Two years after the mass kidnapping of 43 students from an Ayotzinapa teachers college rocked Mexico, the nation still searches for answers. A foreign policy adviser to former President Felipe Calderón described it as “the single most significant crime of the 21st century in Mexico.” Since 2014, we’ve seen countless protests and street demonstrations, protest art pieces, activist hashtags, and actions of solidarity from around the world.
While these things are designed to make you understand the weight of what happened, nothings brings the tragedy to life with as much poignancy as Emmanuel Guillén Lozano’s portraits of the missing 43’s relatives. In each of the 49 images, their pain is almost palpable. All of them pose in front of a plain background. The 24-year-old took photos of the relatives when they attended meetings in Ayotzinapa or during their search for their loved ones in Iguala.
All the parents look directly in the camera, and many of them wear their children’s pictures or T-shirt with slogans. More subtly, many of them have either a turtle charm or a tattoo. The turtle is the Ayotzinapa Normal School’s mascot, and Guillén Lozano – who has previously covered student protests – wanted to help spread their message. “People would criticize them as having nothing better to do except protest,” Guillén Lozano told the New York Times. “I said, ‘More than attention, they want help with their situation.’ People from deep inside Mexico, they have all either been victims of violence or know someone who was a victim. The government now prefers not to talk about the violence or deny it even exists.”
But these parents – and these portraits – are a reminder that they’re still looking for answers. The relatives of the missing 43 are among the most marginalized in the country, and they have dropped everything in their quest. Some have even moved into the school. “This is the real Mexico, not the Mexico of the government,” he said. “They say in Mexico you are born to disappear or be disappeared. And for those who are neither, then you were born to look for the disappeared.”
Check out a few of his images below: