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The Vanishing: What Happened to the Thousands Still Missing in Mexico?

Araceli García Luna
Araceli García Luna, whose son Juan Lagunilla García went missing. Photos by Grace Rubenstein.

Grace Rubenstein | Longreads | April 2016 | 19 minutes (4,634 words)

Somewhere in Mexico, someone knows the answer to the question that drives Araceli García Luna day and night. The person or persons who know might be criminals or government officials—or both. The jagged beige mountains around the northern city of Monterrey, which hold so many horrible secrets, surely know. You would think, given the circumstances, that someone would help her find out.

Araceli lives in a small apartment on the outskirts of Mexico City. She gets up in the morning and goes to work in maintenance at a local middle school, the same job she’s had for 24 years. She comes home by 5 p.m. and stays there, with two of her grown children, her grandson, and a little frizzy-haired dog named Chiquitín. Araceli doesn’t go out anymore—not for events or unnecessary errands. Except that, once every few months, she packs her purse and a folder full of documents and travels 560 miles to Monterrey. She does this because Juan Lagunilla García is still missing. Because, though the authorities managed three times to find the elusive drug lord El Chapo, almost all of the 23,000 regular Mexicans disappeared in the drug wars remain unfound.

Araceli has made the journey more than thirty times since the first trip in October 2011, the night I met her. And she will keep doing it without fail until she gets an answer to her question: “Where is my son?” Read more…