As the sun began to set last Friday, white kites bearing images of disappeared Mexican students soared over the New Haven Green.
This past week marked five years since those 43 students disappeared on the way to a protest in Mexico City. Unidad Latina en Acción — a New Haven advocacy organization hoping to shed light on both local and international immigration and human rights issues — commemorated the missing Mexican students locally by flying kites with the faces and names of the students displayed in the style of Mexican artist Francisco Toledo.
“Since we are from Mexico and many other countries, we want to share this story with all the other countries that are a part of Unidad Latina,” Erick Sarmiento, one of the event organizers, told the News in an interview.
The Mexican government claimed, in an official report, that the disappearance was most likely related to drug trafficking. Since then, some have criticized and questioned the legitimacy of the investigation and its findings.
Sarmiento, who is originally from Mexico and has lived in New Haven for about 10 years, told the News that an important goal of the demonstration was to continue to demand accountability and honor the students’ memories as activists even as time has passed and investigations have dragged on. He pointed to ongoing bureaucratic legal proceedings by the Mexican government, even five years later.
That goal drew many of the event’s attendees. Stephanie Velazquez, a 13-year-old student translating for her father, Geraldo Velazquez, told the News in an interview that her family decided to attend the event because they wanted to remember the students and support the ULA community. She noted the symbolism of the kites, which “[represent the students] being free.”
In addition to the white kites, organizers of the event hoped the New Haven Green would be an especially symbolic location, as it represented the coming together of many community members and advocacy organizations in the city.
IV Staklo, a New Haven resident and organizer for the Party for Socialism and Liberation, helped to hang dozens of paper kites from a string facing City Hall and the County Courthouse. The kites formed a striking scene in front of the seat of New Haven’s political power. Staklo told the News that the installation “really needs to be visible either to the communities most affected or to the people making the decisions.”
Other community members who participated on Friday and have been involved in similar events emphasized the importance of sending a political message and supporting immigrant rights in the Elm City, particularly as immigrant communities have fallen under fire in national political discourse.
The event also intended to memorialize Mexican artist and activist Francisco Toledo, who died on Sept. 5 at age 79. His artwork, including intricate kites, was notable for its use of natural imagery and its foundation in pre-Colombian indigenous traditions. He used his creative platform for advocacy in his home city of Oaxaca and was known for his philanthropy.
ULA was established in 2002.
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