May 3, 2010
I came upon a missing person flyer for Perla Ivonne Aguirre Gonzalez as I was on my way out from the Juarez Human Rights Commission. The flyer was posted on the door and immediately caught my attention as I was about to exit. The face was not one I’d seen before. She had the same physical characteristics as the others. Dark shoulder length hair, light brown skin, soft facial features. Perla had a slight smile and a soothing stare. She’s been missing since July 21st 2009.
I pulled out my notebook and jotted down the phone numbers listed on the flyer and went on my way. That was months ago. Thursday I finally got to visit her family in their home.
I first arrived in the neighborhood of Perla’s aunt, Olga. She lives in the maze of colonias underneath la sierra de la biblia, a mountain in western Juarez that is inscribed with the words: “The Bible is the truth. Read it”
Olga was wearing jeans and a black sweater vest. She wore eyeliner under her bottom lids and hoop earrings. Her hair was in a bun and had straight bangs across her forehead. Her face has a youthful aura that belies her 38 years, something I find very rare in working class Mexican women.
The two of us drove to her sister’s house about 15 minutes away in a colonia that is probably no further than a mile from the American border. Olga’s sister is Perla’s mother. I had only spoken to Olga over the phone and she seemed pretty involved in her niece’s life and in her search since her disappearance. I decided it might be a good idea to have both women sit for the interview.
Perla’s mother, Elvira, lives in la colonia Postal, a neighborhood I recognized immediately once we turned the corner. I’d been there before with another reporter and a woman who lived there. She warned that this was dangerous neighborhood where strangers were not welcome. Some months ago a couple teenagers were shot dead during a funeral procession on the street where I was driving.
My pulse quickened and my foot released pressure off the accelerator as my eyes darted left to right. Olga noticed my anxiety and said, “Don’t worry, we’ll leave the car with our neighbor, she’ll watch it.” Yea, okay, sure, I thought tensely.
We parked my car two houses down from Elvira’s house in front of a neighbor who sold burritos from her house. Elvira lives on a rather steep, unpaved hill not ideal for parking. The road is made of dirt and rock and is very uneven. The burrito woman kindly promised to keep on eye on my shiny Corolla with Texas plates. Maybe I’m exaggerating, but I actually looked back at my car as if for the last time. I happen to really like my Corolla.
Elvira’s home is very modest. Four rooms and a bathroom behind a gray concrete wall and iron gates. Upon entering there was a stale smell in the air and a toddler with a soiled shirt grinned at us from atop a toy trike. We entered into the living room. Adjacent to that was the kitchen, which aparently doubled as a bedroom since there was a stove and sink on one end of the room and two queen sized beds on the other end.
Perla’s mother was in shorts and a t-shirt. Her hair was pulled back in a pony tail and she wore no makeup. The three of us sat in the living room, while the toddler and another adolescent girl went into a separate room to watch cartoons. Introductions were made and I pulled out my recorder and my microphone.
The story was same as the others. Daughter 15-years-old, took the bus to get around, wanted to look for work, went downtown, never returned.
I gave a deep sigh when I finally hit the stop button on my recorder 30 minutes later. Not again. Not another one. Where could she be? Who took her? Where is that person? If someone did take her, will this person take more girls?
“My niece wouldn’t leave us by her own free will,” Olga said. “She was happy, she was dedicated to her school, she read the bible.”
For some reason, Perla’s aunt was far more emotional than her mother. Perla’s mother seemed to be in denial. Olga on the other hand, cried softly during most the interview. One of the most poignant things she shared was about a recurrent dream she has.
“In the dream I see Perla,” Olga said. “And I cry out to her, ‘Perla, where are you? Where are you?’ She starts to answer me but as she opens her mouth, I wake up and everything erases from my mind. I never hear what she says. It’s so hard, it’s so frustrating.”
My heart broke at those words. I forgot about my car outside and thought about Perla. I wish it was my car that was missing and not her.