Journalists Memorialized in Mexican Celebration

It started off as any other night at the Tobacco Dock in the popular East London event hall. It was bustling with people wearing flower crowns and face paint—the two dead giveaways of a music festival. The festival-goers were celebrating the Day of the Dead festival, a traditional Mexican holiday. This festival, however, had a higher purpose. Not only was the event planned to educate people about Mexican culture, but it also aimed at raising money to support journalism and fight for freedom of speech.

The Day of the Dead in Mexico is a time to celebrate the lives of departed friends and family members. Traditions associated with the holiday include the creation of altars, called ‘ofrendas,’ which people leave by the graves of their loved ones to honor their lives.

On the surface, it might have appeared to be a convivial atmosphere, with food stations stock-full of tacos and margaritas and a diverse lineup of musical artists, but the undertones of the night’s events were much more somber.

Wahaca, the UK restaurant group that sponsored and put together this festival is inspired by the fresh food found in Mexican markets. Each restaurant that Wahaca opens is held to high standards of sustainability and ethical practices. With this in mind, it is no surprise that the group would give back to the Mexican community from which it draws its inspiration.dodd

The lower level of the Tobacco Dock featured a memorial honoring Mexico’s 55 murdered journalists, including Rubén Espinosa, a Mexican photojournalist who was murdered this year after being intimidated by local authorities for exposing hard truths. Espinosa was found dead with four women in an apartment in Mexico City, where he fled to after going into exile from the state of Veracruz. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, there have been 11 journalists killed in Veracruz since 2010, all under governor Javier Duarte.

Mexico City has set up an agency to help journalists fleeing from persecution. Espinosa was the first journalist to be killed while in exile in Mexico’s capital, marking a new level of violence against journalists.

On his blog, Chris Sharpe wrote of the festival: “It was touching that the festival told the story of Regina Martinez and Ruben Espinosa, both of whom were murdered for having the courage to speak out against this corruption.”

The Day of the Dead offered the perfect opportunity to celebrate the lives of these journalists who died for their work. It also served as a chance to raise awareness about the hurdles that still stand in the way of freedom of speech, particularly in Mexico.

“It was a very cultural experience,” said Marist College junior Bronte More, who is currently studying abroad in London.

dodd310 percent of the proceeds from food and drink sales at the festival went to the Mexican charity, Periodistas de Pie, which helps Mexican journalists in danger fight for freedom of speech. The charity has recently expanded their work to train journalists by “providing them with tools to carry out their work in a safe way and to protect themselves.”

Founded in 2007, Periodistas de Pie is based on the principles of finding the social dimensions of news events, putting human faces to the news, focusing on events from the perspective of human rights, and explaining why things happen through denunciation, exposure, and proposing solutions. Since 2010, the organization began to focus on defending freedom of expression and the right to information.

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