By Diego Villa |
There are women in Juárez who have forged themselves unbreakable in the face of the pain of violence, insecurity and insecurity. 56-year-old Anita Cuellar Figueroa is one of them. There was no hint of sadness or tears in his eyes as he spoke about his daughter, Jessica Yvonne Padilla Cuellar, missing since July 8, 2011.
For 11 years, he faced repeated victimization by state authorities; He has been waiting for his daughter while his home, a house that Anita built with his money, efforts and hands, crumbles over the years, rains, heat and cold waves and other adverse weather conditions, he said.
Jessica Yvonne Padilla Cuellar was 16 years old when she disappeared. He was less than two months away from his 17th birthday. He had just finished his fourth semester of high school at the Rio Grande School, a private school that is no longer in business.
According to Anita, this school charges them a thousand pesos a month, even on vacation. The inscription was two thousand pesos. By July 2011, Anita was several months behind in school and Jessica offered to work to cover the family expenses.
“If you don’t find a job, no problem. I’m sending you on vacation to your grandparents on Saturday,” Anita recalled telling her daughter. He wanted to send her to Durango for the summer while Anita worked for Jessica to continue her education.
He told him this on Friday, July 8, in the morning. Anita was going to buy tortillas; Jessica was getting ready to send out applications for a retail job in the historic downtown area. Jessica asked her mother for 15 pesos for the route. She left him a 20 and went to the tortilla shop. When he returned, there was a five peso coin on the table. Jessica only got 15.
Anita didn’t know how her daughter was dressed, but she knew she would come to the Center with a folder full of requests to work with her data and a small black bag.
Jessica didn’t need to work, according to Anita, but she still wanted to or tried to work because someone decided she wasn’t coming home.
It was 8:30 in the evening and Jessica hadn’t returned. It was time to go looking for her, Anita recalls. They went to the Center, to the routes that left at night from there to the Adolfo López Mateos neighborhood.
They went to dances, to the Red Cross, to the medical examiner’s office… and nothing. Jessica wasn’t getting drunk, or dancing, or hurt, or dead. She was missing.
Finally, Anita and her family arrived at the Northern District Attorney’s Office, just in case she was taken into custody, but there was no sign of Jessica either. Not in detention, not in a shelter, not in girls’ protective services.
It was about five o’clock in the morning and they had not been able to find her or learn anything about her. All that remained for Anita was to light a candle and pray like the practicing Catholic that she is.
At the prosecutor’s office, they were made to go by 10:30 a.m. the next day to file a complaint. 14 hours after they started looking for her.
There, before she went to community ministries, a man tried to intimidate her, she recalled. She told her if she was sure she was going to file her complaint because if she found out Jessica could report her for neglect.
“Know it or not, accept my appeal. Look for her, find her, bring her to me, and let her be the one to file a complaint against me. We’re seeing if whatever she’s saying is still relevant or not,” he recalled responding at the time.
The voice of protest that does not break
Anita is a strong woman, short in stature. On the day of the interview, he arrived late, with several tests from his daughter in hand, which he taped or distributed at the Center. He arrived stomping in his black platform shoes, blue pants, and a white shirt with Jessica’s face embossed on it so that people would identify this face as another one of the missing on this border.
Throughout the conversation, he didn’t break down. If he has survived a duel, he has not been in public, nor will he tell on camera.
On the contrary, since July 8, 2011, it has been a voice of protest that does not break, that does not break.
“My daughter does not need my tears. She doesn’t need me locked in four walls crying for her, [porque] she is not dead. He needs me in my five senses, on my feet and out.” he says firmly.
On Wednesday of the following week, after Jessica disappeared, Nancy Yvette Navarro Muñoz also disappeared, in the Central Zone.
Anita’s voice was already echoing in Nancy’s mother’s voice. This battle of yours was already at least two, and then it would turn into a whole group covering the streets, mothers, relatives and supporters walking whole streets for people to see and not forget that the Huarensi are missing in their homes.
All this time, Anita does not recognize sadness, pain or anger. “Mmmmm… No. What I have in me is hope, there is faith, and if there is, one does not get tired there, one is not hungry there, one does not sleep there, there is nothing there,” he points out.
It’s been 11 years since I raised my voice and “I don’t feel tired,” says Anita, “. time [ha sido] a lot, but it doesn’t weigh on my shoulders”.
There is a lot of hope and it shows in his voice. It is a firm voice with clear speech, no pretentious words, but neither hesitates nor stumbles. Hope has given him strength and the networks in which he has sheltered, an understanding of the situation he is passing through and the path he must take.
“What’s next? The hope to have it. That love that doesn’t let me see the time that I don’t have it. That love, that huge love of a mother that doesn’t count the time when I don’t have her, but that love to wait, to say ‘right now I can find her’. That’s what I think is stronger in me and that’s what made me have hope and have faith and be strong and that I’m here waiting for her.” He says.
Jessica’s home is where Anita goes
Anita lives in a house she built 30 years ago on land in the Adolfo López Mateos neighborhood, near the parish of San Vicente de Paul.
His house has a ravine behind it, and in front of it abundant vegetation from the stream that flows there. There is no wind to affect it because the trees stop it. There is no heat passing through because the trees are cooling. Only the rains have taken their toll on your home. The walls are made of block but the ceiling is made of wood and when it is made of tin, thieves take advantage of this and remove it to resell.
He tried to fix it, but after two years of significant thefts from his home (“even the spoons were stolen,” he says), he was unable to fully recover.
He says he was told by GDBOP that he is in a risk zone because of what surrounds his house. She listens to them even though she enjoys her house. There is mostly peace and quiet, and the nature that surrounds it pays for it.
But somehow life there became impossible. Anita realizes that she needs to move, and the option the municipality gives her is a house in the southeast of the city. Although it “doesn’t concern him”. He has no qualms about leaving his home, and if Jessica comes back, he won’t find her.
This is his territory, he says, and he knows it. If Anita isn’t there when Jessica gets back, she’ll know who to ask to finally meet. “It won’t be a problem even if I don’t move from Juarez,” he says.
“Perhaps it would even be healthier for her when she returned, for she would not come to live what she came to live here; the consequences of their disappearance. [Regresaría] because he knows we’re here”he adds.
In her reflection, Anita does not allow herself to break. Her eyes are open, her throat is clear, and her hands are waiting in case her daughter shows up.
“She doesn’t need my moral parts. She needs me whole because she is the one who can fall apart and I need to be there. If I have to knock my daughter piece by piece for her to be okay, I have to be okay so I can rebuild her life and rebuild her,” he adds.
The Illusion of San Luis Potosí
On February 10, 2022, the Facebook page “Let’s help these missing people” made a post with three photos:
“They send us, that’s all the data that goes through, someone might be looking for it
Hello, good day, this young lady is here in San Luis Potosí, I hope someone will. Meet this dislocated and crying a lot, she wants to go back home but she doesn’t remember where she is from, please help her.
In the photos you can see a thin, dark-skinned young woman with dark hair. Ring on middle finger of left hand, white blouse and tennis shoes, light brown pants. Behind her a little girl in a red dress and white sandals. Both wear face masks. The girl is kneeling on the ground with her hands as if she is going to beg.
“As a mother, I said, ‘That’s Jesse,'” Anita admits. And she went to San Luis Potosí alone, only with the help of civil society, because the prosecutor’s office did not want to offer her any support. Left April 29, for a week.
He says that the prosecutor’s office has become more than an ally in a “pebble in the shoe” that does not allow him to move forward.
Already in San Luis Potosí, the prosecutor’s office there denied access to the young woman in the post. However, he was shown to another girl and only in a photo. That third person was certainly not Jesse.
He still keeps in touch with this girl. They call and text. “I was glad to hear his voice, maybe a little. It’s at least a hope that I can find Jesse.”
Jessie’s mural and 18 other girls giving balls
In 2016, five years after Jessica’s disappearance, Anita paid for the repair of a large wall behind the San Vicente de Paul Parish. It measures at least three meters high and 12 wide.
In it are sealed the faces of 18 missing girls whose mothers stand side by side with Anita for their right to truth and justice and the right of their daughters to be found.
There was also a nineteenth face, that of Jessica. She was the center, though not just her face. It was her, in her tiara and quinceañera dress, flanked by the Holy Child and the Virgin of Guadalupe, the three in the center of a heart made of roses.
Anita paid about 18 thousand pesos back then so that these young faces could be seen by all the people passing by. Their mothers are still looking for them and their faces deserve to be seen.
It was a mural painted by Mario and Julian, two young people from the neighborhood who called for more to do it. That meant they never vandalized it. “Time, my time destroyed it, but they never painted it for me because this mural was done by the neighborhood,” says Anita.
Of course, six years after it was made, the faces at the top are hardly recognizable. The fence is now without the mural or the layer of cement that should cover the blocks that make it up.
It became and still is, according to Anita, a “pokestop” in the augmented reality mobile video game “Pokemon Go.” This game is from the Japanese Pokemon franchise. In it you have to catch fictional creatures that have different powers. To catch them, you need the resources that this pokestop provides. That’s why he became more famous, he says.
The mural for Anita is “a claim to the law to be wanted, my daughter’s spiritual claim,” and she suspects that her daughter knows about this mural, wherever it is.
Jessica’s face and 18 other girls are on this mural, but her physical presence is still missing from 19 Juarez families and there are no explanations or progress in the investigations.
Their families have screamed, knocked on doors, questioned, but after the march on August 30, the International Day of Victims of Enforced Disappearance, which is silent, Anita thinks “it’s time to shut up. We have raised our voices for years now and have achieved nothing. Let’s see if they turn to see us.”