This is a story of two media narratives.
Saturday, Mexico formally conducted a transition of presidential power when ex-president Felipe Calderón handed over the traditional sash to his successor, Enrique Peña Nieto, who was elected with just 37.6 percent of the vote amid charges of voter fraud and votes being bought.
It is in this context where these two media narratives are placed.
President Obama, who rode a second-term wave with overwhelming U.S. Latino support that is mostly of Mexican origin, met last week with Peña Nieto, and the tone was one of cooperation and further strengthening of bonds between the two countries. The mainstream media narrative shows an Obama administration that is willing to work with Peña Nieto and a Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) party that is synonymous to a dark stain on Mexico’s history. Democracy clearly did not thrive when the PRI ruled for seven decades, and that fear not only concerns Mexicans in Mexico but also U.S. Latinos who still have ties to their country of origin.
While the mainstream media narrative plays out in major news outlets, a social media narrative is painting a much starker picture. This past weekend, protests inspired by the #YoSoy132 student movement—which has been demonstrating against Peña Nieto for months—spread through outlets like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube under the hashtag #1DMx. On Twitter, #1DMx garnered millions of impressions. On Facebook, videos of Mexican police seen hitting and arresting citizens got thousands of shares. YouTube videos of protest footage have reached the hundreds of thousands.
Protesting Mexican elections is not a new occurrence. In 2006, when candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador lost by just 250,000 votes, thousands of Mexicans took to the streets in much larger demonstrations. However, unlike 2006, the 2012 protests have an online digital amplifier that is raising global awareness. To the social media observer, the #1DMx protests look like important and immediate news that is just being ignored by the U.S. media.
Such events are problematic for mainstream journalists since social media provides very little context to the images, videos, tweets, and updates. But does it matter? The “quick hit” that social media creates is an on-the-ground immediate view of ongoing events. You feel as if you are there. That is good and bad at the same time. Good because it presents an alternative and raw view to official stories, yet bad because it is incredibly difficult to decide what is real information and what is just manipulation.
Nonetheless, parts of the Mexican press are beginning to confirm that something indeed happened on the day Peña Nieto took office. Reports of police abuse, evidence of tear gas and rubber bullets, detained protesters and anarchists that were paid off 300 pesos each to discredit the demonstration with violent acts of vandalism are surfacing.
The critics will say that this is just a master communist plan by López Obrador to turn Mexico into a chaotic state and this is just a tempest in a teapot. Most Mexicans will not take to the streets. This is not Egypt, even though many Mexicans feel uneasy about the PRI’s return.
The believers will say that this is the Mexican Spring, one that is not showing up on U.S. televisions.
Who knows where this will go, but no one can deny that there is more to this story, and that it goes beyond presidential sashes and meetings between national leaders. And for many U.S. Latinos, the new Mexican narrative does indeed matter.
Julio Ricardo Varela (@julito77 ) founded LatinoRebels.com in May, 2011 and proceeded to open it up to about 20 like-minded Rebeldes. His personal blog, juliorvarela.com, has been active since 2008 and is widely read in Puerto Rico and beyond. This year, Julito represented the Rebeldes on Face the Nation, NPR, Univision, Forbes, and The New York Times.