Last summer, Daniel Solis Gallardo was on top of the world. The first to graduate from high school in his immediate family, the young resident of Zihuatanejo, Guerrero, was in excellent physical shape, counted many friends, had a girlfriend, and held an admission to the college of his choosing, the historic Atoytzinapa rural teachers’ college located not far from the state capital of Chilpancingo. But only weeks into his first year at the residential school, the 18-year-old was cut down by police bullets in the city of Iguala, Guerrero.
In an interview with FNS, Solis’ mother shared important bits and pieces of her son’s short life. Born to the union of Ines Gallardo Martinez and Jaime Solis Serrano on Father’s Day, June 16, 1996, Daniel was the oldest of three children. Rolling through her phone, Gallardo showed off photos and video and played some of the Daniel’s favorite songs. Daniel elated at winning a soccer match with his team. Daniel and friends playing paintball. Daniel decked out in a pink shirt and black tie at his high school graduation ceremony.
A portrait emerged of Daniel as a serious yet humorous young man with one foot in Mexican tradition and one foot in the globalized techno-world of the 21st century.
According to mom, her oldest child liked enchiladas and red mole, banda and pop music, and Facebook. He excelled in English, earning high grades in the subject at his public high school and enrolling in a one-year course at a private school. For vacation, Daniel loved to visit his paternal grandparents’ small spread in the Costa Grande toward Acapulco and work with their cows. To his friends and family in Zihuatanejo, he was nicknamed “El Borre,” short for “The Sheep,” because of his curly hair. To his grandparents, he was known as “El Becerro,” or “The Young Bull.”
Early in life Daniel showed a propensity for sports and physical activity. He started swimming when he was two years old.
“When it rains, arroyos are created and we go have fun. He started learning how to swim,” Gallardo reminisced. A short woman with a dark costena complexion and bursts of the curly hair that earned her son the nickname “El Borre,” Gallardo said Daniel wanted to avoid the substance abuse that traps so many local youth and become a teacher.
“He said he was going to study, because he did not want to fall into drugs or drinking,” she added.
Describing her Daniel as someone who was devoted to maintaining his physique by the time he was 15 or 16 years of age, Gallardo chuckled how he used to say, “‘I don’t want to be a cactus!”
Getting Daniel off to college wasn’t easy for his family. Dad works maintenance and is a middle school graduate. Mom only completed elementary school and cleans houses. Nonetheless, the parents conveyed a message to Daniel and their siblings that higher education is a must.
“We tell our children they have our total support to study and get ahead and not be like us,” Gallardo mused. Daniel’s completion of high school was a “huge” event for the struggling family, she added.
Having an uncle who had attended Ayotzinapa, Daniel was attracted to a school that doesn’t charge tuition but subsists on threadbare resources and, according to the accounts of former and current students, the sheer willpower of the all-male student body. Yet, getting admitted to Ayotzinapa is not an easy matter, as a series of rigorous tests await prospective students in order to weed out the weak from the strong.
“It’s very difficult to get in. There’s an admission exam first, an exam in socio-economics and a one-week trial in which (freshmen) hardly sleep. Little food and hard exercise. They sleep on the floor,” Gallardo said. “This is done to test the students because they go on to become teachers in the mountains, where they have to walk five to nine hours at a time, cross rivers and walk a lot. There are (poor) families where they go and they have to be like them.”
Daniel passed the initial tests. “He was very happy. They were small farmers at the (semester’s) beginning, planting corn,” Gallardo recalled. During the few weeks Daniel was enrolled in Ayotzinapa, his family kept in touch over the phone but was unable to visit the school because of Daniel’s busy schedule.
On September 27, 2014, the family rushed to Ayotzinapa after they were informed of the previous evening’s events in Iguala by a cousin of Daniel´s; no authority initially contacted the family to say Daniel had been shot and killed, Gallardo said.
Months later, the mother of three said she still has serious doubts about what really happened the Night of Iguala, as the Mexican newsweekly Proceso has coined the police massacre and mass disappearance of students. Gallardo demands clarification of the killings and, attuned to reports of soldiers harassing students seeking help for injured classmates in an Iguala hospital, endorses growing calls for an investigation of the army’s role in the cataclysmic evening.
Gallardo told FNS that she’d seen the case file in which municipal policemen detained in connection with the Iguala violence declared their innocence, but did not know about a recent story in Proceso that reported on the purported tortures of some of the arrested suspects. “I’m going to look for it,” she said.
Daniel Solis Gallardo was among three Ayotzinapa students who were slain outright by police in the streets of Iguala during confrontations last September 26 and 27. A fourth student, Aldo Gutierrez, remains in a coma from his injuries, while the remains of a fifth, Alexander Mora, was later identified by the University of Innsbruck in Austria. 42 students are officially listed as forcibly disappeared by police and other gunmen linked to organized crime.
Happening on the proverbial wrong place at the wrong time, three other civilians who had nothing to do with the deadly police-Ayotzinapa student encounter were also mowed down by police gunfire.
Digging into their own pockets to purchase bus fare, Gallardo and her husband traveled to Iguala so they could attend a January 30 court hearing for the arrested policemen. After a journey that lasted hours, they arrived in a city located on the other side of the state only to learn that the session had been abruptly canceled because paperwork had not arrived in time from Mexico City. A court date is expected for later in February, she said.
Last year, Gallardo joined other relatives of Ayotzinapa victims in Mexico City for an unprecedented meeting with President Enrique Pena Nieto that lasted from the early afternoon to about nine o’clock in the evening.
Since then, Gallardo came to the conclusion that Pena Nieto dropped the ball. “He failed us, he is turning his back on us,” she contended. The Guerrero native praised the outpouring of international solidarity with the students and their families, but insisted that justice has to come from within Mexico.
“The principal support should be from the president of the country,” the mother held. “On the contrary, he’s attacking people instead of supporting them.” In terms of the Iguala slaughter serving as a catalyst for transformation, Gallardo judged the country as having a long way to go. “We need to unite ourselves in order to change things,” she said.
Daniel’s death was a “hard blow” to the family, The grandfather was deeply affected, Gallardo and her husband have health problems, and Daniel’s 7-year-old sister just doesn’t understand. “The little girl doesn’t stop asking for him. She says she misses him,” Gallardo said.
Daniel Solis Gallardo is far from forgotten. Among the numerous Ayotzinapa protest brigades that have formed around the country in recent months, some have borne his name. Recently, a friend of Daniel’s told Gallardo that an expectant new son will be named after his murdered pal.
In a mother’s remembrance, the story of Daniel Solis Gallardo could serve as an inspiration for all. Although the teen never realized his dream of becoming a teacher and working with children, Gallardo’s account of her son’s violently truncated life testifies to a young man whose path eventually touched the entire world.
“It was a tremendous loss. He wasn’t a mean person. He got along with everyone,” she said while holding back tears. “He had all the gumption in the world to get ahead. He mastered whatever he set out to do. He did not have the cowardice to say, ‘I can’t do it.'”
A Spanish-language video homage to the life of Daniel Solis Gallardo can be viewed at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bjJWR5tyJw8