When the buses of the Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity rolled into San Jacinto Plaza last night the crowd of supporters erupted in cheers. With candles and flashlights and banners of support we waited to welcome the 120 people who are journeying from San Diego to Washington, DC. Each of them has a story to tell, a sister or brother, son or daughter, a grandchild or father or mother killed or disappeared in the violence that has engulfed Mexico during the past six years. They walked onto the plaza carrying banners and posters that bore the faces of their lost loved ones. It was hot and everyone was tired but, ni modo, we had a fiesta with music and dancing, hot chocolate and sweet bread. “You have to laugh or else you’ll cry.”
We met Tere, Leticia, Bertha and Francisco after the festivities. They are our guests at Casa de Caridad. It was almost 11 p.m. by the time we got home and we sat at the kitchen table under the beautiful image of Our Lady of Guadalupe while they ate sandwiches and drank tea and told us their stories.
Tere’s sister Norma disappeared in 2006 when she was 55 years old. “We don’t know what happened to her. So many women have disappeared. They seem to fit a kind of profile, a certain age, a certain color of hair. Maybe they are being forced to work for the drug-lords. Or maybe their organs are being sold…”
Leticia’s daughter, age 22, disappeared in May 2011 when she went to buy chile at the market. There was a phone call advising the family not to look for her. Police detectives required payment to “investigate” but no information ever surfaced.
Francisco and Bertha’s two grandchildren were taken by the Mexican military and given to their father, a Belgian citizen who decided he didn’t want to live in Mexico anymore. No recourse.
The lives of these people have been turned inside-out by the disappearance of family members. I guess they are considered “collateral damage” of the drug war. Corruption and impunity are the only sure thing in Mexico these days.
There’s nothing like having people at your kitchen table telling their stories to make this all very personal. It can never just be “Mexico’s problem” again. What is my role? Surely not just to pray for peace. What can I do? Surely more than prepare pancakes and bacon for breakfast- although I find some comfort in being able to do any little thing to make them comfortable while they are here with us.
Tonight we will march from the plaza to Annunciation House, shelter for many immigrants and refugees from the violence. Maybe something will come clear to me as I walk with Tere, Leticia, Bertha, Francisco and the others. A small act of solidarity might give me an infusion of hope and confidence that we can make a difference. The names of more than 10,000 people who have died in the violence in Ciudad Juarez since 2006 will be projected on the outside walls of the shelter, continuously rolling from the ground to the rooftop, two stories high.
Our house was asked to create an altar outside of Annunciation House where people can place photos of their lost loved ones, light candles and keep vigil while we try to figure out: what we are called to do about the violence. What are we called to do about the war on drugs that has become a war on the Mexican people? What are we called to do about the addiction to drugs and to the sale of weapons that fuel the violence from our side of the border? What are we called to do? This is what I will wonder as we keep vigil.
And after the vigil I will take comfort in being able to do something for Tere, Leticia, Bertha and Francisco. We will go home together and make sandwiches and talk about the day’s events around the kitchen table, under the loving gaze of Our Lady of Guadalupe.