Family, friends and hundreds of Dallasites laid out flowers and candles on Tuesday night outside city hall in honor of 20 year-old soldier Vanessa Guillén.
The vigil started with men in lowriders roaring their cars, a local paletero handed out free popsicles and the group Mariachi Mexico USA singing the song “Hermoso Cariño” by Vicente Fernández, a song usually performed at funerals.
Then Carlos Quintanilla, a long-time Latino activist and president of Acción América, a Latino advocacy organization, stepped onto the stage and yelled out her name: Vanessa Guillén. He asked the Hispanic community to join him.
“¡Que se escuche la comunidad Latina! ¡Venessa Guillén!” he chanted.
A local mariachi group just played Hermoso Cariño by Vicente Fernández at the vigil in Dallas for Vanessa Guillén.
“No puedo evitarlo, y quiero gritarlo
Guillén went missing from Fort Hood on April 22, and her body was found last week. Her brutal murder has led to vigils across Texas and calls for change.
Two of Guillén’s high school friends who now live in Dallas spoke to the crowd.
“She was always the person to be the first person on the field. She would be the first person to be running out of class and be out there doing her best,” Emily Grimaldo, a 22 year-old Houston native who played soccer with Guillén, said.
Grimaldo now lives in Dallas and goes to school here.
Alieen Teniente also spoke at the vigil. She said Guillén was the type of person who would go the extra mile for her friends.
“I knew she was the same for her team in the military. It's really sad that they didn’t treat her the same way,” Teniente said.
These friends, along with the Guillén family, are demanding answers. Her family has said that Guillén was murdered by a soldier who’d been sexually harassing her, after being too scared to report it.
“For me as a mom, I can’t even imagine seeing my daughter go through that, like her mom did,” said Jessica Castillo, a Dallasite who’s Mexican-Puerto Rican. “Her being in so much fear of speaking out.”
Castillo’s husband is an Army veteran. She has hopes her five-year-old daughter will also join, but wants the military to change how it deals with sexual harassment claims.
“A lot of women and men feel ashamed they’ve been molested in the military,” Garland Army veteran Nataly Montoya said.
Montoya drove to Dallas to share her sexual assault experience at the vigil.
“I was a pregnant soldier and I had an NCO (non-commissioned officer) who did things to me that no pregnant women should have to go through,” Montoya said.
After Guillén's disappearance, many people along with Montoya began to speak out on social media about their experiences with sexual harassment and violence in the military. Often times using the hashtag #IAmVanessa.
Guillen's family is now pushing for legislation that would change the way the military handles these types of accusations.
Alejandra Martinez is a corps member with Report For America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.
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