May 1, 2010
Imagine the anxiety of having a loved one disappear without warning, without a trace. Imagine what you’d feel after 24 hours of not knowing their whereabouts. Imagine a week later and still nothing. Now imagine two years without a clue. Are they alive? Are they dead? Are they suffering? Hungry? Cold? Scared?
In Ciudad Juarez there are dozens upon dozens of mothers living this nightmare. I know nine of those mothers. Their young daughters have vanished, almost as if they were swallowed by the streets of downtown Juarez. Their families are besides themselves with grief and desperation. Their lives will never be the same.
This is a story that I’ve felt very close to from when I was a college student six years ago. That’s when I first learned of the horrific murder of women Juarez is sickeningly famous for. In the last two years it seems a different but similar phenomenon is occurring.
I remember clearly on a chilly December day standing amongst a crowd of protesting doctors in the park underneath the giant Mexican flag. Some students from the neighboring Juarez university approached me. Pointing to my recording equipment they asked, “Eres periodista?”– “Are you a journalist?”
“Yes”, I answered.
“Here,” they said and handed me a black and white flyer with the picture of smiling young girl with dark curls framing her pretty face. Her name: Lidia Ramos Mancha, 17 years old. “She’s a student at the university. She’s missing,” her fellow students said. I remember a strange feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach. Definitely something to keep in mind.
When I was given that flyer, Lidia had only been missing 4 days. As of May 1st 2010 she has now been missing 484 days. Last time I checked, her Christmas present was still waiting for her besides the dresser in her family’s two room adobe home.
More than a year later, girls continue to disappear. As I mentioned above, there are nine whose stories I’ve come to know. Most are between the ages of 13 and 19. Most come from the humblest of barrios in the far eastern and western edges of the city. All used the “ruta” or bus to get around the city. All had a bus transfer in downtown Juarez, which is where most are believed to have gone missing. Two are university students. The rest are high schoolers who went downtown to look for work and never came back. One was a teenage mother who disappeared only weeks after her baby was born. She went dowtown to look for work so she could afford to buy her newborn diapers and milk.
Earlier this week, I got an email from one of the fathers who’s missing daughter shares my first name. He and his wife always smile when they see me. They call me “Moni.” The email the father shared was about a meeting between the families of the disappeared and authorities at the state police headquarters in Juarez.
I sent an email to a public radio show called “The World” and pitched a piece. Then on Thursday, a day before the meeting I set out to Juarez to interview a mother who I hadn’t yet met. Her daughter, Perla, went missing July 21, 2009.
…to be continued