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Mexico–a dissenting nation: the long night from Tlatelolco to Iguala

In October of 1968, ten days before the Summer Olympics in Mexico City, over ten thousand students gathered in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas, in the neighborhood of Tlatelolco, to protest the repressive government policies against labor, farmers, unions, and popular organizations as well as to oppose the irresponsible spending of very significant national resources to finance the Olympic Games—in detriment of needed social programs. The government of Gustavo Diaz Ordaz responded by shooting from helicopters and tanks killing over 300 students.

This massacre has remained in the collective memory of the Mexican and Latin American Student movement for decades. It has also permeated many Mexican cultural expressions in the arts, film, and literature, an example of which is Elena Poniatowska’s novel The Night of Tlatelolco. (She is the latest recipient of the Premio Cervantes, the equivalent of the Nobel prize for Hispanic literature). It was in the middle of organizing an event to commemorate in the city of Iguala their comrades fallen 46 years ago in Tlatelolco, that 43 young student teachers of the near by city of Ayotzinapa were kidnaped by police forces following orders of public functionaries, shot in cold blood, and then incinerated in a macabre pyre that burned for over 14 hours. According to The Guardian (November 9), the remains left “were collected in plastic bags and disposed in a nearby river.” The 82-year-old Poniatowska, revisited her indignation yesterday in Miami, where she is to inaugurate the American Book Fair, denouncing on American—Spanish television the slaughter of the students with these caustic words:

That 43 people be assassinated in such fashion, not just assassinated, they were burned in a garbage dump, like garbage, as if they were shit.

In response to the massacre, huge protest rallies with hundreds of thousands of participants have been organized throughout Mexico’s largest cities, towns, and small villages to protest this new crime. While his country shows legitimate indignation and demands justice, Enrique Peña Nieto, the current Mexican President, has decided not to interrupt the new Olympic Games of Mexican capitalism and continue his planned tour to China and Australia. Whereas the Chinese people have been kept silent by president Xi Jinpin’s suppressive state surveillance (Remember Tiananmen Square protest in 1989?); in Australia, numerous protests for the missing students have taken place during Peña Nieto’s visit demanding that he steps down as president.

The Berlin Wall American style, and Mexicans as “the other”

It is hardly an accident that a 680 miles long wall barriers, at a cost close to 50 billion dollars has been erected along the Mexican- American border in the States of California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas allegedly to stop undocumented migrants and smugglers (ironically, at one point in history all those states used to be part of Mexico). The border-wall is an unequivocal architectural cultural testimony that shows how conservative, fundamentally white America characterizes “the other” at the south of the border though a discourse that assumes innate illegality by reasons of geography and skin color. Simultaneously, like all walls do, the border-wall also serves as a barrier to the exterior world that asserts and reinforces the isolation and parochialism of the U.S versus other countries. This double function of distortion and isolation, have been visible in the ways the American media has covered the events in Mexico focusing exclusively on describing the violence without an analysis of the forces behind and its beneficiaries on both sides of the border. It has also systematically ignored the massive dissenting struggle of the Mexican people against the status quo.

Complementing this dual function, the border-wall serves as an implicit ideological purifier demarcation, meant to create the illusion among Americans that the law and non-violence resides this side of the Rio Grande, ignoring the high military apparatus of men and equipment, integrated by official federal and state forces, and voluntary forces of right-wing vigilantes put in place along the border. The border-wall with its massive blocks of concrete and electronic surveillance in tall iron fences is the new iconic symbol of contemporary America, replacing The Statue of Liberty with 680 miles of barbwire.

It is not the purpose of this article to discuss the flaws of the border-wall forcing migrants to take perilous desert routes, or its pathetic un-effectiveness which according to ‘No Border-Wall .com‘, shows that 97 percent who tried to cross the U.S. –Mexico border eventually succeed at entering he country. Rather my purpose is to bring attention to how Mexico and its people has been criminalized in the American mind by the erection of tangible physical structures like the border-wall, the persistent racism in American culture, the economic exploitation of immigrants subjected to ‘inferior’ and underpaid jobs, as well as the one-sided media reports that portray Mexico as an out of control, violent land run by corrupt government officials in alliance with drug-cartels and the army. The reports on the massacre of the student teachers in Iguala last month exemplifies this approach in the sense that they have left out an important national historical trait of Mexican people: their ability to dissent and struggle against the hard conditions imposed by capitalism in its most current version. A form of capitalism directly conditioned by American interests in the region.

Mexico: a dissenting nation

If, as mentioned above, the Tlatelolco massacre lives on in the collective memory of students and people all over Latin America, so does the long revolutionary, dissenting tradition of contemporary Mexican history. From the first country in the Western world to organize an armed agrarian revolution in 1910 (of which Lenin and Mao where to learn more than one thing in 1917 and 1949 respectively); to the strong peasant and workers movements of the 30’s and 40’s; to the prominent intellectual role played by Mexican writers, poets, painters, muralists, etc. influencing south-American culture, to the New-Zapatista Army of National Liberation born in 1994 and still active nowadays in a anti-capitalist struggle in favor of Mexican indigenous peoples and the reforming of Mexican Political Constitution.

But most importantly, this article pays tribute to the Mexican people who through decades of social adversity— created by an alliance of mutual benefits between the traditional Mexican dominant capitalist classes, the drug cartels as new members of this class, (This distinction is important because the economy of drug-trafficking exist closely integrated in the Mexican economy), and the official and un-official armed forces in the country—still persist in its dissent and questions the violence generated by existent domination system, as proved by the dozens of public rallies and protest marches nation occupying the streets and plazas of their country.

I have chosen as a final example of the long ascendancy of dissent in Mexico, parts of a poem by Javier Raya that with eloquence and figuration combines in a popular form, his individual subjectivity with wider social sentiments. (Translated to English by me)

I Dissent

“I dissent your version of public health

as an illness to be cured by bullets.

I dissent your version of education

that allows the most brilliant

minds of my generation

condemned to telemarketing jobs

or living with their parents until their 30’s

and to fuck without making too much noise


The only luxury of young people has been hope

and even hope is sold to us on credit and overpriced,

they take advantage of us as they did with our parents


I dissent, when you tell me

that the 121 deaths until 2014,

and keep on counting

is just collateral damage


I dissent when you tell me

that the dead fit in a figure of cost analysis

or in the expenses of producing peace.


I dissent when you tell me

that the increasing violence

is in the name of happiness,

of unity, and national prosperity.


I know that everything will be fine

because I am not alone,

because we are many,

and we’ll make sure that everything will be fine.


Enrique Quintero, a political activist in Latin America during the 70’s, taught ESL and Second Language Acquisition in the Anchorage School District, and Spanish at the University of Alaska Anchorage. He currently lives and writes in Olympia.


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En octubre de 1968, diez días antes de los Juegos…