To be silent or to speak may constitute the difference between life and death. The life that comes from speaking, the life that comes from being silent; the death that comes from speaking, the death that comes from being silent.
—Trauma and Healing Under State Terrorism, by Inger Agger, Søren Buus Jensen
Midway on one of the major journeys of her life—the journey to find her son, Jorge—Blanca Luz Vélez Nava takes a moment to breathe. “I think of Jorge all day and all night, and I won’t stop until we get him back, until we find out the truth of what happened,” she says, while sitting on one of the granite slabs beneath the 300-foot campanile clock that marks the birth of the Free Speech Movement, the South Africa and the Central America solidarity movements, and other movements that fired political imaginations here at the University of California, Berkeley, in the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s.
“I’m halfway on this trip and I’m tired,” she continues, as she listens to a student strumming her guitar, “but I hear the young woman playing and I think of Jorge, because he loved to play guitar too. I see these young people and I feel happy knowing they support us and give us cariño [love].” Nava’s eyes light up as she looks toward the hundreds of students, faculty, and parents gathered solemnly in a circle, as if they’re protecting the delicate flames of the 43 small white votive candles forming the number “43” at the center of this outdoor event. Each flame is a reminder of Jorge and the 42 other student teachers from Mexico’s Ayotzinapa Teachers College, whose disappearance last September 26, along with six who were murdered, has inspired anger and indignation, as well as other, nobler sentiments—ones that start and sustain movements for social and political change.
Such expressions of solidaridad surprised Nava from the moment she and the dozen other parents and fellow students of the 43 missing student teachers, called “Normalistas,” crossed the McAllen-Matamoros border into the United States on March 15. As West Coast representatives of the Caravana43, she and her colleagues say they are undertaking the one-and-a-half-month journey, visiting more than 40 US cities, in order to educate and agitate around the disappearances that have become emblematic of the larger crisis in Mexico, which has left more than 100,000 dead and more than 25,000 disappeared, many of whom, they say, were killed and disappeared by the Mexican government. The three-pronged Caravana (East Coast, Midwest and West Coast), she said, is also shining a light on the US government, which provides guns and training through Plan Mérida, the multibillion-dollar security aid package that Nava and other parents say is “being used to kill, hurt and disappear our children.” The three legs of the caravan will converge on New York City for a final rally on April 26 at the United Nations and other events there and in Washington, DC.