1968 was a difficult year. The war in Viet Nam was raging; in January the Battle of Khe Sanh was followed by the Tet Offensive, then the attack of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon. In March the My Lai Massacre contributed to U.S. anti-war sentiment, badly dividing the country. But the hardest events for me to take were the assassinations of Martin Luther King in April and Robert Kennedy in early June.
I had just completed a teacher’s credential and was about to look for a job for the upcoming school year when I decided I couldn’t tolerate living in such a fractured country. I bought a used Karmen Ghia and headed for Mexico.
When I arrived in Mexico City I began to meet and hang out with students and other young people who were talking about their disenchantment with the situation there. I was right in the middle of the Mexican Movement of 1968, when students garnered support for political change, protesting that the government had spent way too many public funds on the facilities for the 1968 Olympics. The protestors also demanded the end of the authoritarianism of the PRI regime that had been in power for nearly 40 years.
On a personal note, I had an accident, running my little car head on into a mountain on a rainy evening near Cuernavaca (see photo). Luckily neither a friend who was with me nor myself were badly hurt, but the police demanded I go to court where a non-sympathetic judge fined me for damaging state property (the mountain). While the car was being repaired, mostly with Bondo, I took a train to Acapulco and my bag with my money, passport and driver’s license was stolen. I returned to Mexico City to try to replace my documents, where I found that the U.S. Embassy and the entire Paseo de la Reforma was blocked by a long line of riot police, in response to the student protests. Eventually, I obtained a new passport and some funds. I decided, even though I had been offered employment in Mexico, that I would return home in my damaged but drivable car.
Back in California, I obtained a teaching job and was living in another capital of unrest, Berkeley. In my apartment with the wop, wop, wop of helicopters hovering overhead and the faint whiff of tear gas in the air, I read the terrible news from Mexico City. On Oct. 2, as 10,000 students assembled for a peaceful protest at Plaza de las Tres Culturas, 5,000 soldiers surrounded the plaza and opened fire. It is assumed that 350-400 people were killed with over 1,000 wounded in what came to be known as the Tlatelolco massacre. I thought about the impassioned, brilliant and brave young people I had met in Mexico City and will forever wonder if any of them were among those numbers.