By Cliff Lee
Digna Ochoa’s portrait looks out at the audience from the makeshift altar in Jorgenson Hall.
She is smiling, frozen behind a frame of yellow flowers, as her brother’s voice comes over the speakers: “It was approximately three years ago, on the 19th of October, 2001, that we received the news that in Mexico City, Digna Ochoa was murdered.”
Jesus Ochoa’s taped speech set the tone for an evening of art and protest last Friday in memory of Digna Ochoa, a Mexican lawyer and human rights activist. More than 30 artists and activists came out to support the night’s cause.
Inside the POD 60 theatre, performers shared their music and spoken word around Ochoa’s flowered portrait. One exhibit on displayshows a jigsaw puzzle documenting Ochoa’s life. In the centre, the final piece is missing – the truth about her death.
Another exhibit simply presents a tape recorder with a note urging, “How does your call for justice sound? Record it and share it with the world.” While her brother and most of the human rights community believe she was murdered for her politics, Mexican authorities officially ruled her death a suicide. Three years later, the Ochoa family is making their final appeal to overturn the ruling. And this time, event organizer Tania Tonantzin wants everyone to know who Digna Ochoa was.
At the time of Ochoa’s death, Tonantzin was still a civil lawyer in Mexico. “Knowing that somebody has the courage to fight for an idea, a cause, for something that matters and then to be shot-what guarantees do you have?” she asks before screening the documentary Digna. “We’re not sure we’re going to be alive if we’re going to do anything about social justice.”
As an artist now making a living in Toronto, Tonantzin says it was natural for her to create a night based on her two passions. “For me the activism and the arts go together because both are a force and motivation to make change.”
Tonantzin hopes the ultimate legacy of the event will be a petition to the Mexican Government which pleads with Mexican President Vicente Fox to reopen Ochoa’s case. As Jesus Ochoa’s speech comes to a close, his last words echo the hopes of his family, Tonantzin and all the artists.
“Digna Ochoa’s case will be solved.”