Suddenly they were gone.
Mexico’s 43 missing students – kidnapped in Iguala on the way to protest a speech – are presumed dead, murdered by the Guerreros Unidos drug cartel.
Since September, the month they vanished, furious protesters on both sides of the border have organized rallies, vigils and marches. They have expressed vehement support for the students and contempt for the cartels that run amok amid widespread corruption by Mexican police and politicians who allow them to perpetrate acts of violence without due process.
Local artists have joined the effort. A recent art exhibition at Original Gentleman, a new Barrio Logan barbershop and gallery, gave artists an opportunity to show solidarity with the missing students. Titled “43,” the exhibition was comprised of 43 artists, each assigned a student to honor with a piece.
Exactly 43 Mexican candles burned outside on a shrine near the gallery’s entrance. Inside, walls were lined with colorful canvases, hung from a chain link fence.
Some were painted blood red, depicting sadistic acts of horror. Others, however, had hopeful messages. One read “todos somos uno” (we are all one). Another demanded and asked a question: “Mexico ya basta / Cuantos mas se mueren a la mano de los narco politicos?” (Mexico, enough / How many more will die at the hands of the political narcos?)
Elena Marques, an artist and one of the exhibition’s organizers, said the situation in Mexico resonates in the United States because of the deaths of Eric Garner and Mike Brown, two unarmed black men killed by police.
“It’s an abuse of power, an over-militarized police and a human rights violation,” Marques said.
A few of the artists in the exhibition, Marques said, have family members who were affected by Mexico’s violence.
Artist German Corrales, 27, said his uncle was murdered.
“It’s a disgrace,” he said. “People are not getting the idea. It takes 43 students to die because they’re fighting for education and better rights? It’s ridiculous!”
In order for the situation to change, he said, people need to get involved, educate their children and show them that they can be part of the solution.
“If (we) don’t show our children the way to a better tomorrow, then we’re not going to succeed,” he said.
Corrales said to do his part he volunteers at three Tijuana orphanages, where a few bucks go a long way and are much appreciated.
Artist Dulce Martinez, 22, created a piece for the 19-year-old missing student Benjamin Ascencio Bautista.
“He really loved children,” she said.
Tears ran down her cheeks, smearing her makeup, as she wiped her eyes. She listed the similarities between her and the 43 students.
“They weren’t into violence. They weren’t into cartels,” she said. “Why did they get that?”
It was a question she and her colleagues could not answer.
Southwestern College student Sarah Vianna, 22, an art major, contributed to the exhibition. She said violence begets violence, so all people can really do is remain strong.
“Stand up against it,” she said. “(The cartels) are not going to be able to do what they’re doing if everybody’s against them.”
Rick Trujillo, a community liaison of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, said he was a huge supporter of the exhibition. He said that, although it is great to appreciate history, Chicano Park’s blank walls belong to a new message, from a younger generation.
“Enough with Frida (Kahlo)! Enough with Diego (Rivera)!” he said “Where’s the sign ‘Ayotzinapa’ in Chicano Park?”
There was no sign visible that night.
In December, human remains were uncovered in a remote dump in Guerrero, the state where the students went missing. Forensic experts have identified one of the 43 missing students, Alexander Mora Venancio, 19, among the remains.
In a press conference on Jan.27, Mexican Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam officially confirmed that all 43 students are dead, citing confessions and forensic evidence as proof.
Many protesters firmly believe otherwise.
Melancholy and tragedy continues to disturb the region. People on both sides of the border have their reasons to be upset.
Marques said she hoped to bring more attention to this heartbreaking issue.
“I think it’s important,” she said, “no matter what side of the border you’re on.”