Learning about the Massacre in Tlatelolco

The other day my husband brought home the movie “Rojo Amanecer” for us to watch. The title means “red dawn” in English, but this isn’t the cheesy American-made Red Dawn movie about the U.S. getting into WWIII with the Soviet Union. Instead this is a Mexican movie about the 1968 Massacre in Tlatelolco, a neighborhood in Mexico City.

My husband lived in Tlatelolco as a child. He took his First Communion in the church of Santiago Tlatelolco right there in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas, where the massacre began. And for years he has been telling me bits and pieces of what he remembers of that night. Mostly what he seems to remember is the sound of the tanks rolling in and falling asleep to the sound of endless gunfire. He told me that it took him a long time to fall asleep that night and that “the gunfire went on and on and didn’t stop.” I can’t imagine what that must have been like for a young child.

The movie Rojo Amanecer won a Silver Ariel award and starred important Mexican actors. It was and is an important movie. It’s also cheesy as all get-out, with nearly non-stop over-acting and unrealistic-looking and generous displays of ketchup. Its characters also have an incredible number of meals in a short amount of time, they never stop eating. But when I watched it what I was seeing was a missing piece of my husband’s childhood. I was learning something important about why he is the way he is and why he thinks the way he thinks.

Watching this movie taught me something about why so many Mexicans, especially my husband, don’t trust their own government. If a government can massacre a crowd, in the middle of it’s capital city, and then cover it up, what else can they do? I think that there is a whole generation of Mexicans who’ve grown up wondering just that. And I think this goes a long way to explaining some of the wild conspiracy theories that get passed around in Mexico. A whole generation of people don’t trust the government and won’t put anything past it.

I recommend Rojo Amanecer to anyone who is a student of Mexican culture or is an expat living here. It goes a long way towards explaining the very real fear so many people in Mexico have of their government’s power.

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11 Responses to “Learning about the Massacre in Tlatelolco”

  1. Theresa in Mérida
    May 17th, 2009 14:28

    I have a friend who was there in the square as a young student. Totally scary stuff. I will look for the movie.

  2. arr
    May 17th, 2009 14:48

    there are many videos in you tube

  3. Jim
    May 17th, 2009 15:40

    In the 60´s it was easier for all governments to cover things up. Tlatelolco was the Mexican Kent State–Army vs Students. The whole truth of it from the point of view of both sides will never come out. But it is indeed an important part of Mexican history and psyche.

  4. CancunCanuck
    May 17th, 2009 16:49

    Very interesting, will have to look for the movie. Did you get it at Blockbuster? I think it’s great that you are able to have a better understanding of your husband’s childhood, particularly such a significant event. Hubby is telling me right now how much he loved that movie. Thanks!

  5. laura
    May 18th, 2009 11:49

    Very interesting! Will look for it here in Coz.

  6. Jonna
    May 18th, 2009 21:50

    I have a friend from Puebla who is the same age as sub-commandante Marcos and he describes both of them as the little brothers of Tlatelolco, los hermanitos de Tlatelolco. Too young to be there or in the Universidad but old enough to listen and understand and worship their older brothers. I too think it has shaped many generations of Mexicans. I would very much like to go to the new museum about it in DF.

  7. Mindy
    May 19th, 2009 15:25

    I will look for the movie. Sounds really interesting. I think that it is great that you are able to understand your husband more!

  8. Gary Denness
    May 20th, 2009 19:37

    My wife’s dad also has stories from ’68, and I can relate the incident to people’s views on government today too. I think it’s fair to say that the earthquake of ’85 rather pushed it into a corner of the national psyche, but it’s still there nonetheless. I’ve visited the square a couple of times….it’s a stop off on the Teotihuacan tour route.

  9. Human
    June 1st, 2009 12:15

    My uncle was there when the shots started. He was one of the few hundreds of students that were lucky enough to ran in the right direction in the right time, and didn’t stop running for years, while the gunfire was still behind them. To the date, he does not have any college friends. Not alive, at least.
    Yes, that’s why we can’t trust our government. When they are able to kill 3500 students (some say more… government says 300) and go unpunished the rest of their lives, you kind of fear and hate them. Now they come back to say “We need to give all the power to the institutions, for they are the basis of our democracy…” and they believe we don’t have memory. Well, we don’t, but we won’t forget it all.
    And when exactly 20 years later things are getting a bit better and then Salinas “wins” the “elections”… it is then when you remember what they say… “The enemy within” is what they say…

  10. Working Gringa
    August 25th, 2009 19:17

    I assume the movie was/is in Spanish. Was it hard to understand? I’ve avoided a lot of movies that I’d like to watch because I get frustrated when I can’t understand what they are saying… and at the end of a long workday, I don’t like to be frustrated 🙂

  11. RiverGirl
    August 25th, 2009 19:32

    The movie was in Spanish but I think we were able to find a copy with Spanish subtitles which helped me enormously. It’s a pretty simple movie really, most of it happens in one apartment and there aren’t many characters, so it’s easy enough to follow. Not like Amores Perros which has multiple stories and infinite amounts of slang…

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