Imagine working at Mexico’s most prestigious educational institution; indeed, Latin America’s top university. Here you are, pounding away in your cubicle, when suddenly you hear the distant ramble of a disturbance. Curious, you get out of your seat and go outside, just in time to see a mob of rabid young men, most carrying sticks or rocks, many lighting home-made, high-powered firecrackers whose explosions rattle windows and startle quiet, harmless professors and students, swarming through the parking lot, damaging and jumping on cars. They go on their way to the stadium, not before causing huge damage to cars and the university’s property. But more importantly, they damage the community’s faith and sense of safety. Even here, within the generous shelter of UNAM’s walls, you are not safe. So, as is usual in Mexico, you give thanks that the most that happened was that YOUR car got this beautiful scratch. Hey, you should be glad that’s ALL that happened to you.
I’ve never actually understood “porros”, groups of psudo-students who act as hitmen to terrorize and further political intentions. Whose political intentions? I have no idea. All we know is that they gather in huge numbers and, sheltered in the mob they form, they perform all sorts of mindless vandalism. In this case, with the excuse of a traditional football game (Poli vs. UNAM), they came to campus for the “burning of the donkey” (Poli’s mascot), and in their wake a lot of damage and fear was left. The school was evacuated, all buildings closed down and locked, and the university was left at their mercy because, hey, what will the few hundred security staff do against over a thousand porros except stand idly by?
I have a very low opinion on UNAM’s administrative staff but in this case I admire the nerve to at least stand close to the action when most people would run away. But the fact is UNAM is nobody’s land, and as such is usually a victim to this sort of event. Of course public force could be called to hold off the mobs, but that would be a violation of university autonomy and a huge backlash would come. So no, instead the entire university is left at the mercy of these guys.
What’s most ironic is that these guys are supposed to be university students; they should uphold its values and be honest, have integrity and be open to dialog, not resort to vandalism and violence.
So there you have it: the country actually nurtures something that is worth all the trouble; one of the few candlelights in Mexico’s darkness. An institution to make us proud, within the country and internationally. This is the best Mexico has to offer: its best cultural achievements, its brightest minds, its most open and plural community.
What do Mexicans do with this wonder? they milk it for all it’s worth, take malicious advantage of it, use it to further political causes, vandalize it, harming its reputation and property, and above all, scare away the very minds that helped build this institution. Because hey, let me tell you, after today the only thing on my mind is to put as big a distance between me and these people as possible.
I won’t for the time being, because I’m proud of this university (I studied here) and glad to be able to contribute to make it better. However my patience is wearing thin, as my concern grows that the university is becoming more and more a mirror of how things work in this country. If we don’t respect and protect UNAM, what’s left for us to defend and be proud of? precious little, I think.