Disobeying borders: Central American mothers looking for their lost kids
Migration in Central America is a major issue. Adding to the drug war and the violence, the social problem expands and the solution is nowhere near to be found.
Immigrants leave home for several reasons: work, violence in their own countries, or to get together with other family members. This migration process goes along with the increase in violence in Mexico, the Central American giant country which has been battling a drug war for decades.
With Felipe Calderon, the Mexican former president (2006-2012), the strategy was violence against violence: to fight the drug cartels, he brought the military forces out on the streets. This only brought more violence, death, insecurity and social inequalities, especially against women and children.
The drug war implies an upsurge of the most violent patriarchy phase. This is why a group of mothers have developed their own way of resistance: they decided to disobey the law, the international borders and the authorities, and went to look for their daughters and sons, who had disappeared, kidnapped by the drug cartels and mafias, or even the same administration.
It is worth remembering that the border between Mexico and the United States is considered to be one of the most dangerous in the world. But Mexico itself has become a vertical border that discriminates between “good” and “bad” migrants, with a model that criminalises the citizens that cross the borders, and generates this kind of violence and insecurity.
In this context, and like their kids had done before, the Central American mothers decided to go beyond borders looking for their missing children: boys and girls who left home, and lost contact with their families. The main suspicion is, of course, the drug war.
“Caravanas de madres centroamericanas” is their name. It could be explained as a group of women from Central America going all together following the same path, looking for their kids and justice, and defying the status quo.
The role these mothers play in this conflict is essential in order to understand that neither the state authorities nor the police are interested in finding these sons and daughters, nor even clarify what may have happened to them.
“Daughter, if you are listening, please contact me”
Radio Progreso station, in Honduras, was the beginning step for these mothers. What first appeared to be just a radio broadcast which connected Central American migrants, suddenly became a searching mechanism.
The name of the radio broadcast was “Sin fronteras” (Without borders) and it turned out to be the meeting point for all these mothers. In 1993, the first one to go to the radio and broadcast her suffering and her quest was Doña Emérita Martínez, she told her story and found out that a lot of people had seen her daughter, but they even didn’t know that she was looking for her. In fact, they didn’t even consider her daughter as a missing person. It actually took 17 years for Martínez to finally find her beloved child .
The week after Martínez told her story to the entire continent, a lot of women showed up in the same Radio Station to tell the exact same tragedy: they all lost their kids to the drug war and violence and they were desperate to have some news. Suddenly, the radio station became their tool, their support, the hope they needed to keep up with the search. When nobody was listening to them, giving them any answers, they unexpectedly found the strength to go on.
As painful as it may have been, they organised and started looking for their kids all over the continent, looking for them in mass graves, hospitals, morgues, prisons, shelters, brothels – every place they considered they could be – either on their own will or under threat.
This group of mothers became a very important part of the regional politics, they became crucial members in the search for their missing ones. They also started to perform motherhood as a community – they were looking not only for their own kids, they were looking for everyone else’s children too. They redefined the concept and the role of motherhood and womanhood.
And their case is not isolated: Latin America has a long standing tradition of mothers and grandmothers looking for their missing kids: women and mothers who refuse to maintain their social roles that imply domestic care, and take it to the streets and the public places instead, in search of answers.
Some examples could be the human rights organisation Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, in Argentina, which was formed to reunite biological parents with hundreds of children born in prisons and torture centres; or all the women that are telling their stories of rape and torture in the many military dictatorship regimes around the continent in the 1970s and the 1980s; or even the National Committee of Guatemala Widows which put the dictator Efraín Ríos Montt on the bench years after the genocide against indigenous peoples. Today, twenty or thirty years later, their voices are going beyond any borders, just like the Central American mothers.
Neither the hostile environment in the region and the violence perpetuated by an ineffective administration, nor the machismo that characterises the latin culture could stop these women from seeking out their children. Doña Emérita Martínez found her girl and kept looking for the rest of them and helping other people/women in this search. She died in 2013, and hopefully she is resting in peace.
This essay was originally written and submitted in Spanish, as a college paper. The authors are Liliana Aragón, Ivonne Millán and Belén González.
González was in charge of the summarizing and translation for WomenBeing Project.
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