In 2015, Alejandro Guadalupe disappeared due to the insecurity that continues to plague Mexico. From the moment he did not return home, his mother, Cecilia Flores, knew that she could not wait for an inefficient state to take responsibility for finding him, so she decided to take to the streets to search for any clues that might lead her to him. But instead of getting closer to easing her pain, it grew even bigger when in 2019 Marco Antonio and Jesús Adrián, Ceci’s other sons, met the same fate as their brother. It was at that moment that Ceci’s life crumbled to become a dark river where corruption and violence hit her like cold water, freezing her soul. And in the midst of that agony, she knew that she had to be the one to go out into the desert to find, at least, the remains of her loved ones in order to bring them justice.
Out of that desperation to breathe the air of rebellion, she was able to unite her pain to found the collective of the Madres Buscadoras de Sonora, where, beyond spreading the missing persons reports of those victims of violence, their main mission would be to take to the streets, deserts, and estates to search for any human remains that could be delivered into the arms of their families. «Mothers who lose a child are left dead in life because our strength runs out, our hope that they will return home as the hours, days, and in my situation, years go by,» confesses the searching mother Cecilia Flores.
The Madres Buscadoras de Sonora collective is a group of women (and families) who have joined together to search for their missing loved ones in the state of Sonora, Mexico. These women, many of them mothers who have lost their children, have decided to take charge of the search for their relatives due to the inefficiency of the Mexican state in investigating and clarifying cases of forced disappearance. In an interview with El Heraldo Digital, Ceci Flores explains that this collective began when she herself asked for help on a Facebook page to take to the streets to search for her children, but due to the negative response from the person behind that profile, she called on any mother who wanted to join her to create a search brigade, and what began as a post that could have been lost in the vastness of the Internet became a social movement when hundreds of mothers and relatives contacted her to tell their stories and support her in field searches. «Desperation is what drives you to do all of this […] I knew I had to be the one to go out and look for my children, because if I don’t look for them, no one will,» explains Ceci Flores.
The main purpose of the collective is to find their loved ones and demand justice for the crimes committed against them. To achieve this, the Madres Buscadoras de Sonora have carried out field searches, traveling through deserts, rivers, mountains, and other inhospitable areas in search of remains that may belong to their missing loved ones. In addition, they have held demonstrations and meetings with authorities to demand the proper attention to their cases.
Supported by mothers and families who knew her pain very closely, Ceci has continued to move forward since then, but now stronger, braver, more confident… more tireless. From the moment the collective began to attract attention, Ceci was exposed to a series of systemic threats that she lives with daily, but far from slowing down her search, they fuel her because she knows that her hearts deserve it. «I’m always afraid, afraid of what might happen to me, but I have to keep fighting because my children have the right to continue to be searched for,» she affirms confidently.
The struggle of the Madres Buscadoras de Sonora is considered a resistance to the inefficiency of the Mexican state in investigating and resolving cases of forced disappearance in the country. Their struggle is an example of the resistance of women in Mexico against violence and the null action of the authorities.
In each search brigade, the mothers and relatives move slowly through the desert, carrying tools such as picks, shovels, and the so-called «rod of life,» which is their main indicator to locate any remains. Ceci explains during the interview that this rod is buried in the ground and if any scent is detected on the tip that was inserted, they begin to dig in that spot since the smell is proof that the lifeless body of a missing person was buried there, waiting for the earth to hide it until it disappears. «Every time that rod registers any smell and the picks start breaking the ground, Ceci explains that a strange sensation invades those working there since the victory of being able to give a final explanation to the families of the missing is a sign of joy, but at the same time, the pain of knowing that among those remains embraced by the earth are not their children makes the hopelessness even greater. «The search process has been very painful and satisfying, we have managed to recover many families, but the fight to find ours, those who are still missing from home, continues,» declares Ceci.
Their work is completely autonomous, so they are sustained by the solidarity donations that civil society makes to them through their official page. With the money collected, they buy food, gasoline, and tools with which they can continue to sustain the activities of the collective. Likewise, Ceci Flores explains that the recognition that they have received from magazines and organizations (as in the recent case of the searching mother María Herrera Magdaleno) does not serve much since this only recognizes them, but actually does not contribute anything to the searches and much less to the disappearances that continue to grow. «We are only part of a television station, a radio station, or a magazine, but it is something that does not change anything in the government, so it is only recognition and that’s it,» argues the searching mother.
In Mexico, forced disappearance is a serious problem that has left thousands of people missing, many of whom are victims of the violence of criminal groups or the police themselves. However, the state’s response has been insufficient, both in preventing these crimes and in caring for the victims and their families. According to the National Register of Missing and Non-Located Persons (RNPDNO), in 2022, 109,516 people were registered under this condition, which means that 28 people disappeared daily, with Jalisco being the state with the most reported cases.
During the beginning of President López Obrador’s administration, in 2018, 419 people were reported missing and not located, in 2019 the figure increased to 9,772, and in 2020 there was a slight decrease to 9,147; with these figures, the total number of missing and non-located persons during his four-year term exceeds that recorded during the administrations of Enrique Peña Nieto and Felipe Calderón, despite the latter initiating the so-called war on drugs, which according to UN experts, was the beginning of the humanitarian crisis in the country. «Although governments have changed, we still do not have support in the search and investigation of our missing persons. I think it is such a sensitive issue that no one wants to touch, it makes them uncomfortable,» affirms Ceci.
Faced with these alarming figures, the president has justified the increase in the number of cases due to changes in the way they are registered since before it was not done correctly, causing many to be lost. For her part, Ceci explains that…