Stuffed animals, medals, and flower pinwheels lie in front of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School to commemorate the deaths of 17 high school students and staff members. On Valentine’s Day, Nikolas Cruz, a former student, opened fire with a semiautomatic rifle, forever changing the lives of those who attend the school. Since then, a group of students from the Parkland, Florida high school have come together to pressure elected officials to change gun laws in the United States. On Saturday, the students organized their biggest event yet, March for Our Lives. Nationwide, hundreds of thousands of people came out to call for change in light of the mass shooting in Parkland – an occurrence we have seen many times before and since. Additionally, people used the event to draw attention to how our current unchecked gun laws disproportionately affect low-income neighborhoods made up of people of color.
As Emma González, Sam Fuentes, and other Marjory Stoneman Douglas students gave passionate speeches in the Washington DC version of the rally – which attracted hundreds of thousands – many stayed behind in Parkland, the birthplace of March for Our Lives. An estimated 20,000 people showed up to the protest in the Florida city. They made their way to Marjory Stoneman, where they commemorated the loss of 17.
Beneath the heavy Florida heat, some demonstrators held signs in Spanish, others used their posters to denounce the National Rifle Association, which has paid politicians generous amounts of money to help lax gun laws thrive. Attendees included alumni, who proudly wore their MSD shirts, current students, and members of the Parkland community. The mood was intense, as people chanted “Enough is enough!” When the march reached the high school, the atmosphere changed as silence befell the crowd. A man stood in front of the memorial and held up a placard that read, “Will My kids Be Next?” – a thought that had likely crossed minds of others gathered at the school on Saturday. As protesters looked on at the objects that stood in place for their lost friends, classmates, and peers, some held back sniffles. For many of them, the pain and trauma is still fresh.
It was an emotional day, but it was also an example of how far a youth-led movement could go. At the march, we spoke to Latinos who attended the rally to learn what the march meant to them.
Editor’s Note: These interviews have been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
Paula Muñoz, 25, Colombian
More than this march, it’s the movement of youth coming out. But most importantly, it’s important because right now there needs to be an emphasis that this is not a new thing. Gun violence has been experienced by Black and brown youth – particularly black youth – forever. And the fact that it’s just getting publicity now in the masses shows how white supremacy is ingrained in our society. Right now, I’m here to represent those youth that have been suffering for ever, for Black lives, that have been suffering over this gun violence.
Juliana Belle, 16, Colombian
This march is necessary because it’s important to change lives, and to remember the 17 people who lost their lives. And I think it’s really important for all these people to come together, and it’s really good because this is like the first unity that we’ve seen in a long time. With what was going on with all the other shootings – like the concerts and the clubs and everything – we shouldn’t have this going on right now.
Jasiel Lopez, 24, Mexican
For me, it’s important to be able to support this youth-led movement. So much of our politics, so much of our governors really ignores the youth, and it ignores many of our needs. I see that in politics, in US politics, money rules a lot. And obviously, young people may not have the money, or they may not have the connections to be able to influence politics. When you have a youth-led movement like this one, it’s important to support, and its important to stand with it.
Aaron Rivadeneyra, 16, Ecuadorian
This march is important just to end gun violence, and so that something like this doesn’t happen again. It’s important to recognize all that, and to do a memorial for all the people who also died through all of this, and think of them when we do all this process to get to gun protection. This is my first time partaking in activism. Since it’s so close, it hit me really hard. So I just want to support.
Christopher Christakis, 16, Ecuadorian
I believe this march is really important because even though we were not in the same high school when the shooting happened, we all stand with Douglas. I believe it’s important because it’s a cause that, yeah it happened in MSD one day, but it could happen to anyone, any day. It’s my first time at a march. It hit really close to home, and it’s a very important cause. I believe it’s really important for us to stand up. This really opened up my eyes to get more into politics.
Helena Ulloa, 32, Colombian
This march is important for me because I went to school there, it could have been me. I do have a son, it could be him. It could be anybody we know, at any moment, and it just seems like it keeps happening, all the time.
This was my first time. I saw the kids, the high schoolers – who are way younger than I am – and they are so brave and so courageous. I just feel like it helped pushed me towards, “hey, you know what, you always feel like you can’t do something. Well, we can. We can do something. This is our time.” We need to get out there. We need to do something to change things that have been in place by people who aren’t even alive anymore. It’s time for change.