Dignity + Truth = Hope

I have been struck by a quietly remarkable story of dignified strength this month.

A story that shows how ordinary women are capable of extraordinary resilience.

Communities in Mexico suffer from terrible gang fighting and killing. The drug cartels control vast areas of the country and are responsible for political corruption, assassinations and kidnappings. Full scale street battles with security forces or rivals are not uncommon.

The cartel rivalries for control of the drug trade across the world have been going on for forty years. The most notorious gang is the Sinaloa Cartel which was for many years headed by Joaquín Guzmán – El Chapo or Shorty – who was finally arrested and sentenced to life in prison in 2019. His life and vast drug-trafficking empire have been the subject of numerous books and documentaries.

More than 82,000 Mexicans have been recorded as ‘disappeared’ since 2006, In 2019, there were a record 34,648 disappearances[1]: that is 95 people a day. In 2020, despite Covid restrictions, there were another 31,872 victims, 87 a day.

In the face of such awful violence and police inertia, it is women who are keeping the memories of their loved ones alive by searching together for missing sons and daughters, husbands and brothers. They are called the Rastreadoras, from the Spanish verb rastrear, to track. 

Out in the villages and countryside, there are dozens of Rastreadoras groups. The women search for ‘treasures’ – the remains of those who never came home. They can tell you exactly how long their sons or husbands have been missing and show crumpled photos of their men in cowboy hats.[2]

So far, 6,900 bodies have been found in covert graves by the women as well as by officials in the National Search Commission. Only 25 people have been sentenced for any of these crimes.

Some women also bravely confront the gangs. Miriam Rodríguez Martínez became an activist after her daughter, Karen, was kidnapped in 2012. She managed to find her daughter’s body in a clandestine grave and gave information to the police that put the murderers in jail.

She also foiled an attempted kidnapping by the Zetas drug cartel of her husband, when she chased the gang in her car.

I notice that the press referred to Martinez as a ‘mum’, which is a little patronising – she was a fearless woman who inspired hundreds of other parents.  

But it was not a just denouement: one of the jailed gangmen escaped and Miriam Martinez was shot and killed on Mother’s Day, 10 May, 2017.

In the midst of seemingly endless tragedies,  Rastreadoras women now have a new way to keep hope alive. They have produced a book of recipes, called “Recetario para la memoria,” (Recipes to Remember). It is also a way to fund continuing searches in the face of government cutbacks and apathy.

What a wonderful idea – evoking family meals together, the flavours and smells of favourite foods.

It is a way for ordinary women with little money or power to strengthen community so that violence does not erode hope completely. It helps preserve collective memory of feast days and family links. And I am sure that in a nation so strongly Catholic, the women also pray together.

What can I learn from these strong women?

I can join with others to support and encourage change – alone, I may let despair take over, but together we can learn, encourage and provide protective cover.

I can remember the stories of courage and advocacy to pass on to the next generation – maybe using recipes to remember

I can pray and agitate

I can use family ties to stay resilient

Even in the face of awful tyranny, I can protect my spirit from despair, and choose dignity and truth.

[1] From an article in the Financial Times, January 9/10 2021, not available online wo subscription

[2] From an article in the Financial Times, January 9/10 2021, not available online wo subscription

2 thoughts on “Dignity + Truth = Hope

  1. I was totally unaware of these things. How uncomfortable I feel about the ignorance as we are satisfied sitting in the cosy corners of our homes.
    Hats off to these warrier women who become change agents.


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