Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Central America’s Caravan of Mothers: Personal Grief and Political Grief

On Mexican Mother’s Day on May 10, 2022, Central American and Mexican mothers who were searching for their missing children marched through the streets of Mexico City.

They have demanded answers from President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and are seeking justice for their loved ones who are suffering across the vertical border violence, a reference to how the US-Mexico border has been extended across the Mexican territory to accommodate Central American migrants block.

In addition to their goal of finding or at least learning what happened to their children, they mourn and collectively fight the atrocities that migrants in search of safety and protection are experiencing in Mexico today.

Migrants disappear

The disappearances of Central American migrants in Mexico quadrupled in 2021. It is a direct result of Mexico’s improved policing of unwanted migrant flows and was directly related to the selective, racist outsourcing of migration policies by the United States and Canada.

Read more: The role of Canadian mining in the plight of Central American migrants

In recent years, I have witnessed the outcomes of a staggering number of kidnappings, arbitrary arrests, arrests and gender-based violence in the region. Women’s rights and activist groups in Mexico emphasize that the government is overseeing and actively concealing the situation.

They argue that extraordinarily high rates of both feminicide and impunity for its perpetrators, coupled with efforts to thwart feminist organizations, are part of Mexico’s historic patriarchy and structural racial state violence.

Read more: In Mexico, how the eradication of Black history fuels anti-Black racism

The National Center for Human Identification was recently established to improve and centralize the search for missing people. The center was celebrated, although the fact that it was established without a budget, as well as the role that the state itself plays in many of the disappearances, is disregarded.

Data collected by the National Search Commission recently reported that 100,000 people are officially listed as missing in Mexico. Mothers, and groups who support their search, believe the actual number – which is growing daily – is much higher while efforts to locate missing people are largely inadequate.

Three Women, All In Masks, Hold Up Photos Of Their Loved Ones.
Participants in the caravan of mothers will hold photos of their missing children in Mexico City in May 2022.
( Associated Press Photo / Marco Ugarte)

The latest caravan from mothers

In May 2022, I accompanied the XVI Caravan of Mothers of Central America through four Mexican states while drawing attention to and demanding action for their missing children.

The recent march in Mexico City ended a long list of political actions carried out in several cities by this year’s caravan, co-organized by el Movimiento Migrante Mesoamericano, Brûe van Hoop and national search committees of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.

Some of the mothers have participated in the caravan since it was first established in 2005. Others, whose daughters and sons have disappeared over the past few years, have joined for the first time as the COVID-19 pandemic and related travel restrictions prevented them from starting their search earlier.

With portraits of their missing children, more than 60 mothers and other family members displayed both their grief and their political grievances in public. In the words of Mayan feminist feminist Lorena Cabnal, “acuerpar” involves taking personal and collective action through the gathering of mothers, furious about the injustices their children are experiencing, and the arousal of political pressure. The closeness and collective outrage leads to revival and new strength.

People Are Holding Up Signs Of Their Missing Loved Ones In A City Square.
Participants in a caravan of Central American mothers hold photos of their missing children during a demonstration in Mexico City in May 2022.
( Associated Press Photo / Marco Ugarte)

As one of the mothers told me:

This shared struggle of grief and hope displaces my pain for a moment. It gives me the strength to continue the search and expose the systemic violence against migrants.

The power of mothers

The use of maternalism in political protest is not unique, but something seen through history in Latin America and other parts of the world. These include mothers searching for their missing migrant children in Tunisia, African-American mothers calling out police brutality that led to the killings of their children in the US and families demanding answers about missing and murdered indigenous women and girls in Canada.

Read more: MMIWG: The spirit of grassroots justice lives at the heart of the struggle

What is special about the Central American caravan of mothers, however, is how it is also an important space for collective self-care across borders. That concept involves self-defense and political agency in the service of those who practice it.

This makes the caravan a space where, along with mourning, both personal and collective care is cultivated among the mothers who share the pain and outrage of not knowing if their children are dead or alive, and if they are still alive, what they endure.

Two people who disappeared were indeed found during this year’s caravan and reunited with their families. Both were arbitrarily locked up for years in Coatzacoalcos, in southeastern Mexico, and in Reynosa, near the Mexican-US border.

Collective self-care creates relationships and understanding that are not commonly seen elsewhere, according to Kata Lopez, a Guatemalan psychosocial worker who accompanies seeking mothers.

The caravan that takes place every two weeks every year gets a lot of media attention, she says, while all the work done through the rest of the year is less well known.

Insights from three mothers

I regularly spoke to the three coordinators of the national search committees – Eva from Honduras, Anita from El Salvador and Maria from Guatemala. Their search, along with other mothers and family members, is constant.

Every day something new is happening, my phone never stops ringing, says Eva. And the more we work, the more cases of missing persons are reported to us.

This is the “other, lesser known pandemic,” adds Maria.

Anita points out that the world is only aware of a small fraction of Central American migrants disappearing in Mexico.

The three mothers agree that their fight is difficult, but that they can not and do not want to leave #HastaEncontrarles (until we get them in English), until their children are found.

This is an issue that should affect us all, they say, as it illustrates what so many people experience as they navigate a violent and unjust world.

Nation World News Desk
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