How Facebook And Instagram Are Helping NC Latinos Find 43 Missing Students

May 18, 2015

Mexico is thousands of miles away from North Carolina, but Victoria Bouloubasis said she felt like she was there when a friend showed her a video from his phone.

“I am in a Mexican restaurant in Durham and looking at this tiny screen of a video of police brutality in rural Mexico,” Bouloubasis said.

“It was crazy because somebody took the video on their smartphone, put it on Facebook and to see something completely barbaric by the police you had to wonder about the parallels happening in the States.”

Bouloubasis, a freelance journalist, watched the video from the smartphone of a father whose child went missing last fall in Ayotzinapa, Mexico. He is the parent of one out of 42 other male students who went missing after allegedly clashing with the police.  The parents of the disappeared students were left with little answers or initiative by the Mexican government to find them, so they started their own campaign to raise awareness and demand answers from the Mexican government.

Mexican immigrants and local activists in the Triangle quickly heard about the parents campaign across major U.S. cities, and decided to bring them to North Carolina.

'The Internet plays a huge role and makes it more viable for people to connect who cannot go home but realize they are not alone.'

The distance between Ayotzinapa and Durham is 2,314 miles, a stretch that the North Carolina activists wiped away with two things: a similar demand for answers and a hashtag.

#Caravana43 and #NC43, the state's version of the campaign, were able to bridge the two together and spread the word through the virtual world.

Bouloubasis helped document the #NC43 campaign and said many Mexican immigrants she has met left the country because of the hostile conditions, but still have a strong passion for justice when they see events like this happening back in Mexico.

“The Internet plays a huge role and makes it more viable for people to connect who cannot go home but realize they are not alone,” she said.

Latinos are just as connected as other groups when it comes to going online from a smartphone and using social media sites, according to a Pew Research study. The research also showed when Latinos use the Internet, they are more likely than Whites to use social media.

Social Networking Site Use:

  • Latinos- 68%
  • Whites- 66%
  • Blacks- 69%

Hispanic and Latinos comprised 8.9% of North Carolina’s resident population in 2013. Paul Cuadros, associate journalism professor at UNC-Chapel Hill and head of the university's Scholar's Latino Initiative, said Latinos in North Carolina are using social media as a direct channel to stay in touch

“Here the community uses social media on their phones to essentially do everything. Their access to the Internet is through their phones," Cuadros said. "You have people tweeting and even using that technology to find out where the driver’s license checkpoints might be located to circumnavigate them.”

Cuadros also coaches a predominantly Latino soccer team at Jordan Matthews High School in rural Siler City, NC. He said he has been able to keep in touch with former players who have moved back to Mexico and plans to visit them next week.

Pupusas and Facebook Bring the World Together

Ivan Almonte, 36, was one of the main organizers of the #NC43 campaign, and said pupusas and Facebook helped bring the campaign from Ayotzinapa to Durham.

#NC43 workers with Ivan (far left) and Martha (far right)
Credit Ivan Almonte

He said they sold pupusas and tamales every week for a couple months to finance the #Caravana43’s travel plans to Durham. They also used their Facebook page and the "La Grande" Spanish radio station in Chapel Hill to gain support. Almonte said many activists work full-time jobs and were able to use these platforms as an easy way to share their message.

“The radio station gave us a space to talk about the issue. We had so many people call us to say, ‘You know this happened to my dad or my family.’ We were not expecting to hear those stories from other people because you think everybody is safe here but no,” Almonte said.

Martha Hernandez has been in the United States for a total of 26 years, living in Raleigh for the past 13 years. Before that she was involved with activism from worker’s wages to protests against drug cartels in Mexico City.

'I have to tell people that we have power too and we have to go to the street and tell them we have the power.'

“And when I got moved here it was hard to see all that happening in Mexico and not do anything,” she said.

Hernandez' fire to fight injustices carried with her into the #NC43 campaign where she said she “saw people mobilize and do things (she) could not imagine.”

“Yes, this happened in Mexico but many immigrants here are from Mexico. They have family or somebody there,” she said.

“People have the power to kill people there. They can kill men, women and kids. But I have to tell people that we have power too and we have to go to the street and tell them we have the power.”

Ayotzinapa Comes To Durham

Earlier this spring, #NC43 and #Caravana43 rallied together in Durham after months of planning and fundraising. Bouloubasis and her colleague Andrea Patiño Contreras used short, concise Instagram videos to document the event.

“We could use the hashtag and all activists across the country could use the videos more easily. We wanted to highlight an aspect of the way they are involved in this situation,” Patiño Contreras said.

Bouloubasis said it was a challenge shortening these profiles into 15-second videos, but she said the narratives go beyond many people’s expectations.

“These are folks that we don’t normally give a platform for their voices and they are informing me on government and economic relations between U.S. and Mexico that they have affected them," she said.

The #Caravana43 activists are continuing their campaign outside of North Carolina, but Almonte said connections with people still in Mexico remain strong through mediums like Facebook and Skype. The connections between countries continue to grow in the grassroots as the search continues for the 43 missing Ayotzinapa students.

Below is a series of videos from the #NC43 Instagram campaign: