Student organization Mecha holds vigil for Uvalde

Mecha de PSU honors the lives lost in Uvalde, Texas Elementary shooting

On May 24, an 18-year-old took the lives of 21 victims, with 17 other people reportedly injured, in the second deadliest school shooting in the history of the United States—and the deadliest school shooting since the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Conn., in 2012.


The assailant began by shooting his grandmother and driving her truck to Robb Elementary School, before crashing nearby, according to The Washington Post. After shooting two passersby at the scene of the crash, the shooter went on to enter Robb Elementary School at 11:40 a.m., unchallenged by the police officers standing outside, according to director for the state Department of Public Safety, Victor Escalon Jr. At 11:43 a.m., shots were fired inside Robb Elementary School prompting the school to enter a lockdown. The shooter was not detained by law enforcement until 1:06 p.m. 


Robb Elementary School is located in Uvalde, Texas, which has a Hispanic population of 83.5%. Robb Elementary School has an enrollment rate of 89.9% Latinx students.


In response to the tragedy, the Portland State University chapter of Mecha (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlán) quickly organized a vigil to honor the lives lost in the shooting. Mecha posted a flyer on their Instagram on Wednesday afternoon, inviting members to attend a vigil to be held the following night, and prompted members to spread the word. The post amassed 245 shares within 24 hours. 

Community members kneeling at the vigil. Alberto Alonso Pujazon Bogani/PSU Vanguard
A community member sitting in front of the vigil. Alberto Alonso Pujazon Bogani/PSU Vanguard
Vigil display organized by PSU Mecha. Alberto Alonso Pujazon Bogani/PSU Vanguard

On Thursday, the organization sent a mass email to its members stating, “Hola Mechistas, It is with heavy hearts that we invite you to join us tonight for a Candlelight Vigil, which will be a time dedicated to honoring the victims and survivors of the tragedy that took place at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas on Tuesday. We will have a limited supply of candles and encourage you to bring your own if you have one at hand.”


On Thursday night, at approximately 8:30 p.m., members gathered in the Park Blocks in front of Smith Memorial Student Union. People showed up in large numbers, even prompting other local students to show up and pay their respects. The vigil was primarily organized by the new Mecha officer team, which will be replacing the team of graduating seniors come fall term, alongside the assistance of current Mecha co-coordinator Brenda Escalera Acosta. 


Pictures of the 21 victims along with their names were placed in frames in the Park Blocks, with a heart-shaped arrangement of candles and flowers in front of them. New Mecha co-coordinators Kim Cano and Inle Gonzalez led the vigil by starting off with a moment of silence for the victims, before continuing with a timeline of events in Uvalde, Texas the morning of the shooting—each Mecha officer then took turns reading off the names of the victims.


The victims included fourth grade teachers Eva Mireles, 44, and Irma Garcia, 46, as well as fourth grade students Alexandria Aniyah Rubio, 10; Alithia Ramirez, 10; Annabell Guadalupe Rodriguez, 10; Eliana Garcia, 9; Eliahana Cruz Torres, 10; Jackie Cazares, 10; Jailah Nicole Siguero, 10; Jayce Carmelo Luevanos, 10; Jose Flores, 10; Layla Salazar, 10; Makenna Lee Elrod, 10; Maite Yuleana Rodriguez, 10; Miranda Mathis, 11; Nevaeh Bravo, 10; Rojelio Torres, 10; Tess Marie Mata, 10; Uziyah Gracia, 10; and Xavier Lopez, 10.


After the reading of the names, the officers set their candles in front of the vigil, after which others in the crowd followed suit, illuminating the entire display. Mecha offered an open mic for community members to share their thoughts with the crowd, which many attendees did. 


“It just hurts so bad, especially when it’s your own raza”, one speaker said. 


“Everyday that I wake up, I see one of those little kids’ faces,” said another. “I see all my younger cousins when I look at their pictures and I think to myself it could have been them.” 


“I just can’t imagine going into work and not seeing all the kids’ precious faces,” another community member said.


“We cannot become desensitized to this, this is not normal,” one speaker added. “We can’t just read the news and say ‘oh another one.’ We can’t let this just become another one.”

Vigil display organized by PSU Mecha. Alberto Alonso Pujazon Bogani/PSU Vanguard
Community members gathered by candlelight. Alberto Alonso Pujazon Bogani/PSU Vanguard
Community members kneel in front of candlelight. Alberto Alonso Pujazon Bogani/PSU Vanguard

The speakers wrapped up around 9:30 p.m., at which point the officers thanked everyone for coming—prompting many to walk up to the vigil and kneel down, to offer their prayers and respect while others made their way out. On Friday morning, the vigil was relocated to La Casa Latina on the second floor of the Smith Memorial Student Union where it currently resides. Mecha de PSU was not alone in its honoring efforts, as Mecha de University of Oregon also held a vigil the same day and time at Erb Memorial Union Amphitheater in Eugene, Oregon.


The mass shooting sparked international outrage, as debates surrounding gun control policies erupted. On Tuesday night, Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern appeared on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert where she condemned the shooting. Colbert asked Ardern about how New Zealand was able to collect thousands of weapons through a nationwide buyback in 2019—the same year lawmakers voted to ban almost all semi-automatic weapons following two consecutive mosque shootings. 


“When we saw something like that [the mosque shootings] happen, everyone said ‘never again,’ and so it was incumbent on us as politicians to respond to that,” Ardern said. “Now, we have legitimate needs for guns in our country, for things like pest control and to protect our biodiversity—but you don’t need a military-style semi-automatic to do that.”


Other world leaders expressed their feelings in regards to the mass shooting. 


“Deeply saddened by the news of the murder of innocent children in Texas,” wrote Volodymyr Zelenskyy, President of Ukraine on Twitter. “Sincere condolences to the families of the victims, the people of the US and @POTUS over this tragedy. The people of Ukraine share the pain of the relatives and friends of the victims and all Americans.”


Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau, President of France Emmanuel Macron, Chancellor of Germany Olaf Scholz, Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs of the United Kingdom Liz Truss, and Pope Francis shared thoughts through Twitter. Their sentiments included expressions of grief, horror, heartbreak and condolences. 

Community members gathered by candlelight. Alberto Alonso Pujazon Bogani/PSU Vanguard
A growing crowd in silence at the vigil. Alberto Alonso Pujazon Bogani/PSU Vanguard
A Mecha member speaking at the vigil. Alberto Alonso Pujazon Bogani/PSU Vanguard
Community members set down candles in front of the vigil. Alberto Alonso Pujazon Bogani/PSU Vanguard