Demonstrations on Mexico drug war offered look at Mexicans abroad
When large demonstrations in Mexico calling for an end to the drug war grew last spring, communities of citizens abroad perked up and took notice.
Chatter began popping up on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks. Virtual groups formed. Mexicans living abroad united around a feeling of desperation over a climbing death toll and reacted to a growing sense among Mexicans at home that the government was losing control of the situation.
By May 8, when poet Javier Sicilia led tens of thousands of demonstrators on a march to the historic heart of Mexico City, smaller demonstrations were also held in cities all over the world, including Barcelona, Spain; Buenos Aires; Madrid; Montreal, Canada; Frankfurt, Germany; and in Paris with the Eiffel Tower looming in the distance (links in Spanish).
The demonstrations not only showed that many Mexicans abroad were up-to-date with developments back home, they also offered a window into the large numbers of Mexicans making lives in other countries besides the traditional migration magnet of the United States.
Due largely to its historical migration relationship with the United States, Mexico is identified as the leading exporter of migrants worldwide according to the website Peoplemov.in, which uses open data sources to tabulate bilateral migration patterns. The World Bank also places Mexico as the highest source of human emigration on the planet (see the bank's data chart titled Bilateral migration matrix). The bank says 11.5 million Mexicans lived abroad as of November 2010, with 10.3 million of them in the United States.
By comparison, 2.2 million Americans live outside their country, with 452,182 of those U.S. citizens living in Mexico, the World Bank says.
There are significant groups of Mexican citizens in Canada, Spain and France, all countries that saw protests on May 8 (link in Spanish). Perhaps the most significant protest against Mexico's drug war occurred in Berlin, where a Facebook group appeared early on using the movement's now-ubiquitous "No Mas Sangre," or "No More Blood" logo (link in Spanish).
Mexicans, German Mexicans and others marched in silence on one of Berlin's most prominent thoroughfares, from the Victory Column to the famous Brandenburg Gate. Watch a video of the demonstration embedded below, with some narration in Spanish.
The protest hinted at a strong Mexican presence in Germany, where 9,523 Mexican nationals live, according to a representative of the Mexican embassy in Berlin, citing Germany's central statistics agency. Of those, nearly 1,000 live in Berlin and 5,000 live in the western region of Rheinland-Bfalz. The overall figure has risen since 2009, when 9,213 Mexicans lived in Germany.
In an email interview with La Plaza, one of the co-organizers of the Berlin march said that Mexicans in Germany activated a network they didn't know was there.
"Here the Mexican community is usually not in touch, at least not for political affairs," said Sabina Morales Rosas from Berlin. "But people spontaneously brought their own banners, flags and crosses."
"When arriving to the Brandenburg Gate," Morales continued, "we formed a circle and we built an 'altar' in the middle of the square, like on dia de los muertos for the memory of the victims. A support statement was read in three languages. And at the end the microphone was opened for other spontaneous speakers that brought poems, essays and also traditional Mexican songs. It was beautiful, our voice and strings were there at the Brandenburg Gate for Mexico."
A graduate student and native of Mexico City, Morales said the May 8 march in Berlin crystallized indignation with the drug war and its effects on society. Relatives and friends back home keep Mexicans in Germany constantly up-to-date on developments, Morales and others said.
"It began as something spontaneous, driven by the basic need of demonstrating collectively in this precise moment, when civil society in Mexico is protesting against violence, the militarization of the country, government corruption, impunity and the economic and global causes of the penetration of organized crime in the social tissue," she said.
Even if the peace movement has not produced any concrete changes in the government anti-crime strategy, it has opened space for creative responses to the violence, such as the protest act of tinting fountains in Mexico City in red, representing the drug war's bloodshed (link in Spanish). These efforts, however diverse, have galvanized Mexicans, Mexicans abroad and Mexican Americans to make their voices heard on Mexico's struggle to combat organized crime and the war's climbing social tolls.
In Los Angeles, writer Ruben Martinez organized a drug-war "variety show" aimed at illustrating how the narco conflict in Mexico is affected by drug consumption in the United States, the world's largest narcotics market. The "Variedades" event on May 14 featured spoken word, music and film from local artists and musicians. Watch a video of the night here.
"Variedades is a conscious effort to dialogue across the geopolitical border with our colleagues in Mexico City," Martinez said in an email message. "We are at war and there is so little serious discussion about it."
Photo: A woman holds a Mexican flag with anti-drug war messages in French during a demonstration in Montreal, Canada, on May 8. / Credit: Facebook.com