FACES OF THE DISAPPEARED: Ayotzinapa: A Writer's Chronicle of Injustice

FACES OF THE DISAPPEARED: Ayotzinapa: A Writer's Chronicle of Injustice


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Award-winning Mexican author Tryno Maldonado personally immerses himself in the lives of the students of Ayotzinapa Normal School—victims in the still-unexplained kidnapping tragedy that took place in September 2014. In this narrative, he relives the events leading up to and during the horrific incident in which 43 students were brutalized at the hands of police and militarized narco-gang members, then vanished without a trace. With in-depth interviews of family members and friends of the "disappeared," as well as investigative reportage of the events leading up to and during the incident, Maldonado has created a viscerally powerful account of this tragedy that, to date, has yet to be resolved.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781943156535
Publisher: Schaffner Press, Inc.
Publication date: 10/16/2018
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Considered by critics to be one of the most promising voices in contemporary Mexican literature, Tryno Maldonado was born in 1977 in Zacatecas, México. He has contributed to some of the most important publications in México, and part of his work is included in national and international anthologies. He was named one of the best young Latin American writers by the Colombian magazine Gatopardo in 2006. Faces of the Disappeared is his first book to be translated into English. In the 1960s Chandler Thompson was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Colombia, then a translator from French and Spanish to English for a wire service in Paris. He has been an interpreter for the U.S. State Department and the federal courts. He has covered Mexico as a stringer for The Christian Science Monitor and as a staff reporter for The El Paso Times.

Read an Excerpt



Mario González is a fierce, coarse-spoken native of the state of Tlaxcala. He has no qualms about taking on troops from the 27th Battalion in Iguala with his bare fists, and he never let his much loved son of twenty-one go anywhere without a tender kiss on the mouth.

Mario González grew up in a family of ten brothers and sisters and a father who died a few months before his own youngest son, César Manuel, disappeared. Mario is a welder from the town of Huamantla who traveled the country trying to make a living. Becoming a welder gave him the chance to settle down and raise a family. Mario knows that, given the nature of their work, welders don't live very long. He's knows his time is short.

His two children, a boy and a girl, are students at rural teachers colleges. César Manuel, the younger of the two, dropped out of law school in Puebla after a single semester. What he really wanted was to pass the entrance exam for the Raúl Isidro Burgos Teachers College in Ayotzinapa.

Before he met the parents of the other missing youths, Mario knew nothing about Ayotzinapa, a 30-acre hamlet in the municipality of Tixtla in central Guerrero. Though sick with typhoid fever, he got out of bed and began the arduous journey from Huamantla when word reached him that his son was missing. Mario González normally weighs 145 pounds. He lost 40 pounds in the first three months of the search for his son.

For Mario the trip from Huamantla was like moving to another country. The food still disagrees with him. The son of peasants, he was nonetheless scandalized by the low standard of living in Guerrero. In this and many other regards, Mario is not mistaken. Mexico consists of many different countries, he says, and he knows their common denominator is poverty.

One of the cultural differences Mario has found hardest to get used to is that people in Guerrero wear huaraches, sandals made from old tires, or else they go barefoot. He always wears a leather belt and cowboy boots.

Until recently Mario González was a man of few words who couldn't speak in public without stuttering. When he did speak he was blasphemous and dogmatic. But his recent ordeal has shaken his judgment and destroyed his trust in the government and institutions of his country. Justified anger has made him articulate. It taught him to speak up for the parents of the 43 missing students and take charge of the group's media relations.

In their last phone conversation his son César Manuel said he was quite content at the teachers college. The other students followed soccer and decorated their lockers and the walls of their rooms with clippings about the stars of such soccer teams as Barcelona and América. César Manuel's passion was Thai kickboxing. Mario did the impossible to raise extra money for his son's gym fees. He proudly shows me the last photo the that he took of César Manuel with his cell phone: a skinny but athletic-looking kid with six-pack abs. He's not particularly handsome, but he has a charm that appeals to young women.

Mario takes off the camel-colored hat he acquired thanks to the donations that have poured into the Ayotzinapa lately. He puts away the cell phone with his son's photo. He wipes his brow with his forearm for the first time this morning. A shipment of groceries from sympathizers in the United States has just arrived, and volunteers are in a hurry to stack the boxes in the storeroom.

Mario says René Pérez, the lead vocalist of the Puerto Rican band 13th Street, is a good guy. Before the group's concert on November 22nd, 2014, he spent time with the parents of the 43 instead of eating or washing up. Pérez took an instant liking to Mario. In his dressing room, he told the embattled father from Tlaxcala, you're coming up on the stage with me, got it?

Mario cast an indecisive glance at the tattoo of René's grandmother Amelia on the young Puerto Rican's shoulder, at the bulge of muscle in his arm. René towered over Mario, who gulped and bit his lip. Mario nodded, and René barked an order to his entourage.

René left the pre-concert meal that the caterers had brought him untouched. He took Mario by the arm and steered the welder from Tlaxcala backstage. Beautiful women called out to René and made way for him. Except for an amiable wave or an occasional stop for the obligatory selfie, he seemed oblivious to the commotion around him. Mario fell in behind him, amazed, not knowing where to turn.

René delayed his setlist of songs so Mario could come onstage to vent his indignation and outrage before thousands of people, to demand that his son and the 42 other missing students be returned alive.

Mounting the bandstand, Mario González was dazzled by the reflectors flooding the stage with light and deafened by the roar of the overflow crowd in the Mexico City Sports Palace. For the veteran welder it was like being caught in the flame of a blowtorch without a protective mask. René whispered in Mario's ear. Listen, Don Mario, if I speak, they'll kick me out of the country. I'm a foreigner, and the government has its eye on me. You need to do the talking.

René dropped to his left knee and passed the microphone to Mario. In his welder's hands it must have felt like scrap metal. He froze. Sweat streamed from under the ball cap he wore to keep the stage lights out of his eyes. His eyebrows were soaked. He stared at his feet as the crowd that had watched him climb onto the stage burst into thunderous applause, then fell silent to hear him speak.

Tom Morello, the Harvard grad who plays guitar for Rage Against the Machine, watched Mario González's back. He raised his left fist in the air and grasped his guitar, an original Stratocaster Custom Mongrel, in his right hand. The lettering on its front read Arm the Homeless. A hammer and sickle was painted on the back.


That's when it happened. Mario cleared his throat. He looked up, and words poured from his mouth crystal clear, words as solid as stones. Mario gets goose bumps talking about it. His body speaks a language he never knew he had. His head bobs up and down in triumph as he relives his moment on the huge stage of the Sports Palace telling an audience of thousands how 43 students went missing in Ayotzinapa, how it felt to speak for all the parents of the 43 and to let them know they were not alone.

From time to time René sends messages over WhatsApp asking Mario how he's doing and how the search for his son is going. My son is not a hero, Mario often says. My son is a person with strengths and weaknesses. I must also say that he's not the best of students. Heroes get to choose whether to be heroes or not. But my son didn't get a choice. All I want is to kiss my kid again and hold him in my arms.

Mario smokes his second cigarette of the morning and paces the floor. Having nothing to do gives him the jitters. He drops the cigarette, crushes it under his boot, and adjusts his belt. He has the compact body and stubby arms of a weightlifter. He puts his hands on his hips as if he were about to execute a military press.

He stares down at the basketball court where poster-size photos of the 43 lean against the backs of folding chairs. His face and neck are sunburnt from recent marches, his round head strikingly similar to his son César Manuel's in the official photo of the missing students. He's lost a lot of weight, and it shows in the furrows of his chiseled countenance.

We're going all out, he says to himself and rubs his hands together as if girding himself to lift a weight of olympic proportions.

* * *

When he disappeared César Manuel was twenty-one. To Mario he was more than a son, he was a friend.

Mario says César Manuel usually stood up for him in his clashes with his wife Hilda, standing the normal relationship between father and son on its head. Although Mario tried to play the stern father with his kids, he and César Manuel always used the "tu" form rather than the more formal "usted" when speaking to each other. They spoke by phone every three days without fail, and they held nothing back in their conversations. Along with his Ayotzinapa classmates, César Manuel travelled to Tlaxcala on September 10th, two weeks before his disappearance, to join a march led by students from the teachers college in Panotla. Mario also wanted to make the trip to the state capital and spend at least a few hours with his son, whom he'd not seen for weeks. Hilda had to stay home because she'd just begun working at the branch of the Coppel department store in Huamantla. Asking for time off was out of the question.

Students in Ayotzinapa had just undergone a week of demanding physical tests. Did you get through the exam week shitstorm all right? Mario asked his son when they met in Tlaxcala. Are you getting a good education, shit-head? Mario added in a gruff voice. He grabbed César Manuel by the scruff of the neck in a characteristic show of both authority and affection.

His son's scalp was shaved, and he looked exhausted. The father who had watched him play sports and work out since adolescence had never seen him so run down. But César insisted he'd never been happier.

You're skinny as hell, Mario said on the verge of tears. Tell Ayotzinapa to go to hell. Come on home.

For a second they looked each other in the eye, their faces barely a hand's width apart, so close that César Manuel could smell the tobacco on Mario's breath. Mario took a last drag on his cigarette before crushing it between the bare ground and the sole of his boot. Each saw something new and indefinable in the other but couldn't intuit what it was. The teachers college's grueling tests had wrought vital changes in César Manuel's physique and attitude. Typhoid fever was wreaking havoc on the body of his father.

César Manuel said, I can't quit, Dad. You always told me I had to finish what I started, and I never forgot that.

Look at yourself, shit head! Mario wouldn't let César Manuel out of his embrace. You're getting screwed. They've given you more education in a few weeks than I could give you in 21 years.

Mario's stone face looks forbidding to anyone who doesn't know him. When he and César Manuel look straight at each other the two old friends see themselves anew. Though they tried, they couldn't help laughing. Passersby in Tlaxcala's central park stared at them. Mario kissed César Manuel on the mouth as they continued to embrace in the middle of the street.

All that separated them before they said their goodbyes was a light drizzle. It was the last time Mario González saw his son.

* * *

The last time Mario and César Manuel spoke by phone was on the afternoon of September 26th shortly before a group of mostly first-year students set off for Iguala. César Manuel had joined an organization called the Activists House. He'd be shouldering added responsibilities from now on. He was pleased to tell his father he was getting up to speed in his life at school.

How are you doing, Dad?

Mario had come down with typhoid several days before, and César Manuel was worried.

Better, Mario lied. They took out my i.v. drip yesterday.

They fell silent for several seconds.

I can barely hear you, César Manuel said at last. I better come visit you.

No, son. Suck it up, and stay in school.

But, Dad …

It's what you wanted, right?

Yes, but …

Isn't that why you quit law school?

There was another pause, a more awkward pause. To César Manuel his father's question sounded like a rebuke.

I haven't been able to get up and go to work for days, Mario said. Your mom's been working at Coppel for two weeks to help us out.



Dad, there's something I have to go to. I'll call later, when it's over.

At exactly ten o'clock that night Mario dialed his son and got no answer. He got the same result an hour later. Their afternoon conversation rekindled an old argument he wanted to settle. He called one more time before going to bed around one in the morning. He got a ringback but no answer. This seemed strange because they called each other often. César Manuel wasn't the sort to snub a call from his father. Mario's phone records showed he made a final attempt to reach his missing son at 3:12 a.m. Unable to calm his nerves, he slept fitfully through what remained of the night.

In the morning his wife Hilda, who had the early shift on her new 7-day-a-week job, was careful not to disturb him when she left for work. Mario pretended to sleep.

When he was sure she was gone he tried to get up. A pain like a blow from a tree branch sent him back to bed. He was a man who took pride in being able to support his family, and nothing hurt him more than feeling too weak to work. He looked around for his work boots and the khaki overalls he wore to work at his brother's welding shop. Sweat trickled down his forehead. His ulcers left a taste like bitter coins on the roof of his mouth. When he stood up he couldn't tighten his belt enough to keep his pants on. They slid down his hips to his knees as if they were made for a man much sturdier than Mario. He realized to his horror that he was three sizes smaller than he used to be. Around nine misfortune struck in the form of a phone call.

Don Mario, you need to go to Guerrero, said a voice at the far end of the line.


They opened fire on students from Ayotzinapa. Some are missing, some are dead.

Mario felt his legs go out from under him.

The call was from the rural teachers college in Panotla, Tlaxcala.

Mario hung up, sick to his stomach. He made a hurried search of the places where he and his wife kept their money, but there was none to be found. They were out of money. His hands trembled, and he started to sweat. His eyes clouded over. His regular source of help in an emergency or when he couldn't work was his brother. But his brother was out of town.

Someone knocked on the door. A friend had heard what happened in Iguala. Your son was in Iguala, wasn't he? the friend said.

How do you know?

C'mon! Get in my pickup.

I don't have any money to pay you with, Mario told his friend.

Get in the truck, damn it. I'm not asking you for money.

They picked up Hilda at the Coppel store and set out on the long road towards Tixtla. Mario was weak from pain and fever. They had no idea where they were headed or to what. Hilda and Mario traveled that morning on the assumption that if the Ayotzinapa students were in trouble with the police, the worst that could happen was they would need to pay a fine to get their son out of custody.

Nothing prepared them for what awaited them.

What kind of fucking country is this? Mario demanded. He was furious at what the parents were being told about their sons in Ayotzinapa. What kind of goddamn country are we living in?

Mario conferred with the other parents. He urged them to go to Iguala right away, to police headquarters, to hospitals, to talk to people in the street and get them to say exactly where in Iguala the attack took place.

You need to be patient, someone told Mario upon seeing how angry he was. You must wait for God to sort this out.

Mario was enraged. The idea of doing nothing, of having to wait another minute to learn his son's condition and whereabouts was intolerable. That same Saturday night, September 27th, Mario lost it. Cramping and soaked with sweat, having neither eaten nor slept all day, he planted himself on the highway until he got a ride to Iguala. He tried to interrogate whomever crossed his path. Some people turned their backs on him. They fled as if this Tlaxcalan's words could strike them down with plague. He knocked on doors of houses and businesses. He questioned taxi drivers and passersby. He looked so deranged and feverish that many thought he was insane. Those who dared speak to him lowered their voices. They said they'd like to help, but they were afraid of reprisals from the drug cartel that was in cahoots with the government. All they could do was wish him luck. All night long, block after block, doors were slammed in his face, and no amount of pleading could get them to reopen.

In Iguala, the eyes and ears of the Guerreros Unidos drug cartel are kids on motor scooters. They keep tabs on outsiders the minute they hit town and report what they see to the cartel by cell phone. The municipal police has its own squads of adolescent lookouts. Mario didn't go unnoticed. At the time he'd never heard of Los Bélicos, the elite police squad in the pay of Guerreros Unidos that played a part in the disappearance of the 43 students.

By the time he'd walked to the north end of Juan N. Alvárez Street, Mario's heart was in his mouth. This was where two students were killed and several more disappeared the night before. The ground was strewn with the detritus of a shooting spree that lasted two hours. Gunmen with long rifles had left behind a scene of horror that far surpassed anything Mario experienced in his typhoid-induced nightmares. Most of the stray bullets had struck a corner building, blasting irregular patches in the powdery white scratch coat under its outer stucco. Worse yet was the one certainty Mario derived from what he saw. That this was where his son César Manuel was last seen alive.


Excerpted from "Faces Of The Disappeared"
by .
Copyright © 2015 Grupo Planeta, NR.
Excerpted by permission of Schaffner Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Publisher's Note: A Brief Overview History of Ayotzinapa and Rural,
Teachers Colleges,
Introduction — Days of Rage,
Part One: Journey to Iguala,
Chapter One: The Man Has No Heart,
Chapter Two: Into The Inferno,
Chapter Three: Brothers All,
Chapter Four: The Dream,
Chapter Five: The Survivor,
Part Two: Massacre in Four Acts,
Chapter Six: The Night When No One Sleeps,
Chapter Seven: Estrella Roja — Red Star,
Chapter Eight: The Kid Who Lit Up the Night,
Part Three: Aftermath,
Faces of the Fallen I,
Faces of the Fallen II,

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