U.S. and World Politics

Eighty Pairs of Shoes

Exhibition highlighting the search for Mexico’s missing is currently in Europe

By Mexico News Daily

“I, Margarito Ramírez, am looking for my son whose name is Carlos Iván Ramírez Villareal,” reads the green-colored imprint of a shoe’s sole on a plain sheet of white paper.

“He is a student at the teachers’ college in Ayotzinapa. Police disappeared him with 42 of his classmates in Iguala, Guerrero, on September 26, 2014,” the message continues, etched onto the sole of its matching pair.

The message is just one of many in an exhibition currently touring Europe that highlights the plight of thousands of missing people in Mexico and the long quest of their family members to find them.

Called “Huellas de la Memoria” (Footprints of Memory), the exhibition is made up of 80 pairs of shoes donated by family members of some of the more than 32,000 people who have been victims of enforced disappearances in Mexico.

It has already visited England, France and Italy and opens today in Berlin, Germany.

The shoes are not just symbolic of those who are missing but also of all the paths that their family members have traveled while searching for them and of their efforts to learn what happened.

Each shoe has a message written on the sole and is a different color depending on whether the person it belonged to is missing (green), was found dead (black) or was murdered during the process of looking for them (red).

Letters demanding justice and naming those who family members believe are responsible for the disappearances accompany each pair of shoes.

The exhibition highlights missing persons cases dating back to the first documented enforced disappearance in the wake of the student massacre at Tlatelolco in 1968 and more recent ones.

Exhibition curator Alfredo López Casanova says the project focuses on what the words “walk and search” mean to the family members of those who are missing and explains that the aim of the project is to build a collective memory about the disappearances, condemn those responsible and to raise awareness about the situation.

“It’s very urgent that the world knows what’s happening in Mexico, where there is a normalization of violence and it seems common for clandestine graves to appear. The exhibition is a window into terror.”

The terror doesn’t only affect Mexicans.

Disappearances of migrants—many of them from Central America—are also commonplace as they travel through Mexico to the United States, fleeing from poverty and gang violence.

Honduran woman, Ana Enamorado, has been looking for her son, Óscar Antonio, for the past seven-and-a-half years, since he disappeared in Jalisco in 2010.

She left everything behind in her native Honduras to come to Mexico to search for him and along the way met many others with the same seemingly simple yet virtually impossible objective: walk, search and find.

Together with other mothers she formed the Central American Migrant Movement and dedicates her life to continuing the search for her son and other missing migrants as well as seeking justice.

Enamorado claims that her fruitless search has not been helped by Mexican authorities who, she says, “don’t understand that migrating is not a crime and violate [migrants’] human rights.”

“In Mexico authorities and organized crime see a migrant as an object, as goods [or] a gold mine that the polleros [people smugglers] hand over to crime rather than cross them into the United States.”

When asked about what the word “search” means to her she said, “Searching for a family member without knowing where or how to find them is like looking for a needle in a haystack. We don’t know if we are really going to find them or if they are [already] in graves. It’s very exhausting.”

She believes that the “Huellas de la Memoria” exhibition will serve as a way of further highlighting to the government that there are thousands of missing Central American migrants in Mexico.

Another case highlighted in the exhibition is that of Guadalupe Pérez Rodríguez whose father went missing from the Sierra Norte of Puebla in 1990 when he was just six years old.

In his native Totonaco language the concept of the disappearance of a person doesn’t exist but it is one that has been imposed on him for virtually his whole life.

For 27 years, Guadalupe has not given up the search for his father.

He also complains of inaction and lack of will on the part of authorities.

The idea for the project came out of a 2013 protest march of mothers who were searching for their children.

The exhibition, which aims to sow an antidote to oblivion and silence and be an echo of the voices of family members who have long fought for and sought justice and truth, was first shown in Mexico last year.

Mexico News Daily, July 4, 2017