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The 'Mexican spring:' A new student movement stirs in Mexico

#YoSoy132, a burgeoning student movement in Mexico, is calling for citizens to demand more of their politicians and institutions.

By Staff writer / May 31, 2012

Students attend the student assembly by possible return of the old ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) at the National Autonomous University of Mexico in Mexico City, Wednesday, May 30.

Eduardo Verdugo/AP

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Mexico City

“Welcome to the Mexican spring,” says a young student over a microphone on the campus of Mexico's most famed university, the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).

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“It's time for change; it is time for a new Mexico,” he continues, met by thunderous applause.  Students in the audience are munching on potato chips with hot sauce and lemon and mango-flavored ices, and have gathered for the first general assembly of Mexico's brand-new student movement known as “#YoSoy132,” or “I am 132.”

The movement rose spontaneously among private university students protesting the way, according to them, Mexico's television coverage of the presidential election campaign is unfairly boosting the former ruling party. The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) held power in Mexico for 71 years.

These students have since joined forces with others from public universities and youth across the country, gathering a vast following across social media and receiving generous coverage from local newspapers, which are calling them the new wild card in the July 1 presidential race. 

While they say their primary concern is manipulation of the media in the electoral process, their protests have put the PRI on the defensive more than the party candidate's rivals have been able to thus far. And while comparing the incipient movement to the Arab Spring is an exaggeration – and they probably won't be a deciding factor in the election – many are calling #YoSoy132 a wake-up call for the nation's politicians. Many Mexicans are praising the students for having awoken like their peers from Chile, to Spain, to Egypt, who have taken to the streets to protest unfair government policies and power players in their countries.

“It is not necessarily going to change the way this election goes,” says Enrique Cuna, a sociology professor at the Metropolitan Autonomous University Iztapalapa (UAM) who carried out a recent study on youth voting tendencies with United Nations funding. “But it is putting student demands on the public agenda.”

The movement began after the PRI frontrunner, Enrique Peña Nieto, visited the private Iberoamericano University in Mexico City on May 11, where students confronted him on his record as governor of Mexico state. But when the event was given scant attention by the media, students say, and they were dismissed by the PRI as impostors from rival parties, 131 of them created a YouTube video declaring themselves indeed students. Others joined in, saying they were No. 132, and the name #YoSoy132 has stuck.

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