Published in the Vancouver Observer news site | January 6, 2012 | Circulation: 100,000 average monthly readers.
A long-time friend of slain UBC graduate student Ximena Osegueda Magana, 39 – whose body was found this week on a Mexican beach after having been tortured and burned – told the Vancouver Observer she is “devastated” even discussing her friend’s murder.
Osegueda, who was living in the southwestern Mexican state of Oaxaca researching post-colonial mythology, had been a member of Vancouver’s Ache Brasil capoeira gym on East Broadway Ave., and was a seasoned participant in the sport which combines music, dance with martial arts — as revealed in an online video of her competing, as well as her own Youtube channel of capoeira videos.
“I’ve known Ximena for over 15 years, she was a capoerista who trained at our school,” Christianne Odehnal told The Vancouver Observer.
“All I can tell you is she was a beautiful shining soul – very positive, very strong, funny, vivacious, enthusiastic.
“She had this glow in her eyes. If she ever caught a glance from you, she would break into a beautiful smile. So it’s a really great loss for everybody.”
Last week, Mexican authorities in the town of Huatulco, Oaxaca, discovered Osegueda’s body alongside that of her friend Alejandro Honorio Santamaria, 38, on a beach described as being a common dumping site for people murdered in the country’s long-standing drug war, which so far has claimed 50,000 victims, according to the Washington Post – 12,000 of them in 2011 alone.
Her body was discovered by her ex-husband, Jacy Wright, who traveled to Mexico to help search efforts after her family reported her missing December 13, according to CBC News.
Huatulco attorney-general Manuel de Jesus Lopez Lopez said that the parents of the two victims confirmed they were Osegueda and Santamaria. Only the day before, the body of Jesús Alberto Altamirano Hernández, a tour operator, was found on the same beach.
Osegueda’s mother, Maria del Carmen Magaña y Pérez, told a Mexican reporter she grew concerned in mid-December after her own home was broken into and her daughter’s van stolen, but that Osegueda did not answer her calls. The van was later discovered abandoned more than 400 kilometres away in Oaxaca’s capital city.
Osegueda’s other vehicle, a red Chevrolet, was found with its license plates removed on December 17 near Oaxaca’s airport, weeks before her and Santamaria’s bodies were discovered on Punta Arena beach hours away, according to Oaxaca’s state attorney’s office, the Procuraduria General de Justica del Estado.
The 39-year old was reportedly en route to a yoga class when she disappeared.
“To the whole university community it’s a terrible shock, and it’s perceived as a terrible tragedy,” Lucie McNeill, UBC’s public affairs director, told the Vancouver Observer. “News of a death like this doesn’t only affect her immediate faculty — but would obviously reverberate across campus.”
Although McNeill said she is awaiting instructions from Osegueda’s family before speaking more about the UBC graduate student, she added that the university will offer grieving students and staff with counselling, and will support anyone who wishes to organize a memorial in Osegueda’s honour.
Osegueda started her graduate program in Hispanic Studies in 2009, McNeill added, in the school’s department of French, Hispanic and Italian studies.
According to her own academic blog and her UBC program website, Osegueda was researching the origins of local mythology and the effects of Spanish colonization on Indigenous traditions. She was fascinated by how understandings of “otherness” were preserved in legend following European conquest.
“I am currently investigating the foundational myth of Huatulco, a municipality located on the coast of Oaxaca, Mexico,” she wrote on the UBC Hispanic studies website. “I am looking at how this myth has morphed from its first publication, in the 17th century, until today.
“… Pilgrims from around the region come to pay homage to Hautulco’s sacred cross, allegedly brought by the apostle St. Thomas, known in Mexico as the god-king Quetzalcoatl.”
A Facebook page in her memory started yesterday, with many friends writing their condolences. A memorial service will be held Saturday in Mexico City – where the UBC student grew up – in the city’s San Rafael neighbourhood.
On Tuesday, Salt Spring Island resident Robin Wood, 67, was killed after confronting robbers at a friends house in the town of Melaque, near Puerto Vallarta in another region of Mexico. Mexican authorities told media the country remains a safe tourist destination in spite of violence.
In December, Mexican authorities captured a leader of one of the country’s most notorious and violent drug cartels. Ramiro Rendon Rivera, the Sinaloa Cartel’s weapons chief, was arrested in late December.
According to the government of Canada, travellers to Mexico should “exercise caution” but that the country is still safe for tourists.
“Canadians travelling to Mexico should exercise a high degree of caution due to a deteriorating security situation in many parts of the country,” Canada’s travel advisory site suggests. “… Most major tourist areas have not been affected by the extreme levels of violence in the northern border region.”