“Their Gazes in Our Memory”. Graffiti as a Discursive Strategy as a Response to Forced Disappearances in the Córdoba-Orizaba Region

Receipt: August 7, 2020

Acceptance: November 9, 2020


This article is concerned with presenting the murals on the missing youths in the Orizaba-Córdoba region of the state of Veracruz, where forced disappearance has been a serious problem for years. It analyzes the work elaborated by the artist Aldo Daniel Hernández, Fiseas an act of resistance by the mothers of the Colectivo, as a struggle against oblivion and impunity, situating it in its context and analyzing the reactions of authorities and society. The analysis is based on the theoretical framework of the sociology of art proposed by García Canclini (2006) and taken up by Salazar (2011) for murals in Ciudad Juárez, focusing on the organizational process for the creation of such works, the ideological framework that may have conditioned them and the visual discursive strategies applied. A discursive struggle becomes visible between victims who seek to make injustice visible and preserve memory and other actors who seek to silence them.

Keywords: , , , ,

"their gazes in our memory". graffiti as a discursive strategy as a response to forced disappearances in the córdoba-orizaba region.

This article analyses the murals of disappeared youngsters in the Orizaba-Córdoba region in the state of Veracruz, where forced disappearances have been a serious problem for years. We analyze the work of the artist Aldo Daniel Hernández's "Fise", as an act of resistance of the mothers, members of the victims collective, as a struggle against oblivion and impunity, placing them in their context and analyzing the reactions of authorities and society. This approach is carried out with the theoretical framework of the sociology of art as applied by Salazar (2011) on murals of Ciudad Juárez, inspired by the original framework by García Canclini (2006). It focuses on the process of organization for the creation of these artworks, the ideological framework that allowed the conditions for their creation, and the visual discursive strategies applied. A discursive struggle becomes visible amongst the victims that intend to draw attention to the injustice they suffer and the preservation of memory, and other political and social actors who try to silence them.

Keywords: violence in Veracruz, forced disappearance, street art, resistance, struggles for memory.


The state of Veracruz has historically suffered conflicts that have been resolved in a violent manner for several decades (Velázquez, 1985), and is currently experiencing a wave of violence that began in 2006 with the struggle of criminal groups for territory (Olvera, Zavaleta and Andrade, 2012 and 2013).

Faced with this panorama, artists, activists, academics, social fighters and members of various collectives have carried out artistic works inside and outside the state to make visible what is happening in Veracruz, vindicate their struggles, rebuke the authorities and raise awareness in a large part of society that most of the time is indolent. Although these manifestations of resistance from art in the context of violence and social inequality prevailing in Veracruz are numerous, only some have been analyzed in the academy. The music and lyrics of the jaranero and rapper Josué Bernardo Marcial Santos, Uncle Badin the south of the state, have been approached from the perspective of the struggle for the preservation of tradition by Juan Carlos López (2016). The social theater experiment carried out in Amatlán, a town where the group of women internationally known as Las Patronas have been a constant support for the migrants traveling on the train called "Las Patronas". the Beast from the border with Guatemala to Mexico City, crossing the state of Veracruz, has been analyzed by Flores Valencia and Ramírez Arriola (2016). The virtual interventions to buildings in the port of Veracruz carried out by Bruno Ferreira in his Postcards from Jarocho Hell were analyzed by Villarreal (2016). But there are others that have not been touched by the academy, such as the murals with the faces of missing youths in Orizaba, the subject of this article.

The purpose of this paper is to analyze an artistic expression through which political and social demands in the state are passing. In the case of the murals painted in Orizaba, the artist Fiseat the request of the Collective of Relatives of the Disappeared Orizaba-Córdoba, sought to make visible the serious problem of forced disappearance in the region.

As a hypothesis, we propose that these murals are an artifact of memory construction that the members of the Collective maintain and reconstruct about their loved ones, and as a work of art can sensitize outsiders to the problem. Silence is a fundamental element that is imposed on people who have suffered these experiences of violence, seeking personal and social oblivion of these injustices. Art -particularly public art- has a fundamental role to play in breaking the silence and unblocking this imposition of oblivion. It is also important to note that by organizing the creation of a mural in the city and in the vicinity of the places where the criminal acts were committed, the mothers are establishing a counter-hegemonic discourse in a space of dispute for meaning.

Theoretical framework and methodological tools

Murals are conceived as a critical pedagogical tool, as potentiators of hope with emancipatory relevance in violent contexts or with deep social inequalities (Salazar, 2011). With a long-standing tradition, the mural placed in a public space can have different intentions, either pedagogical or social criticism, and their intentions depend on who makes them, who commissions them, who pays for them. All the production characteristics of these works will have an influence on the intention and content. It is enough to briefly recount the murals of Diego Rivera, Orozco or Siqueiros, who sought to promote post-revolutionary nationalism, financed by the new political regime (Feria and Lince Campillo, 2010; Ramírez Rodríguez, 2013).

El graffitiOn the other hand, it has deserved multiple interpretations (Castelman, 2012; Bansky, 2005; Gándara, 2007) as a strategy of intervention in the public space by young people (mostly) who, through these textual and visual narratives, intend to communicate, link and transmute themselves, often containing ethnic, class, nationalist or other demands (Valenzuela, 2012) to offer reflections from art tending to the transformation of the viewer (Banksy, 2005).

The author of the murals we will talk about here, Aldo Hernández, Fiseconsiders himself a graffiti artist and has thus consolidated his career. We argue that the murals to be analyzed contain several characteristics of this form of artistic expression: they were made, as Gándara (2007) points out, in a taken space -at least one of them-, a space not dedicated to that purpose, which although at first had the authorization of its administrators, would later be erased as it was not considered convenient. It is also a counter-discourse addressed to a "non-consumer". It is true that it was not a clandestine activity, however it should be noted that the graffiti in some places in Mexico has been done with the support of authorities in spaces provided by them. Although some graffiti artists consider this fact unworthy, it does not eliminate the other characteristics that show its controversial and transgressive character (Anaya, 2002; Hernández Sánchez, 2003).

The encounter between the ephemeral and the permanent is present in the murals analyzed. In this case, the very name that the families of the disappeared gave to the murals, and which is taken up here in the title, is significant: the gaze of their disappeared children is intended to become permanent and to question passers-by. Gándara (2007) also points out the closeness of this form of expression to social movements, such as the one studied here, as a kind of reaction to authoritarian governments.

This becomes particularly important in a context of insecurity, violence and fear as the state of Veracruz was and continues to be. The graffiti should be seen as an act of rebellion and resistance against other visual strategies implemented from power, for example billboards produced and paid for by governments, journalistic notes that spectacularize violence and government bulletins that criminalize and revictimize missing persons and their families (Aracely Salcedo, interview November 2018; Del Palacio, 2018 and 2020).

In addition to the materials used (aerosols), which are recognized as materials for the production of graffitiWe return to this concept, even if the mothers have called them "murals". In fact, graffiti and mural should not be considered as an exclusive dichotomy (Garí, 1995).

It is important to emphasize that we will not approach this art form from the semiotic models that lead to analyze the work by itself, nor those that focus on the aesthetic characteristics. We rely on the theoretical proposal on sociology of art by García Canclini (2006), taken up by Salazar (2011), as he uses it specifically to study street murals in Ciudad Juárez, a place hit by criminal violence. It is an object of study very close to the one analyzed in this article. This proposal privileges the context and the relationships involved in the elaboration of artistic productions. It is composed of the following elements of analysis: 1) the means of production: resources and materials that allow artistic production, procedures to generate it and the spaces of production, dissemination and consumption; 2) the relations of production, which involve "the multiple locations that are established between the actors who participate in the complex process of production-disclosure-consumption of the artistic work" (Salazar, 2011: 270): artists, public and dissemination media; 3) the ideological framework that "conditions artistic production to established systems of representation" (Salazar, 2011: 270); and 4) the discursive strategies: the practices and narratives from which the actors -artists and public- "resignify artistic production from negotiating, opposing, appropriating, from specific positions, the rules coming from the level of discursive formation and the game established in the fields of discursivity" (Salazar, 2011: 271). We will use it explicitly in the text, as indicated in the following paragraph and made visible throughout the article.

In the following pages we seek to answer the following questions: How was the process of creation of the murals? How do these two related works represent the problem of disappearances in the Cordoba-Orizaba area? What were the responses of the authorities and the citizens? To do so, following the proposed theoretical strategy, we will elaborate an analysis of 1) the organization for the realization of the murals: the relations of production, 2) the means of production, 3) the ideological framework that conditioned the artistic production and 4) the discursive strategies from which the actors and the public re-signify said artistic product (Salazar, 2011: 270-271). Despite the fact that consumption is one of the elements raised in the theoretical proposal mentioned above, an ethnographic approach to the reception of the work in the public thoroughfare could not be carried out because when this article was written, the murals had already been erased some time ago and the violence and the pandemic of covid-19 prevented him from returning to Orizaba to make inquiries among the population. A study on the reception of these murals by the inhabitants of Orizaba and even among some of the actors, for example, who insisted on erasing them, is still pending. These are the same reasons why we did not take the photographs ourselves and resorted to the collection of Aracely Salcedo, who has documented the whole process. We limit ourselves here to collecting testimonies about the discursive strategies from which the actors we were able to interview re-signified the murals and what they told us about the public's reception.

It is not the purpose of this article to delve into the aesthetics of the murals or the possible meanings of the colors or the way in which the figures were represented, beyond the merely descriptive. This article does not refer to the analysis of the art itself, but to the need of the families of the victims to resort to this expression to make their tragedy visible and to raise public awareness of it, as well as to the relationships that were established for this purpose.

Thus, to answer the questions posed with the proposed theoretical framework, we analyzed the interviews previously conducted in October 2018 and July 2020 with some of the actors directly involved in this process: the visual artist Fise and the coordinator of the Colectivo de Familias de Desaparecidos Orizaba-Córdoba, Aracely Salcedo, as well as the lawyer Anaïs Palacios, and interviews with several members of the Colectivo por Soto in 2018. Also taken into account were journalistic notes published on the subject, as well as photographs of the murals analyzed, some of them published by the media and others provided by Aracely Salcedo herself.

Political and social context of Veracruz.

The missing

Veracruz is a Mexican state on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, with an area of 71,826 square kilometers, equivalent to 3.7% of the country's surface, with 8.1 million inhabitants, ranking third in population. It has 212 municipalities and five cities with more than 200 thousand inhabitants. 58% of the population is in poverty and 17.2% in extreme poverty. The illiteracy rate is 9%, and 55% of the population has only completed primary education (inegi, 2016). Veracruz was governed for 88 years by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (pri). The last of the PRI governments, presided over by Javier Duarte de Ochoa (2010-2016), was characterized by widespread corruption, the silencing of journalists (20 of them were murdered) and the growth of violence due to the fight for territory between various organized crime groups (Del Palacio, 2018).

During the period of Governor Fidel Herrera Beltrán (2004-2010), Duarte's direct predecessor, the Zetas, one of the bloodiest organized crime groups, which originated in the state of Tamaulipas as an armed wing of the Gulf Cartel (Correa-Cabrera, 2018), established itself in Veracruz territory and generated increasing levels of criminal violence under a pact with the government and different local police forces. During the government administration of Javier Duarte de Ochoa, the Jalisco Cartel New Generation, a criminal organization that emerged in 2007 as a result of the division of the Sinaloa Cartel commanded by Joaquín Guzmán Loera, was allowed to enter the country by the federal government, El Chapo, which detonated an internal conflict with a notable increase in criminal violence and a humanitarian crisis that continues to this day, as evidenced by numerous studies on the region, among many others those of Olvera (2018: 48-49) and Olvera, Zavaleta and Andrade (2012 and 2013). This minimal explanation of the presence of criminal groups and their collusion with state governments is fundamental to understanding the phenomenon of enforced disappearance in the state and the lack of mobilization of the authorities in the period studied, which led families to seek alternative mechanisms for visibility and the pursuit of justice.

It is not possible in this article to review, however briefly, the situation of forced disappearance in Mexico, its causes and its growth in recent years. We can point out that this phenomenon is not new, it gained relevance during the so-called Dirty War in the 1970s, when it was carried out with greater intensity in the rural areas of the state of Guerrero as part of the army's counterinsurgency actions against armed rebel groups (Ovalle, 2019; González Villareal, 2012). It later resurfaced following the uprising of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation in 1994 in Chiapas, and since the declaration of the war on drugs by then President Felipe Calderón in 2006, this phenomenon has become widespread throughout the country (González Villarreal, 2012; Guevara Bermúdez and Chávez Vargas, 2018).

The numbers of missing persons in Veracruz vary from one source to another. According to the cenapi1 1,164 missing persons are recorded between 2006 and 2018; the rnpd2 registered 726 cases between December 2006 and January 2018 and the rppd3 states that 2 433 people disappeared between January 2006 and December 2016 (Soto, 2018). These figures are questioned by existing victims' family collectives in the state, who estimate a much higher black figure (imdhd, 2019).4 The causes of this black figure are several: during 2017 and 2018 the Prosecutor's Office did not provide data on missing persons in Veracruz (Soto, 2018) and, on the other hand, there is the fact that many families have preferred not to report, for fear not only of criminals, but also for fear of being criminalized by the authorities.5

In the municipalities surrounding the urban areas of Córdoba and Orizaba, the same sources report the following cases: cenapi, 76 (imdhd, 2019); rnpedcommon law, 73; rnpedfederal jurisdiction, 24; and rppd261 (Soto, 2018), although this information does not coincide with the records of the Collective of Families of the Disappeared Orizaba-Córdoba, which to date supports more than 370 families in the region (interview with Aracely Salcedo, October 2018). Not for nothing has the territory located between Cordoba, Xalapa and Veracruz been called "the Bermudez Triangle", in allusion to the "Bermuda Triangle", a magical area where planes and ships are said to disappear. The name derives from the surname of the then Secretary of State Public Security, Arturo Bermúdez Zurita (Andrés Timoteo in Siscar, 2014), accused of being responsible or complicit in many of the cases of victims of disappearance.

Map 1. Mexico, central zone of the state of Veracruz, Córdoba-Orizaba region. Source: INEGI. Base map: Google Satellite.

The Colectivo's cases cover not only the municipalities of Orizaba and Córdoba, but also several in the high mountains and even in the metropolitan area of the port of Veracruz. This region has historically been marked by the movement of legal and illegal goods between the coast and the center of the country. It is also an obligatory passage for undocumented migrants on their way to the United States. In recent years, criminal gangs still sheltering in the mountainous areas and operating on the borders between Veracruz, Puebla and Oaxaca have been identified as responsible for highway robberies, huachicoleo (extraction of gasoline from pipelines and its illegal sale) and trafficking of weapons, drugs and people, as well as kidnappings and extortion, among other crimes (Soto, 2018; Siscar, 2014).

This criminal environment is a continuity and extension of the way in which social and political conflicts have been settled through violence in the region. Local history refers to land conflicts and confrontations between caciques in the sugar cane zones of the region, as well as continuous intra- and inter-union disputes in the textile industry of the Orizaba valley, which has almost disappeared today (Velázquez, 1985). The presence of criminal gangs dedicated to merchandise theft and human trafficking also has a long history (Olvera, Zavaleta and Andrade, 2012 and 2013). The impunity of criminals is a characteristic of regional and Veracruz history, as repeatedly proven by the works cited above (Velázquez, 1985; Olvera, Zavaleta and Andrade 2012 and 2013) among many others.

The resistance actions of the first victims' collectives in the country, which emerged from the historic march of the poet Javier Sicilia in 2011, were responded to by the State by creating laws and institutions that proved dysfunctional from the beginning, as can be seen from the vicissitudes of their establishment. A General Victims Law (2013, reformed in 2017) was passed at the federal level and a Victims Law of the State of Veracruz (issued in 2014 and subsequently a new one in 2017). The latter determined the creation of a State System of Attention to Victims, which was not formally installed until June 2019.

The State Executive Commission for Integral Attention to Victims (ceeaiv) in the state of Veracruz was created in 2017, in the midst of controversy. As stated by Aracely Salcedo -a very important person to understand the relations between the collectives and the state government due to her character as leader of the movement- in her testimonies (interview with Aracely Salcedo, October 2018), said Commission barely had the resources to address the most pressing needs. In 2017, the Law on Forced Disappearance of Persons, Disappearance Committed by Private Parties and the National System for the Search for Persons was enacted. This was installed in November 2018 and recognizes, on paper, a series of rights to victims and their families.

Also in February 2018, the Specialized Prosecutor's Offices on Enforced Disappearances were established at the federal level, but one year after their creation, the Prosecutor's Office had not consigned any case, i.e., 100% of impunity remained (del Palacio, 2020). In Veracruz, the Specialized Law on Disappearance of Persons was enacted in 2018. It provided for the creation of the State Search Commission, the State Citizen Council, the State Fund for Victims of Disappearance, the Specialized Prosecutor's Office on Disappearance and the Data Access Mechanism, which remained on paper.

Upon assuming the governorship of Veracruz on December 1, 2018, Cuitláhuac García declared a state of humanitarian emergency, thus recognizing the seriousness of the situation. This resulted in the Emergency Program for Serious Human Rights Violations in the Matter of Disappearance of Persons, which should put into operation all the aforementioned legislation, providing resources and personnel to the new institutions created or to be created.

The State Citizen Council and the State Search Commission were established in February 2019, but the latter, until November 2020, is headed by a person in charge of the office after the resignation of its head two months after taking office. The Directorate of Culture of Peace and Human Rights was also created on the same date within the Ministry of Government and the Law for the Special Declaration of Absence due to the Disappearance of Persons came into force (Interview with Anaïs Palacios, August 2019).

All these regulations and institutions have been clearly insufficient, according to personal testimonies of the families of the disappeared. To date, shortcomings prevail in the State System of Attention to Victims, which prevent the adequate follow-up of cases. This critical situation is already being aggravated by the cuts in the budget of the Executive Commission for Attention to Victims, which is leaving the families in greater defenselessness (Del Palacio, 2020).

It is in this minimal context that we must situate the effort of memory and resistance that constitute the murals studied.

The project

We consider collective memory as the process of reconstruction of a past lived by a group or society (Halbwachs, 2004), so the murals to be analyzed could be understood as an artifact of memory construction that the members of the Colectivo de Familias de Desaparecidos Orizaba-Córdoba maintain and reconstruct about their loved ones.

The project Their glances in our memory started in September 2016 as part of the many visibility strategies carried out by the Colectivo. The central idea consisted of capturing 55 faces of the disappeared of the Colectivo's families at certain points in the metropolitan area. To this end, the Collective contacted and established a relationship with Aldo Daniel Hernandez, Fisewho with the help of members of the Colectivo painted two murals in the center of the city of Orizaba.

1) The organization for the realization of the murals: production relations and actors

Aldo Daniel Hernandez, Fiseis a graffiti artist born in Michoacán but based in Rafael Delgado, Veracruz, who collaborates with the Colectivo de Familias de Desaparecidos Orizaba-Córdoba in the painting of murals. Before establishing a relationship with the Colectivo, Fise had developed visual works on the vindication of identity and other political and social struggles, as part of a larger project within an artistic collective called X Familia, made up of artists from different parts of the republic (interview with Aldo Hernández, October 2018). After suffering verbal aggressions in childhood for belonging to the Nahua ethnic group, Fise has tried to develop a pride in his identity, which he has captured in some of his artwork and become involved in social struggles. "that led me to the collective of the disappeared... I became very involved in issues of murals as a form of protest" (interview with Aldo Hernández, October 2018).

As Jiménez points out, one of the fundamental aspects in this type of artistic processes is that they act from the field of subjectivity and memory, from identity, and install capacities to understand diversity and find within themselves irreplaceable capacities and resources (Jiménez, 2016b: 23). Certain artistic expressions "are capable of awakening the most intimate and unconfessable springs, stirring traumatizing emotions or moving us in the face of what we have seen with our eyes or the movements of routine" (Jiménez, 2016b: 32). Art has the capacity to generate sensitivity in social relations and its message becomes even more powerful if it dares to break with the conditions of what is socially established and accepted (Jiménez, 2016b: 30). Fise found a form of personal development through art, in this case, in the graffitito build a critical view of the different types of violence that have been taking place in the Córdoba-Orizaba area for years and his personal position in this context:

I started to get to know more graffiti from other states, in magazines that I did not know, and from there I began to move away from the problems that existed in my town, which has always suffered until now, drug addiction and gangs, and I began to dedicate myself to painting. graffiti here in Orizaba, and I feel that painting really changed my way of life because it took me away from the problems that were there, and I was part of the problem too, because I was hurting other people, and it took me away from that, and I started to meet more people, I started to go on trips, to paint in expos of graffiti in other states, and that started to open more doors for me (interview with Aldo Hernández, October 2018).

Jimenez explains that education in the arts can generate ethical, disciplinary, teamwork and decision-making skills, in a process that can be transferable to life itself (2016b: 23), in a process such as that which Fise experienced in her relationship with the members of the Collective, especially with the mothers. As Rendón argues, these interventions through art "allow the members of a certain community to coexist, share experiences, identify meeting points and direct their efforts to what they consider the common good, establishing bonds of trust and thereby triggering collective action" (Rendón, 2016: 277). In this regard, Fise comments that

What I did was... change my perspective, the vision I had of work; it changed my life, ...I began to see the problems, the real social reality, what was really happening... I decided to do it, also, because for some time now I have been of the idea that if we do not help each other, who is going to help us? And as always, I was also involved in many movements in favor of identity, the environment, all that; I also liked to support them, and that is why I decided to support the collective of the disappeared..., but this taught me to open my possibilities a little more, and to see the ladies fighting or struggling for something they love, that motivated me to continue helping them, I became more involved with them and even now I call them aunts....It is something surprising and admirable, because they are no longer doing it for themselves, but they are fighting for a cause that for me is very important, the safety of the families, and also that they do not go through that situation, which is very difficult, I think (interview with Aldo Hernández, October 2018).

Rendón points out that this type of activities through the arts facilitate the externalization of experiences and feelings that are difficult to communicate through words, allowing to make sense of what happened, expressing and releasing emotions, attributing meaning to them and establishing bases aimed at strengthening social cohesion and resilience (2016: 277). Part of all of this is reflected in the murals that Fise built collaboratively with the members of the collectives.

The Colectivo de Familiares de Desaparecidos Orizaba-Córdoba (Collective of Relatives of the Disappeared Orizaba-Córdoba) - the second key player - was formed in 2012 at the initiative of Aracely Salcedo Jiménez, who, following the disappearance of her daughter Fernanda Rubí, began a struggle, at first a solitary one, to find her. She gathered other mothers who were also searching for their missing children and who also found no support from the authorities. By 2020 this group was composed of more than 370 families in the region (Del Palacio, 2020).

In the Collective, families find legal accompaniment and solidarity support and, when required, even financial assistance. The members of the Colectivo conduct searches in clandestine graves; they search in prisons, rehabilitation centers, and homeless shelters; they do legal follow-up and make cases visible (through photographic exhibitions, marches, or the murals that are the subject of this article), conduct courses and workshops, and sometimes provide psychological and emotional support (interview with Aracely Salcedo, October 2018).

The local and regional media -the third fundamental actor- have almost always been allies of the families of the disappeared, making their cases visible and often following up on them.6 Veracruz journalists such as Noé Zavaleta, Oliver Coronado, Miguel León, Violeta Santiago and Ignacio Carvajal have tried to get closer to the most human side of this tragedy, telling the stories of pain in countless articles, chronicles and even some books (Olmos, "The tragedy is not only a tragedy, but also a tragedy of pain"). et al., 2018; Santiago, 2019).

Some reports, chronicles and interviews by foreign journalists and activists on the issue have helped to make the situation visible far beyond the country's borders (Siscar, 2014; García, 2014; Roitstein and Thompson, 2018). In the case of the murals, it was Miguel León, a young journalist from the region who publishes in state and national media, who gave greater visibility to the project, as we will see below (León, 2016). However, it went unnoticed by most of the media in the state.

As for the public -another of the actors to be analyzed-, as will be seen in the next section, people got involved in various ways: passersby cooperated with a coin, school parents gave away food, while some strangers attacked the murals, and the school authorities, at first supportive, decided to erase the corresponding mural (interviews with Aldo Hernández and Aracely Salcedo, October 2018). We will discuss these symbolic struggles at greater length in the third section of this article.

2) Means of production: resources, procedures, spaces, etc.

About the organization for the elaboration of the murals, Soto (2018) comments that the idea of carrying out this visibility strategy came to Aracely Salcedo, leader of the collective, when she observed that the acts of protest and demonstrations that were taking place at that time did not translate into greater access to justice and truth for the families. I had the expectation that a large and colorful work of art on a wall where many people were passing by could be more useful as a strategy of visibility and awareness-raising to awaken empathy in a public fed up with marches and demonstrations that clogged the streets. Therefore, based on a common friend, Aracely Salcedo established a dialogue for the realization of the murals with Aldo Hernández, who agreed to carry out the work without charging for it and with the only condition that he would be provided with the necessary material, meals and tickets (interview with Aldo Hernández, October 2018).

Thus, the first task was to raise the money for the materials, which could only be obtained in Mexico City. To do this, the members of the Collective held raffles for cell phones, name brand tennis shoes and household appliances, as well as seeking donations including the bouncing7 in the streets (Soto, 2018: 219), and of course, the exploration of available spaces. On this last point, Fise He comments that on one occasion they arrived with all the material, ready to start painting, at a school that had already accepted the painting proposal,8 but that when they were there they were informed that they could not make the mural, arguing a misunderstanding between the management of the morning and afternoon shift for the granting of the permit (interview with Aldo Hernandez, October 2018).

After solving a series of problems, the spaces selected were the walls on Oriente 5 and Norte 38, owned by Beatriz Torres Beristain, who has a good relationship with the search collective, and who stated: "I never hesitated to join this project. It is important that the population is aware that things happen in Orizaba" (León, 2016).

This space is emblematic, since "in a perimeter of 500 meters there have been at least three events that have resulted in three murders and a kidnapping" (León, 2016): four blocks away is the Pitbull nightclub where Fernanda Rubí Salcedo, Aracely's daughter, was deprived of her freedom on September 7, 2012; four years later, in that same place of entertainment, Víctor Osorio Santa Cruz, alias the Panther was killed along with other people. In the Shine nightclub, not far from there, in September 2016 another six young people were shot at; one of them died. It is therefore important the intention to appropriate that space, to re-signify it with images of the missing youths and other emblems of peace, as will be seen below.

The other mural was painted on the wall of the primary school Agustina Ramírez, at Oriente 8 and Oriente 10, where the principal was initially supportive of the cause (Soto, 2018: 218-219; León, 2016). The convenience of the location was related to the ease of using the wall, the centrality of the place, and the large influx of people who could see it.9

The tasks and activities of those involved in the murals were diverse. The days began early in the morning and depending on the activities of each of the members of the Collective, some would leave or join in the painting. The members of the Collective would help by cleaning and painting the walls (i.e., painting the background color) so that the walls could be painted. Fise could make the traces of the faces; they prepared and carried food for those who were there at the time; and they continued to collect resources, asking for money from motorists passing by the site, as well as with the aforementioned holding of raffles and other activities (Soto, 2018: 219).

The materials for a work of this nature are expensive: Aldo Daniel Hernández commented that the cost of each aerosol is around 50 pesos (approximately US$2.50) and that up to 20 boxes of 12 aerosols can be used to create a good mural. This yields an approximate result of 12 000 pesos (600 dollars at the November 2020 exchange rate) in cans alone, not counting the expense of buying valves, rollers, brushes and buckets of paint to fund the walls, among other materials and expenses (interview with Aldo Hernandez, October 2018). This is why the activities to obtain resources are very important.

It should be noted that not all members of the Collective of Families of the Disappeared Orizaba-Córdoba were involved in the project. The points of view about the project varied, although the majority agreed and considered it a good strategy to make the problem visible:

What was most significant for me [was] the paintings of the faces of our disappeared, because... they are more visible (Cecilia in Soto, 2018: 219). I would go out and my daughter would arrive, she would go with her baby, there she was, there we were in everything they asked for, supporting. On the first fence, on the first one, ...where Rubí is, my son is the one up to the corner (Laura, in Soto, 2018: 219). I didn't want them to paint my brother, because I said: people are going to pass by and by saying, they can scratch him, they can... And I will feel even uglier, I mean, I can't (Nora in Soto, 2018: 220).

For Soto, the fear in the last example is fully justified, since in some cases unknown persons have written the letter Z10 on the murals, which becomes a double grievance, as a threat and act of intimidation, and as the reproduction of a stigma that haunts many of the relatives of the disappeared (Soto, 2018: 220). This point is worthy of analysis, as the desired visibilization has been perceived (and suffered) by some of the families as an unwanted exposure, which shows that the artwork can also have unexpected effects.

We consider that these murals constitute a counter-hegemonic discourse created to substitute for the lack of attention of the authorities to the problem of forced disappearance. When her daughter Fernanda Rubí disappeared, Aracely Salcedo asked Municipal President Hugo Chahín Maluli to grant her a space on the municipal billboard, a request that was denied. The desperate mother was informed that if she wanted to advertise there, she would have to pay a fee of one thousand pesos per month (about $50). When she wanted to hand out flyers on the street and stick them on the public road, she found that the police were after her, removing the flyers as soon as she stuck them up (interview with Aracely Salcedo, October 2018).

Although the municipality can access 14 "spectacular" advertisements (large format advertisements, billboards, billboards) in 19 different sites for social causes, none of them are used to allude to the disappearances. The only possibility of publicity that the families have are the 50 copies of the photographs of the disappeared that they are asked for in the office of the Public Prosecutor, which are distributed in the offices of other municipalities, as well as the posters that the State Attorney General's Office makes to distribute them in other Public Prosecutor's Offices. There was also, at that time, the reward program offered by the Attorney General's Office that consisted of advertising these rewards in public spaces such as billboards and even on city buses in the regions where people disappeared, but as stated by Aracely Salcedo, by 2016 only 4% of the disappeared had been accepted into that program (León, 2016).

Thanks to the interviews that the Veracruz reporters systematically conducted with the mothers, some public visibility was achieved beyond the confines of the municipality. The other visibility tool is the Collective's Facebook page and its presence in other national and international networks. However, it is important to emphasize the intention of the mothers to fight for a space of visibility in the city of Orizaba itself, even in the vicinity where some acts of violence were consummated. That is to say, to enter into a struggle for memories in the spaces of dispute.

3) Ideological framework and discursive strategies11

It is within this framework and through these strategies that different conceptions and worldviews are negotiated, opposed and clash between the producers of artistic expression and the general population.

Although the murals were originally intended to depict the 55 disappeared whose families made up the Colectivo at the time and who were willing to participate (León, 2016), due to resource constraints only a few could be depicted. The first mural, located on the corner of Oriente 5 and Norte 38, on the walls of the owners Beatriz and Jordi, is made up of two parts. The one on Oriente 5 has a yellow background with seven faces, two women -Fernanda Rubí Salcedo and Sayda Anaid Aguilar Arce- and five men. The women are in the center and in the middle of them there are several visual elements, among which the following stand out: the logo of the Serapaz organization;12 an image, center, used by the Movement for Our Disappeared in Mexico;13 the hashtag #SinLasFamiliasNo; the logo of the organization Cauce Ciudadano, which for some time collaborated with the Colectivo;14 the logo with which the search collective was identified at that time, which, for reasons unknown to us, is no longer in use today, as well as the phrase that most identifies it: "Because the struggle for a child never ends and a mother never forgets", authored by Aracely Salcedo.

On the other side, the Norte 38 fence has a blue background with purple tones and the image is made up of eight faces, seven of men and one of a woman. The iconic elements are a dove and -again- the logo with which the Collective was identified. In neither of the two parts of the mural is the name of the person represented written, which may have been a form of protection for the young people and their families, although they do appear in later efforts to make them visible. The strokes are soft, the faces of the disappeared are those that are usually observed in the search cards on social networks, posters, t-shirts or other visual supports.

The second mural is also divided into two parts. The segment on Oriente 8 Street, on an orange background, includes the faces of six people, among them again Fernanda Rubí, this time with black hair. In this case, unlike the murals in Oriente 5 and Norte 38, the faces are accompanied by the name and a white dove, symbol of peace. Here again appears the logo with which the Collective identified itself and in the lower part of the mural, in the form of a headband, the expression: "Neither forgiving nor forgetting" can be read. On the other wall, located on Oriente 10, on a purple background, the faces of five men and a woman with their respective names can be seen. Below, also in the form of a headband, the phrase: "Truth, memory and justice" can be read, in a typography representative of the style graffiti.

Image 1.Mural Oriente 5. The first faces.

Source: Aracely Salcedo Archive Retrieved from Colectivo de Familias de Desaparecidos Orizaba-Córdoba Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/218804322025217/photos/a.218807822024867/218807755358207/?type=3&theater, accessed June 21, 2021.

A mother never forgets.

Source: Aracely Salcedo Archive Retrieved from Colectivo de Familias de Desaparecidos Orizaba-Córdoba Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/218804322025217/photos/a.218807822024867/218807755358207/?type=3&theater, accessed June 21, 2021.

The strokes in this mural are also soft and the faces express feelings of tranquility and happiness, but, unlike the previous example of the bardas of owners Jordi and Bea, here two major demands in relation to memory -the main theme of the project- as well as the demand for truth and justice were captured more explicitly. Both sections of this mural at Agustina Ramírez elementary school were erased. The versions are different, but it is possible that there were both internal and external factors related to the parents' board, the school inspectorate and other political actors. Aracely Salcedo pointed out in this regard in 2018:

Mural Oriente 10. Truth, memory and justice. Source: Al Calor Político digital newspaper.
Mural Oriente 8. Neither forgiving nor forgetting. Source: Digital newspaper E-Consulta.

I have mixed feelings. My very sad mothers are sending me messages. Believe me, passing by those murals and seeing the faces of their sons, of their daughters there, it brought them a daily memory of knowing that in this struggle they were still standing up in search of each one of them, and today, seeing everything in blue, seeing everything in blue without those eyes that demand justice, without those looks that demand from the authorities and that demand from us as a society to advance in these issues, today they are gone.... Although it could have been because of that, we do not rule out other situations that we have been living in the context with the municipality, because I find it very strange that the director has not spoken to me or has not communicated with us, since he, even when we were painting the murals, he gave us some canvases where he said: "donate for the creation of the murals: donate for the creation of Their glances in our memoryThis speaks of the director's sensitivity to the issue (The World of Orizaba, 2018).

In a later conversation, Aracely Salcedo shared that the mural had been erased "because it did not give a good image, they hid behind the fact that according to this the parents did not agree that the children should see that there are lost people. I think it is not fair, besides, the parents contributed, they helped us, there are people who gave us a taco when we were painting" (personal conversation with Aracely Salcedo, July 29, 2020).

If the mere act of erasing the mural already conveys the sensation of a different, if not opposite, conception regarding the way of understanding the struggle of the collective and the issue of disappearances in the region, this becomes even more evident by not erasing it completely and using one of the elements that the work contained: a single white dove of all those that could be seen in the mural. The white dove that was preserved, flew in the original mural under a slogan that read: "When someone dies he must be mourned, when he is disappeared he must be brought back".

Image 5. Previous work. Mothers of the Collective anchoring the walls. Source: Archive of Aracely Salcedo.
Image 6. Fundraising. "...I am missing my son who is missing". Source: Archive of Aracely Salcedo.

This message stating the Collective's primary objective and the strength with which they intend to carry it out was erased and replaced by one that now reads: "Education is our passport to the future because tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for today". The Colectivo's logo was also replaced by the school's coat of arms. In this message we can see a clear response and an express positioning on the part of the actors who decided to erase the mural. It also makes clear that the symbolic struggle for space is strong and that counter-hegemonic discourses encounter significant resistance from actors who, although not part of the government, assume themselves to be defenders of the official discourse.

The allusion to "tomorrow" and "today" is striking, reinforcing the fact of trying to erase "yesterday", the past, the memory, the violent act of disappearance, represented through the faces of those who are not with their families in "today" and who may never be with them in "tomorrow".

Image 7. Intervened mural. "Passport to the future". Source: Google Maps.

As Soto points out, the strategy of visibilization employed by the Collective through the painting of murals has been one of the most powerful and successful, because it has allowed the faces of the missing persons to leave the altars of the home to assert themselves in the public space, and in that process expose part of the reality of the violent events in the region, question the responsibility of the authorities and build a space of memory and struggle for the truth (Soto, 2018: 221).

However, we must not lose sight of the fact that being exposed in the public space, these images are vulnerable to unwanted and unexpected reactions, such as the feeling of exposure and greater vulnerability on the part of some mothers; others, even violent, by actors with different ideological frameworks, who sought to criminalize the young people represented or preserve the official discourses and silence, in a process in which resignifications and reappropriations are carried out from specific positions and rules in a game established in the field of discursivity (Salazar, 2011: 271). As Jiménez points out, it is very necessary to develop social and intercultural skills that go hand in hand with artistic processes, which lead us to be tolerant with people who think differently, as well as to develop empathy and solidarity (Jiménez, 2016b: 19).

Final thoughts

Currently, certain initiatives and strategies from artistic languages have gained validity and visibility, seeking to generate transformative experiences for people and their environments based on the recognition of art as a builder of self-knowledge and the environment (Jiménez, 2016a: 10). In this sense, Veracruz is not left out. In the state there are countless artistic expressions that sometimes seek to criticize and combat certain forms of violence.

In the case of FiseIn the case of the artists, collaboration in networks or belonging to an artistic collective has enhanced the development of certain learning and a critical awareness of their specific reality and context, as well as a positive valuation of their individual and collective identity. On the other hand, a counter-reaction can be observed on the part of certain opposing actors who cannot be clearly identified.

On the first point, in relation to the importance attributed to individual and collective identity, it is important to reflect on the political and cultural role of the artist as an indispensable social actor who has the power to decompose, recreate, interpret, transgress or reinvent other possible worlds, and in such an act can say what the silence of a people keeps (Jiménez, in L. López, 2016: 151).

On the other hand, in relation to the work in networks or through specific collectives such as X Familia and the Colectivo de Familias de Desaparecidos Orizaba-Córdoba in the case of Fisehighlights the power of arts and culture to develop new cognitive, affective and expressive capacities through collaborative work, which provide the opportunity to link with other actors, learn from their experiences and combine desire with awareness and intimacy as a source of knowledge (Jiménez, 2016a: 12).

In the case of FiseThe following is what he himself mentions about the opportunities that he has found in the graffiti and how art opened up opportunities for her to realize herself outside of certain violent contexts in which she found herself. As López argues, carrying out an artistic activity can help individuals to be in touch with themselves and their emotions, and in that way can contribute to move them away from negative affective states and adverse contexts (L. López, 2016: 149-150).

The murals constitute an act of resistance against silence, against impunity, presenting the faces of the missing youths in the streets of downtown Orizaba, which in 2016 and in subsequent years wanted to present itself as a "Pueblo mágico" to attract tourism and investment. The violent events related to forced disappearance shown in an apparently harmless mural were a slap in the face to that sweetened version of the progressive, peaceful, magical city. This is evidenced by the testimonies of the mothers, who, as already mentioned, were not allowed to display the posters of the search for their children in public spaces and the police even tore down the flyers they were sticking up.

Therefore, it is not surprising to observe a contrary and opposing reaction on the part of certain actors with different ideological schemes in relation to the work and the work of the artist and the Collective. This is clearly seen in the markings of the letter Z on the murals he made. Fisewhich shows the criminalization of the disappeared, as well as in the action of erasing the mural of the Agustina Ramírez elementary school without any warning. The fact of using an element of the same mural, appropriating it, resignifying it, to give a message totally different from the original, with the full intention of erasing the memory, is deeply aggressive: a counterattack in the public arena in the struggle for collective memories.

We agree with Anne Huffschmid that no urban space is natural, but is social, discursively constituted and, as such, is the product of conflict.

Memory made public is debated between intimate and collective experience, between official and dissident, between open and restricted... there is nothing stabilized or guaranteed forever, but negotiation or conflict and a multiplicity of ways to mark and simplify the past in the present (Huffschmid, 2012: 11).

This is precisely what is happening with the murals of the missing youths in Orizaba, a constant conflict over the memory of what should be remembered: the missing youths from whom tomorrow was taken away or the fantasy of the future in the children who study to forge a tomorrow for themselves.

Following Miranda Cano (2016), it is agreed that art can be a key element in prevention and enable the construction of new cultures based on the ordering of the internal world and the recognition of the other. It is a matter, then, of assuming otherness and respecting it, of developing empathy through continuous reflection, of trying not to be oblivious to the pain of the other. To feel and think about the violence that surrounds us. These are distant but necessary ideas. Although the mural was erased and re-signified, it is important to highlight the symbolic struggle that took place in that space as the beginning of a process of appropriation, with its ups and downs, which will not stop. The struggles for memories in public space will continue and it is necessary to continue analyzing the efforts of all actors to appropriate and/or resignify the past, as well as to understand how cities remember, considering memory as a social fact (Connerton, 2010), which should be left pending for further studies.


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Conversación personal con Aracely Salcedo, 29 de julio de 2020.

Entrevista a la Lic. Anaïs Palacios, agosto de 2019.

Aracely Salcedo, entrevista noviembre de 2018.

Entrevista con Aldo Hernández, octubre de 2018.

Celia del Palacio Montiel holds a Ph.D. in history from the unamMember of the National System of Researchers level 3, Member of the Mexican Academy of Science, Member of the Pen Club Mexico. Researcher and full-time professor at the Center for the Study of Culture and Communication of the Universidad Veracruzana, of which she was coordinator-founder (2009-2018). Her research topics have been: violence against journalists and representations of violence in the current subnational press; regional journalism centuries ago; and the role of the media in the media. xix and xxHer academic production is contained in indexed articles, as well as in chapters in collective works and books: nine as sole author and ten as coordinator. Her academic production is contained in indexed articles, as well as dissemination and popularization; in chapters in collective works; and books: nine as sole author and ten as coordinator. She has published four historical novels about women and a book of short stories.

David Torres Garcia holds a Bachelor's degree in Communication Sciences and a Master's degree in Culture and Communication Studies from the Universidad Veracruzana. D. student in Social Sciences at the same university. His thesis project is entitled "Agency and collective action at the foot of the grave. The searches of Colectivo Solecito, Colectivo de Familias de Desaparecidos Orizaba-Córdoba and Buscando a Nuestros Desaparecidos y Desaparecidas Veracruz".


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