Las madres: celebration and grief


On May 10, mothers across Mexico were honored and celebrated for Día de las Madres. My first day in San Miguel de Allende thirteen years ago was a blazing hot Mother’s Day and it was my first experience of the hustle, bustle and delightful chaos of a Mexican communal celebration; it seemed every resident of the town had left home and settled into the streets, plazas and parks. Children chased each other through the forest of adult legs while the adults chatted, snacked on corn cobs smothered in mayonnaise or fruit doused in lime and chile. The hot air filled with the strains of warbling mariachi trumpets, punctuated with the occasional cluster of cohetes exploding in the hills; slightly different rituals than the Hallmark cards and obligatory family dinners up North.


This year, hundreds of mothers gathered on Reforma in Mexico City, holding photos of missing sons and daughters, crying for justice as they marched. They took the streets not to celebrate, but to demand answers and to unite with others in pain. “I want to tell my son, Brandon, that he’s still Mommy’s little Prince, and that until I draw my last breath I will be with him and I will never, ever give up looking for him, that I do it day after day…God bless you my darling son, I love you so much and this love makes me strong, my little gentleman.” This was a letter one of the mothers read to her eight year-old son, who went missing with his father in Coahuila. She is one of thousands; an estimated 27,000 people disappeared during the previous sexenio. Many of their relatives have become nomads, searching the country’s police stations, hospitals, morgues.

Why have so many vanished? In the words of Marcela Turati, a journalist who writes for Proceso and contributed to the book Entre las Cenizas: “There are many theories: to strengthen dwindling cartel armies, to force them to do illegal activities, to traffic their organs, to sell them to the sex trade, to extort money, to rid the country of delinquents…or because they got involved with people they shouldn’t or they were just at the wrong place at the wrong time, or even as a preventive measure to keep them from joining the ranks of an enemy cartel.”

The quest for assistance from the authorities is a grim one; many of these bereft mothers, fathers, siblings, cousins have spent years being ignored or ridiculed by the very people who should be looking for their loved ones. While the previous administration attempted to deny that people were disappearing from their homes, from the highways, from their workplaces, the current government acknowledges the tragedy, if only because they can blame it on their predecessors. Recognition does not equate with action however. A group of eight relatives of missing persons started a hunger strike six days ago in Mexico City in front of the offices of the attorney general. Their demand is to have a meeting with President Peña Nieto, the attorney general, the head of the Department of the Interior (SEGOB), and the National Security Commission. A representative from the attorney general’s office visited them yesterday to tell them their strike is pointless and that there will be no meeting with his office. He said it would be better for them to approach the Department of the Interior (SEGOB); in other words, go sit in front of their building so they can shoo you away.

Daniel Zapico, the executive director of Amnesty International in Mexico, spoke to the mothers on Friday, supporting their efforts. “You deserve justice, you deserve the truth, to know what has happened, and not have the government deny this reality…[They have] said good things, but that’s not enough while there is still even one person missing.”



Proceso, Madres del 10 de mayo (May 10) and Madres con hijos desaparecidos marchan (May 10)

Animal Político, “No vamos a desistir” señalan madres en huelga de hambre (May 13)

Entre las Cenizas, Marcela Turati and Daniela Rea