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For LA families, search for Mexico's missing spans borders




A man stands outside the Mexican Cultural Institute near Olvera Street at the Virgen of Guadalupe celebration in December, 2015.
A man stands outside the Mexican Cultural Institute near Olvera Street at the Virgen of Guadalupe celebration in December, 2015.
Dorian Merina/KPCC

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As thousands of people continue to disappear in Mexico, more families with ties to Los Angeles are naming their lost loved ones and calling on authorities to act. For the past year on Take Two, we've tracked efforts of L.A.-based families who say their brothers, fathers or daughters have gone missing in Mexico, often after violent confrontations with armed men. They also report threats or intimidation when they've tried to put a spotlight on the missing.

Rows of photographs show missing family members in Mexico, during the Virgin of Guadalupe celebration at Olvera Street, Los Angeles. Some have ties to Los Angeles.
Rows of photographs show missing family members in Mexico, during the Virgin of Guadalupe celebration at Olvera Street, Los Angeles. Some have ties to Los Angeles.
Dorian Merina/KPCC

A widespread problem, spilling over to L.A.

More than 26,000 people have gone missing in Mexico from the years 2006 to 2012, according to Mexico's attorney general's office. Human rights groups and families of the missing say that number by now is almost certainly higher, as the disappearances have continued in recent years.

After 43 students went missing following a bloody confrontation with police in the state of Guerrero in September 2014, protests broke out in cities across Mexico and President Enrique Peña Nieto came under increasing pressure to show progress on the issue. After a government-backed probe was criticized by international observers, including the Organization of American States, the Nieto administration agreed in October to restart a new investigation, pledging more independence for investigators.

The lack of transparency in investigations into the missing and the dearth of successful prosecutions have been ongoing concerns for families. In 2013, Amnesty International found evidence of government involvement in over half of the disappearances it looked into.

This year, though still a small minority, families who are searching for lost loved ones have started to grow more visible by using social media, visiting Mexico and organizing public gatherings in L.A.

Ezequiel Barajas, 20, holds a picture of his father, Angel, who he says went missing in Jalisco in November 2014. He stands near Olvera Street in Los Angeles, where a line of photos showed the disappeared in Mexico.
Ezequiel Barajas, 20, holds a picture of his father, Angel, who he says went missing in Jalisco in November 2014. He stands near Olvera Street in Los Angeles, where a line of photos showed the disappeared in Mexico.
Dorian Merina/KPCC

A search for a father: 'I still have no answer'

On a crowded sidewalk near Olvera Street in Los Angeles during the Virgen of Guadalupe celebrations in December, 20-year-old Ezequiel Barajas held a picture of his father Angel Barajas. He said when he first heard of his father's disappearance in November 2014 near Jalisco, Mexico, he was living and working in California.

"Ten days passed, fifteen days passed, twenty days passed, we didn't have a clue or know nothing about him, so my sister started [speaking with] authorities and letting people know. I started making fliers, [putting] photographs and things like that all over town, [but] there was no answer, you know? That's one of the reasons I came here because I still have no answer about my dad."

The search for his missing father consumes his life here in L.A., he said, where he works in construction near downtown.

"It's horrible, just thinking of my dad: where he's at, how's he doing, if he's still alive. Those questions have been running through my mind since the first moment I got the call. There's no way to describe this pain. This is a pain that I've been living in since my dad has been missing, since day one. It changed my life."

Nansi Cisneros holds a piece of embroidery that she brought back from Jalisco, Mexico, part of a project to honor the missing in Mexico. The piece reads, 'Embroidery for Peace, Los Angeles,' in Spanish.
Nansi Cisneros holds a piece of embroidery that she brought back from Jalisco, Mexico, part of a project to honor the missing in Mexico. The piece reads, 'Embroidery for Peace, Los Angeles,' in Spanish.
Dorian Merina/KPCC

Three years on, a brother still missing

Nansi Cisneros, a former Santa Monica City College student and resident of south east L.A., continues to search for her missing brother, Javier, more than two years after his disappearance in October 2013.

The search has taken her back to her family's hometown in Tala, Jalisco multiple times, to follow up on potential leads in the case or provide support for her mother and sister, who still live there. This year, she began an embroidery project in L.A., where families stitch messages to their lost loved ones into fabric and display them at parks or public spaces. It's a tradition that began in Mexico.

"I'm trying to bring awareness, to show them a face," said Cisneros, as she hung up pictures of the missing at Olvera Street amidst a passing crowd. "It's not a name, it's a person that's missing."

RELATED: Missing in Mexico: An LA woman searches for her lost brother

Crowds gather at Olvera Street, Los Angeles for the Virgen of Guadalupe celebration in December, 2015, near to where families of the missing in Mexico set up displays of photographs of their loved ones.
Crowds gather at Olvera Street, Los Angeles for the Virgen of Guadalupe celebration in December, 2015, near to where families of the missing in Mexico set up displays of photographs of their loved ones.
Dorian Merina/KPCC