Tribute to the Disappeared_Andrea Arroyo_43 Wings
"43 Wings" by Andrea Arroyo. Photo by Irene Ortiz, courtesy Andrea Arroyo.

From the states of Guerrero and Chiapas, where government buildings have been set on fire by protesters, to Mexico City, where marches and protests have become almost obligatory weekend activities, Mexicans seem to be saying “We’re not going to take it anymore” in the wake of the disappearance of the 43 students from Ayotzinapa.

But what about Mexicans abroad who can’t be in the streets of their country, waving flags or carrying banners with messages demanding justice? While there have been street demonstrations and peaceful protests in New York City, San Francisco, Sydney, Madrid and numerous other cities around the world, many Mexican expats — and those who want to show solidarity with them — are choosing to respond to the horrors of Ayotzinapa through the arts.

Andrea Arroyo, a Mexican-American visual artist and curator who lives in New York City, is one of the people leading a pop culture response to the disappearance of the 43 students in Guerrero state. Arroyo, who initially felt helpless in the face of the news coming out of Mexico, says she was inspired to take creative action after watching protests in New York City’s Union Square. After talking with her friend and fellow visual artist, Victoria Roberts, who had the idea of making a virtual quilt, Arroyo and Roberts launched the bilingual visual arts project, “Tributo a Los Desaparecidos/Tribute to the Disappeared.”

"De Luto - In Mourning" by Sylvia Hernández. Photo courtesy Andrea Arroyo.

“De Luto – In Mourning” by Sylvia Hernández. Photo courtesy Andrea Arroyo.

Modeled on the idea of the AIDS Memorial Quilt, the women are inviting artists of all genres to submit images that commemorate the loss of life in Mexico. Though it was provoked by the disappearance of the students, the intent of “Tribute” is to remember all Mexicans who have been victims of state-sponsored and drug violence.

See also: Relatives criticize Mexico’s disappeared statistics

Arroyo set up social media pages for “Tribute to the Disappeared” in November and will be launching a website in the coming days for the open-ended project.

“The power of an online project is the broad reach and immediacy; the Internet gives us the tools to gather and share art from around the world in an instant,” she said. “As soon as we launched Tribute to the Disappeared, we got an amazingly enthusiastic response, and we realized there is solidarity from around the world. We are overwhelmed by the support, and we hope to create an ongoing dialogue about social justice, and most importantly, to share creativity, love and hope.” She added that artists from as far away as Russia have shared their artwork for the quilt.

The images Arroyo and Roberts receive will be “stitched” together into a virtual quilt.

“We hope to gather the work of as many artists from around the world as possible,” said Arroyo. In addition to sharing the quilt online to make it accessible to anyone with an internet connection, Arroyo will be approaching New York galleries to discuss the possibility of a physical exhibition of the work.

“Just as the AIDS Memorial Quilt brought attention to the AIDS epidemic, we hope to bring public attention to another epidemic of innocent lives lost to the drug war, poverty and migration,” she said.

"Si Me Olvidas Ellos Ganan" (If You Forget Me, They Win) by Donaji Castañeda. Photo courtesy Andrea Arroyo.

“Si Me Olvidas Ellos Ganan” (If You Forget Me, They Win) by Donaji Castañeda. Photo courtesy Andrea Arroyo.

Stories hanging in the air

New York isn’t the only place where artists are issuing calls to respond to the disappearance of the students through their creative medium.

In Pittsburgh, Ichita Rodríguez, who is also from Mexico, organized and hosted an event called “Ayotzinapa’s Clothesline.” The event — equal parts exhibit, protest and information day — was held on November 20, coinciding with the global Day of Action for Ayotzinapa. Rodríguez strung four clotheslines, on which were hung white t-shirts bearing the name, image and story of each of the 43 missing students. Visitors to the exhibit were invited to write messages to the students on the back of the shirts.

See also: Art in a time of agony: llustrators for Ayotzinapa

For Rodríguez, it was important to have an educational and interactive component to the exhibit, not only because the site of the show was a university, but because so few people in the United States are aware of the situation involving the 43 missing students.

“All of the people who came [to the exhibit] read each and every one of the students’ stories,” said Rodríguez. “Many people had to leave the room and take a deep breath and then come back in.”

Although the show was only on display for the day, she intends to find other sites across Pittsburgh where she can install the clotheslines.

Letting music do the talking

Many visual artists have been at the forefront of the response to the Ayotzinapa case, but musicians and other creatives are speaking out as well. Hundreds of musicians, both hobbyists and professionals, have uploaded videos to YouTube in which they use the structure of the corrido, a traditional Mexican song form, to decry the injustices that have been perpetrated in Mexico — not only in Guerrero but throughout the country.

The corrido has traditionally been a way to spread news and stories by word-of-mouth; many corridos have become inscribed in the country’s musical canon.

“It’s the perfect form for talking about Ayotzinapa,” said José Luís Carrisoza of Chicago, Illinois. He and his father, José Luís Carrisoza Sr., are just two among hundreds of musicians whose corridos now pop up when YouTube users search for “corrido” “Ayotzinapa” on the video-sharing site.

For José Luís, whose father was born in Guerrero, the state where the students were disappeared, art, music, and the social media platforms on which they can be shared allow a greater awareness to spread more quickly about this and other social problems.

“It is important to do what we can from where we are,” he said.

Walking 350 miles for peace in Colombia

10608737_348704525303565_6786414525647342015_o
Women marching through Cauca province toward Bogotá. Photo: Afro-Colombian Solidarity Network

While the temporary suspension of Colombia’s peace talks after the bizarre kidnapping of a general shook the country last week, a different movement was gathering steam in the southwestern Cauca province, where more than 30 Afro-Colombian women from the small town of La Toma began a 350-mile march over the mountains to the capital of Bogotá.

Their mission: To bring attention to the social and environmental havoc that illegal mining and the armed groups often behind it are wreaking on their community, and demand action from the Colombian government. The women arrived in Bogotá on Tuesday, with plans to make their demands heard by the country’s constitutional court.

In a statement prepared for the media, leaders wrote, “They ask us who we are? Black women from Cauca. What do we want? The space to care for life…We don’t want to feel fear when we walk our trails… We want the exploitative [mining] titles to be revoked because we were not consulted. We want to live without the fear caused by the machine owners that send us notes saying that they know when our daughters and sons leave school.”

The community of La Toma is home to about 1,300 families, but the challenges they face around illegal gold mining are illustrative of a larger issue at the heart of Colombia’s conflict: natural resources. From the coal and oil that fuels the export economy to the gold that armed groups increasingly use to finance their activities, the battle to control land is a major reason that the Colombia’s civil war has continued for over half a century and, according to a report released last week from the National Victims Unit, claimed more than 7 million lives.

The “mining engine” of the economy, as Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos calls it, was the subject of a special forum in Colombia’s Congress last week. According to the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), 40 percent of Colombia’s territory is currently licensed to or under review for mining concessions, while a report by the ABColombia Coalition puts the total higher at nearly 60 percent.

The swaths of territory licensed to large-scale mining along with smaller, illegal operations like those in La Toma have profound consequences in rural areas, particularly for Afro-Colombian and indigenous residents. Both of these groups have a right to ancestral lands and prior consultation guaranteed by Colombia’s Constitution, but under Colombia’s polemic mining code and fraught land restitution process, the reality looks quite different.

While many Afro-Colombian communities in the Pacific region have pan-mined for gold in the surrounding rivers since their ancestors were brought to the region in the 1500s, this ‘artisanal’ mining is often deemed illegal by authorities, lumped into the same category as the armed groups’ operations. Communities are banned from mining even as illegal armed actors engage in more destructive forms of it, threaten leaders and drive displacement to urban areas. Meanwhile, large multinational mining operations, which were granted tax breaks and high royalties under former president Álvaro Uribe, continue to enjoy free reign in many regions.

Despite repeated calls since August for the Colombian government to intervene and halt illegal mining in their territories, La Toma leaders say that there are still more than 100 pieces of illegal mining machinery in Cauca, and that armed men continue to guard the equipment and threaten community members. Marchers were threatened by illegal armed groups as well as harassed by police last week.

“All of these threats are part of another war in our ancestral territories that steals peace from our hearts,” wrote the women.

The marchers intend to maintain their protest in Bogotá until the Colombian government acknowledges their demands, which include removing the illegal mining machinery, compliance with court orders and laws that guarantee rights to ancestral territory and prior consultation, protections for community leaders, investigation and sanctions for those responsible for illegal activities and threats and a voice in the peace talks in Havana, Cuba. As the women see it, a peace agreement without the voice of Afro-descendant communities is not inclusive, and therefore no peace at all.