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Border & Immigration

San Diego Remembers The Missing People In Mexico

A large banner asks for information on Diego Rosas Valenzuela, the missing cousin of KPBS Fronteras reporter Jean Guerrero, outside of Mexico City, Sept. 1, 2016.
A large banner asks for information on Diego Rosas Valenzuela, the missing cousin of KPBS Fronteras reporter Jean Guerrero, outside of Mexico City, Sept. 1, 2016.

San Diego Remembers The Missing People In Mexic
Two years after 43 students disappeared from southern Mexico, San Diego residents stand in solidarity with the families of the missing.

Roughly every two hours, someone vanishes in Mexico.

That's according to recent data from the country's registry of missing people. "El Proceso," one of the most widely read investigative magazines south of the border, calls Mexico “the country of the disappeared.”

Some of those missing people have family in San Diego County, including a relative of mine. My cousin, Diego Rosas Valenzuela, disappeared from Ecatepec, Mexico on Sept. 4, 2015, just days after his 16th birthday.

A farmer who lives in Fallbrook, Roque Mateo, had his then-23-year-old godson go missing in Iguala, Guerrero on Sept. 26, 2014.

Roque Mateo's godson, Miguel Ángel Mendoza Zacarias, is pictured in this undated photo.
Roque Mateo's godson, Miguel Ángel Mendoza Zacarias, is pictured in this undated photo.

In fact, the disappearance of his godson, Miguel Ángel Mendoza Zacarias, was part of an incident that brought international attention to Mexico’s missing people problem — and the role of Mexican authorities in those crimes — exactly two years ago.

That case is known as Ayotzinapa. It happened nearly 2,000 miles south of the border, but it has moved and mobilized people across the United States. People throughout San Diego County held commemorative rallies on Monday.

On Sept. 26, 2014, 43 students, among them Mateo’s godson, vanished from the Mexican state of Guerrero after police allegedly handed them over to a drug cartel for execution. Their families are still looking for them. Searches across the state have uncovered numerous mass graves, but none have yielded the students. They're among more than 25,000 people who have disappeared over the past decade in Mexico.

On Monday, Mateo was at a march in Mexico City with his godson’s parents and thousands of others holding up photos of missing loved ones while protesting the Ayotzinapa case.

Meanwhile, rallies throughout San Diego County sought to remind people on this side of the border about Ayotzinapa and what it represents.

San Diego City College held a rally on the two-year anniversary of the disappearance of 43 Mexican students, Sept. 26, 2016.
Christopher Maue
San Diego City College held a rally on the two-year anniversary of the disappearance of 43 Mexican students, Sept. 26, 2016.

“That could have been me,” said Joanna Mayorquin, 28, a student of San Diego City College during an 11 a.m. rally on campus. She wore a shirt featuring the name “Benjamin Ascencio Bautista,” one of the missing 43 students who attended a school known as Ayotzinapa before they vanished.

During the event, she and other students kneeled on the floor, blindfolded, and stood up one-by-one, symbolizing the hoped-for return of each missing individual.

Students at San Diego City College exhibited backpacks remembering 43 disappeared Mexican youths, Sept. 26, 2016.
Christopher Maue
Students at San Diego City College exhibited backpacks remembering 43 disappeared Mexican youths, Sept. 26, 2016.

“They took them alive, we want them back alive!” chanted the students.

Other rallies occurred at the Mexican consulate on India Street in the morning and at the San Ysidro Trolley Station in the evening.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights recently published a report showing that Mexico’s federal government has been obstructing the search for truth in the Ayotzinapa case.

According to "El Proceso," the rate of disappearance rose to a record level — an average of 12 new missing people each day — after President Enrique Peña Nieto came to office in 2012.

Fallbrook farmer Roque Mateo is searching for his missing godson, Sept. 17, 2016.
Jean Guerrero
Fallbrook farmer Roque Mateo is searching for his missing godson, Sept. 17, 2016.

Mateo, the Fallbrook farmer who is looking for his godson, said hope lies in people's memories.

“The government expects that with the passage of time, people will start forgetting,” he said. “I hope we will not forget.”

One thing is sure: he won’t forget.

“I will search for (my godson) until I find him,” he said.