Performing Ayotzinapa in Los Angeles: Evaluating our Proximity to Mexico’s Violence and Corruption
By Nidia Bautista
Walking into the Teatro Frida Kahlo our party chose seats that immersed us into a stage completely shrouded in black, as if in mourning. As a journalist who has covered the protests for Ayotzinapa in Mexico City during the latter half of last year, I immediately detected the presence of arresting loss, so often expressed upon the faces of the students’ family members during protests, lingering upon the empty stage. I suddenly felt transported to Mexico City yet remained firmly anchored in the heart of Los Angeles. As I experimented what I felt was a reminder of the political and cultural nepantilisms that often lay dormant within many of us of the Mexican diaspora, the first actor appeared articulating the words of a grieving mother over her disappeared son.
In Situación: Desaparecido actors of an all Latin@ and Spanish-speaking cast took to the stage to interpret the testimonies of family members and friends of the forty-three students disappeared last Sept. 26 in Iguala, Guerrero, Mexico. That night the local police of this small rural town intercepted the group of rural teacher students, affiliated with the Ayotzinapa School, opening fire, killing three students, and kidnapping, or disappearing, forty-three others. As the days and weeks passed, government representatives have disclosed various accounts of that night, implicating local drug cartels in the students’ disappearance, diminishing the government’s and security forces’ potential association to the disappearances. The violence inflected upon these rural and mostly indigenous young people helped channel societal discontent with government corruption, state violence and widespread impunity into massive demonstrations that have reached a global scale. To this day the whereabouts and even the remains of the students remain unknown to their families, who since October have been unrelentingly leading the massive protests and caravans all over Mexico.
Sitting in the audience of Situación I witnessed the pain and emotion of the actors as they taught us about the students’ mannerisms and preoccupations. In detail they described the anxieties and dreams of students that hoped to change their community through education, as teachers. Although the overall mood was one of mourning, and ultimately of absence, each family member and friend remembered their loved one not as someone permanently disappeared but choose instead to rejoice in the vitality of qualities that made each a star student, a jokester, an athlete, and a friend. And much like thousands of protestors who have hoisted up printed and artistically rendered pictures of each student, in the attempt to connect a human face to an appalling human rights violation, the play helped me become better acquainted with the personalities of the forty-three, stringing together the images, stories and numbers to fully represent the humanity of loss and injustice now so commonplace in Mexico.
After the last testimony, and upon the conclusion of the collective count for the 43 by the cast, the director Rubén Amavizca-Murúa and cast invited the audience to participate in a Q & A session that quickly turned into an enthused discussion. Actors and audience members alike provided interesting perspectives including how the play has encouraged them to evaluate how violence in Mexico directly affects their communities and what they feel they can do in light of Ayotzinapa and the thousands of disappearances of Mexicans.
I walked out of the theater feeling inspired and encouraged that these sort of discussions were taking place so far from Mexico. And in retrospect the play taught me that thousands of people are connected to the forty-three. The actors in Situación, visibly overwhelmed by an enveloping and emotionally challenging role, audience members drawn to the play for personal, cultural and political reasons, and the protestors who have taken to the streets to finally render visible the victims of Mexico’s violence that have remained faceless for so long.
Situación: Desaparecido showed at Teatro Frida Kahlo for the last time this past Sunday. Their closing show parallels a recent announcement by the Mexican government about the closing of the case. They have attempted to pronounce the students “officially murdered” according to forensic evidence, bypassing an Argentine forensic team and the demands for proof of a thorough and transparent investigation by the families. For nineteen shows the cast of this play showed the resolve and the will that has compelled the families and people like myself, to visibilize and share stories of those affected by the violence plaguing Mexico. As a result of artistic projects like Situación, perhaps Mexicans and people on both sides of the border can begin to better understand how normalized violence has become, how easily it has been made faceless, and help encourage us to recognize that we must use our collective power in the name of life and presence.
Nidia Bautista is a freelance journalist, educator, and activist from Boyle Heights enthused by transborder living. Her earliest physical journeys began with her parents, who in their move from their rural roots in northern Mexico to Los Angeles weaved the lessons, and walkways that articulated the transbarrio and bordered existence she came to call home. Although she has traveled extensively through Mexico and Central America, she also travels through the various literary forms and structures, familiarizing herself with both words of flesh and experience as she learn to be simultaneously thinker and poet. Her journalism focuses on social movements and social justice in Mexico and in her blog ellaestaporembarcar.com she makes room to explore her experiences and plans for unceasing travel. For more on her work on Ayotzinapa: cipamericas.org. Other writing, poems, and video can be read at ellaestaporembarcar.com