Sunday, December 20, 2009

Mexico’s 1968 Student Movement and The New Song

This is an expansion of a previous blog posted on October 2nd, 2008.

Similar to Chile’s protest musicians, Mexico’s nueva canción was a heroic act to change the homogeneity of the elite through songs. These musicians influenced many other people, and artists, to become politically active for generations to come. They took active roles in conscientisizing the public by singing about controversial ideas and statements and proclaiming revolution, exposing government corruption and its oppressive behavior. During the 1968 student movement, the new song was a catalyst for inspiring the masses to protest against the government’s lack of student attention due to the Olympics held that year. These protests caused national attention which led the government to commit one of the most scandalous acts.
October 2nd of 1968 has remained one of the first major atrocities of Mexican authorities. The student movements of the U.S. and Europe that same year had a profound impact in Mexico, where the memory of them would prove to be enduring. The emergence of Mexico’s student movement began in the summer of 1968. The student movement was inspired from six demands that formed the actual framework of the students’ official petition. They were: 1) freedom for political prisoners, 2) elimination of Article 145 of the Penal Code, 3) abolition of the tactical police corps (granaderos), 4) dismissal of the Mexico City chiefs of police, 5) indemnification for victims of repression, and 6) justice against those responsible for repression (Zolov: 1999; 121). The students wanted to exploit the attention focused on the Olympics.

However, President Gustavo Díaz Ordaz was determined to stop all sorts of demonstrations by taking it to the federal level, instead of letting the local police handle it. The government took strong interests since this caused embarrassment due to heavy tourism because of the 1968 Olympics held in Mexico City. Alas, the government decided to solve the situation of outspoken students by shooting one of the school’s doors off with a bazooka during a student conference. Instead of diminishing the authority’s problem maturely, it caused a bigger dispute and other schools got involved causing massive demonstrations. Because the government had a brutal repression towards its students, and their refusal to meet with the students needs, logically the rallies grew exponentially. The masses increased from 20,000 students to 200,000 students, and finally to half a million people demonstrating at the heart of the city, Zocalo. The image of the nation was out of control, especially since the whole world had its eye on Mexico City, due to the Olympics.

Early October 2nd, ten days before the big day of the Olympics, students called out a rally to inspire people to demonstrate and meet with the leaders of the state. This demonstration was held on the Plaza de tres culturas. The setting was a symbolical landmark located in Tlatelolco since the plaza has three cultures in one space: Aztecs ruins, a Spanish colonial cathedral, and modern buildings of the time by the ruling Revolutionary Institutional Party (PRI). For this demonstration, about 10,000 people showed up. Strangely, there was a very unusual and suspicious vibe around; a heavy police and army presence, and boxed in plaza with no easy exit. There were undercover police and military members dressed in civilian clothing; however, each wore a single white glove indicating they were not civilians. Dreadfully in this demonstration, the protesters paid their consequences for “embarrassing the country” during international attention. Commanded by president of the time, Díaz Ordaz, the protesters were forcefully trapped in the plaza. The snipers with the white gloves fired into the crowds slaughtering activists who strove for national justice along with innocent residents including children and elders. Tremendous amounts of people were heartbroken, frightened, yet raged. The Mexican government had reported eighteen deaths of people in the massacre of Tlatelolco, which in truth resulted to be around 300 to 400 deaths.

Folk singers, or nueva canión activists, started chronically narrating this movement, the 1968 student movement. Because as mentioned before, the ruling political party, PRI, would not allow any officially distributed news to favor or sympathize these students, any media representation expressed towards this movement were all in a negative light. Several new song musician/activists who created a counter narration of the events are Jose de Molina, Oscar Chavez, Judith Reyes, Pedro Calderon, and Angel Parra. In the case of Judith Reyes, she was another musician who was abducted and held imprisoned under the strict custody of presidential guards, where she remained in complete darkness under physical and psychological torture. Her release was obtained after major protests demanding it.

These outspoken and innovating musician/activists, or in Gramscian terms ‘organic intellectuals,’ paved the way to other upcoming musicians to touch upon this particular event. This was a boom of musicians singing about Mexico 1968 of folk-rock, punk, and rock en español genres. They include Masacre 68 (punk group named after the massacre), Maldita Vecindad, Panteon Rococó, Tres Botones, Banda Bostik, La Parranda Magna, Rodrigo Gonzalez, amongst others. A major theme reoccurring within lyrics was the concept of “October 2nd will never be forgotten.”
Major reasons of why once controversial folk music survives today are largely because of the growing technological expressions for media representations reaching the hands of the rest of the population. Old footage retrieved that documents these events and songs, like Calderon’s song (see his footnote), and added on social media networks, shared through P2P file sharing, and other forms of media expressions, have constituted forms of resistance and raised consciousness for such events badly represented by official modes of communication.

When music uncovers and spreads the message of oppression, injustices, public militaristic executions, and state massacres, the rest of society starts questioning the governing of the nation and the media. When repressive and physical coercion reaches a point of breakage, such as how these folk revivals disrupted the hegemonic system, then those in control have to reinvent methods to keep society controlled, oppressed, and watched. Although the commodification of music had already existed during this folk revival, hence one of the reasons for its emergence, then technology and media furthermore tie in stronger to aim towards public consent and ideological coercion.

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