Ayotzinapa and the Strength of the Rural Normal School Community
Luis Hernández Navarro
La Jornada, 28th October, 2014
Translated by Sally Seward
One, two, three, four, the crowd calls out, not stopping until they reach number 43, and then demanding at the top of their voices: "Justice!"
"Felipe Arnulfo Rosa", reads out a voice. "Present!" respond hundreds of angry voices. "Benjamín Ascencio Bautista", it asks again. "Present!" answer the demonstrators. "Israel Caballero Sánchez"…
These are the names of the students from the Rural Normal School of Ayotzinapa who were disappeared by the municipal police of Iguala and Cocula. They are the same people whose faces appear by the thousands on the banners and pieces of canvas that students and citizens carry at all kinds of protests, demanding that the authorities return them alive.
What strange irony. After being separated from national public life for years and appearing from time to time in the media as an educational vestige of the past that needed to be eradicated, the rural normal schools are right in the middle of the debate today. The tragedy of Ayotzinapa, a rural normal school, has shaken the national conscience, taken students from public and private universities out into the streets in almost the entire country, and brought about the most serious political crisis in a long time.
The demonstrations that show solidarity with the normal school students never stop. Every day new forces join: religious representatives, artists, intellectuals, athletes and unions. The attempt of the broadcast media to contain, minimize and distort the meaning of the protests has failed.
Why has this particular tragedy brought about such feelings of indignation? Because it was the straw that broke the camel’s back, as was the murder of poet Javier Sicilia’s son, at a different time and on a different scale. On this occasion, both the stories of police brutality against a group of poor boys, harassed and unarmed, and the image of the pained parents have touched other parents, who see in these events something that could have happened to their children. This creates instant identification and works as a linking element for the social discontent that up until now has been scattered.
The suffering and agony of those parents brings together the uncertainty and insecurity that many citizens experience in many regions. In the story of the normal school students, we discover the feeling of vulnerability brought about by being a young person in a country where young people are recurring victims of the violence of the government. In the story of a mayor who was allowed to escape, we see evidence of the pact of impunity that protects the political class.
But that pain and that rage, that fear and that longing for the young people to return alive has its hard nucleus, its source of legitimacy, and its network of protection in a community fabric that is elusive to the techno-bureaucracy leading the country. That network is the one that gives the social mobilization the source of moral authority currently expanding throughout the society.
Yes, they are not just 43 missing young people. Behind them are more than forty hurting parents and their extended families, mostly with very few resources, who spend their nights awake waiting for their children to appear. Alongside them are many communities, almost all rural, begging for the safe return of their neighbours. Shoulder to shoulder, about 500 students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Normal School march, awaiting the return of their schoolmates, whom they sit by and share dormitories with. As if they were an army, thousands of graduates, who are deeply committed to the school that allowed them to get ahead in their lives, accompany them, many of them working in the most remote towns of Guerrero. These graduates take what has been done to the young people as a personal attack. At the forefront are about 8,000 students from other rural normal schools, connected to them long before tragedy arrived in their lives.
The rural normal schools make up an imaginary community, comprised not only of the students that study in their classrooms and live in their dormitories, but also of the students’ towns, the agricultural worker groups they work with in school internships and the communities where their graduates go to work. The current teachers who graduated from within their walls are an important part of it. For all these people, what happens there concerns them.
The rural normal schools are one of the few means of social mobility that young people in rural areas have. The future they make for themselves thanks to their studies has an impact on the lives of the communities. What happens there is important to them. They are theirs: they are a living legacy of the Mexican Revolution, an inheritance of the rural school and the [Lázaro] Cárdenas presidency [1934-40], which they are not willing to give up.
The students who are taught in those schools are also part of one of the oldest student organizations in the country: the Federation of Rural Socialist Students of Mexico (FECSM). Founded in 1935, it has played a fundamental role in the survival of the rural normal schools, which are pestered relentlessly by educational authorities and local governments. Its directors are students with good behaviour and an average grade of no less than eight [out of ten]. Only the best students represent their classmates. The leaders are young people with political training, analytic abilities, organizational skills and a vision.
That community, made up of many different generations and communities, is the one that has kept the rural normal schools from being closed in the past. It is the one that has resisted the aggressions against it. It has made the survival of the project possible.
In the disappearance of the 43 normal school students from Ayotzinapa at the hands of the police, that community sees a serious affront that requires a response. It takes as mockery the fact that the government is not making the location of the young people clear. It becomes indignant before the attempt of the authorities not to make the legal truth coincide with the historical truth. It, with all of its moral authority, calls on the rest of society to join the fight. It demands, with never-ending rage and determination, that its children appear alive.