple languages via New America Media and ImpreMedia, the nation’s largest Spanish-language news publisher. He was a fellow with UCLA's Laboratory for Environmental Narrative Strategies, and has recently been a Votebeat Reporter for CalMatters and the Long Beach Post. Michael graduated from CSULB in 2011 with research honors in Sociology and a Journalism minor. Follow his work @chicanochico on Twitter and @thechicanochicoreport on Instagram.