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Lucía Díaz: If I find him and I don’t find the others, I’m not going to be happy. I’m not going to be complete. (MUSIC) 

Maria Hinojosa: From Futuro Media and PRX, it’s Latino USA. I’m Maria Hinojosa. Today, activist Lucía Díaz Genao. She’s a mother who became a leader in the fight to search and find the disappeared in Mexico.

(MUSIC) 

Lucía Díaz Genao is a former teacher. She lived a quiet and pretty much happy life in the seaside state of Veracruz in southern Mexico. But then, in 2013, her world was turned upside down overnight. That year, her 29-year-old son, Luis Guillermo, a popular DJ, didn’t return home. He had been kidnapped. 

Lucía Díaz: I just collapsed. It was, it was horrible because it’s like this feeling, this complete realization, that he’s missing. 

Maria Hinojosa: And so, given the inaction of the Mexican authorities, Lucy decided she had to do something. That would be the beginning of her tireless search for her son. A quest that is now over 10 years old. 

Lucía Díaz: It’s my son. I mean, how can I say I give up?

(MUSIC) 

Maria Hinojosa: As drug-related violence grew in Veracruz and the rest of Mexico, kidnappings became more and more frequent. 

In 2013, the year Luis Guillermo went missing, 600 people disappeared in the state of Veracruz and close to 18,000 disappeared in all of Mexico. Soon, Lucy would meet other mothers just like her. They considered themselves fighters looking for their disappeared children. Amid their shared suffering, they formed a group. They called it Solecito, which means a little sun in Spanish.

Lucía Díaz: When you’re looking for something or for somebody, you need a lot of light. So I said, well, so the sun, sun is the symbol of light.

Maria Hinojosa: What happened next seems pretty much impossible to believe, but it’s true. These mothers started to dig. Literally digging, doing the jobs of archaeologists and forensics in their search for their children. 

In 2016, they discovered what turned out to be one of the biggest mass graves in all of Latin America… Colinas de Santa Fe, located in the state of Veracruz. (MUSIC) 

Over the next few years, Solecito became an inspiration to others outside of Mexico, families also looking for their missing loved ones. In this episode, Lucía tells us about her continuous efforts to find her son and how she’s built a community of mothers, mothers of disappeared children.

Here’s our conversation.

(MUSIC) 

Lucy, welcome to Latino USA. It’s an honor to have you on our show. 

Lucía Díaz: Thank you so much. It’s a very good opportunity for me to, to get the word out of, uh, the missing cases in Mexico. 

Maria Hinojosa: Lucy, let’s, let’s go back to before you became an activist because you had another life. You’re living in Veracruz. Just kind of paint the picture.

What was your daily life like? 

Lucía Díaz: I had, uh, began to live a quiet life traveling with my husband because he, he’s a sea captain. So he has to travel very much. And I accompanied him because my kids were already grown-ups. So. I had the opportunity to, to get around, uh, travel, visit, uh, different places in Indonesia, Singapore.

So life was pretty nice for me because I was already feeling very free and I was traveling back and forth and, and visiting the kids very frequently too, you know, I never neglected them, never, ever. So I was a mom all the time. 

Maria Hinojosa: So then, and I know this is hard, Lucy, and I know that you’ve done this before, but it’s not easy to even have to ask this question because on June 28th of 2013, that’s the day that everything changed.

This kind of joyful life of journeys, it comes to an end because it’s on that day that your son, his full name is Luis Guillermo Lagunes Díaz, disappears. It’s in Veracruz. And at that time in 2013, Veracruz, which is normally not known as a state of a lot of violence, but at this time Veracruz, and frankly Mexico in general, the violence was really on the uptick in a way that it was drawing a lot of attention.

News Anchor: “31 now bodies have now been confirmed in the eastern Gulf Coast state of Veracruz. That’s a state that has been plagued by drug-related violence.” 

Maria Hinojosa: So can you tell us what happened on June 28th, 2013? 

Lucía Díaz: Well, actually it happened kind of slowly for me because I didn’t find out the first day. Because when he was working, I tried to not, uh, interfere, but his girlfriend started calling me, sending me messages and stuff, like she couldn’t reach him and she had no idea where he was.

In a couple of days, all the alarms went off, and that’s when I started to, to get really worried. I called his friends, people that worked for him, and they said that he was all right, not to worry, that he would call me. But I, there was this feeling, this, you know, like a gut feeling. 

Maria Hinojosa: So you called his friends, you’re getting desperate now, and they’re telling you, ‘No, no te preocupes, él va a estar bien,’ like ‘He’s okay’, like ‘Don’t worry.’

It’s not that they knew where he was, they were just saying the normal thing. He’s out visiting somebody or his phone has lost battery, is that kind of what they were saying to you? 

Lucía Díaz: They said that, that he was working at a place where he didn’t have any signal. He was working in one hacienda. But then I knew that not that many days would go by and my son wouldn’t reach me because he knew that I would get crazy.

It turns out that the people who worked for him were involved in his kidnapping. 

Maria Hinojosa: Oh my God! 

Lucía Díaz: So this is no mystery. This is not, you know, it’s not something they were doing to protect me. They were just falling for time. 

Maria Hinojosa: You could just feel it as a mom. 

Lucía Díaz: Exactly. Yeah. 

Maria Hinojosa: And then, and you began to feel like these people who are his co-workers.

Lucía Díaz: Yeah.

Maria Hinojosa: Were actually not being honest with you, um, and, and I guess what’s even worse, Lucy, is that everybody was looking at you and saying, “What’s the matter with you? You’re acting crazy. Everything is fine.” 

Lucía Díaz: When I go back, you know, mentally to that day, it’s like a nightmare. (MUSIC) 

Maria Hinojosa: And I can hear it in your voice. It’s like you’re right back there.

Lucía Díaz: Yeah. 

Maria Hinojosa: You know, in your bedroom, unable to get out of bed, collapsing, total mental exhaustion and sadness. At some point, Lucy, in this trajectory, something clicks for you. You probably had already seen many mothers in Mexico, que lloran y lloran y están desesperadas, just crying. But, but, not all of them stand up and say, “You know what? I, I need to fight. I need to do something. I cannot just sit here and wait.” Do you remember when that moment happened for you? 

Lucía Díaz: Yeah, like, um, I went to see the authorities and I, I took a good look at the, at the police that were in charge of the investigation. I noticed, I said, these are not the kind of people that I trust with something like my son.

I said “I got to do something.” And then I started meeting other people who were going through the same situation. 

Maria Hinojosa: You never imagined that you would be one of them. 

Lucía Díaz: I never, I never, because, Mexico was a country of peace, but then they declared war, all of a sudden, and Veracruz was completely, completely taken over by violence and insecurity.

News Anchor: “More violence in Mexico, but on a worrying scale. 35 bodies dumped underneath a bridge in eastern Mexico. Veracruz was a quiet port city. Now dead men and women are dumped near shopping centers.” 

Lucía Díaz: But my son was not a very rich person that I thought would be a good candidate for kidnapping. He was a very successful businessman at 29, and that’s when they thought they would make some money out of him, and they did.

Maria Hinojosa: How did you decide exactly what to do in those first days of beginning to take some sort of action?

Lucía Díaz: It’s just knowing that my son needed me and that I wouldn’t let him down. That was easy for me to decide, because I knew there was no other … There was no choice. I had to stand up and do something. I was in a terrible depression, I was sick, I was I was so weak with, uh, crying and, and going all over, you know, different places, uh, different agencies going from one place to it, it, it was, uh, it was madness and my heart was, uh, completely broken. But at that time, I just wanted to die. I want to lay down and just die. 

Maria Hinojosa: Mmm. 

Lucía Díaz: But, but I figure who’s gonna look for my son. 

Maria Hinojosa: Mmm. 

Lucía Díaz: And I got up and started fighting. (MUSIC) 

Maria Hinojosa: You know, Lucy, I really want to thank you for, um, for being so honest with me because you don’t ever get over a trauma like this. 

Lucía Díaz: No. 

Maria Hinojosa: You can live day to day and find a way to laugh, but you never can get over this. It’s been 10 years and just hearing you talk about this, I’m right there with you in your sadness and just the kind of craziness of going from one Mexican institution to another trying to find answers.

Um. At some point, you know, these become the initial efforts to turn your particular rage and now with other people just like you into something that was organized. I think you started by what, creating a WhatsApp group? 

Lucía Díaz: Yeah, that’s the way it started, you know, technology. Technology can do wonders because I started meeting people that were undergoing my same situation and even worse because some of those moms had little children and they didn’t have a lot of time to go around.

I had like a moral obligation to help them too, you know, I have a college education and I know what to say to the authorities. Some of them don’t even know how to, to start, you know, placing a file or anything like that. So I said, I need to help them. I need to find not only my son, I need to find them all because I’m not going to be satisfied with just finding my son, that’s too selfish. And I said, “No, I got to get up and do something about all the other ones too.” And that’s when it started. 

Maria Hinojosa: People do begin to know and hear about Solecito. And in 2016, you’re at a Mother’s Day demonstration in Veracruz, drawing attention to this issue.

Mother’s Solecito: “¡Hijo, escucha, tu madre está en la lucha!” 

Maria Hinojosa: And two men jump out of a vehicle and they hand this group of mothers a map. 

Lucía Díaz: Mmm huh.

Maria Hinojosa: Take us to, to that moment at the demonstration. 

Lucía Díaz: It happened so suddenly. I mean, nobody noticed the, the two men, and we, we didn’t even look at their faces, because there were so many of us going around and making a lot of noise.

And they handed us those, uh, copies, and they just left. Really happened like in a flash. So, when I saw that, I knew immediately, because, uh, it was very specific. But I didn’t wanna tell the moms at the moment because, uh, that would spoil the, the strength, the, the energy of the, of the march. (MUSIC) 

So the next day I told them, “Look, we have the place, now we know where we’re going to start looking.” So we, we were there for three years. Digging every day. 

Maria Hinojosa: That happened in August of 2016? Is that when you uncovered this grave? 

Lucía Díaz: That’s when we began because, you know, it takes time. We found 156 graves, 302 bodies, uh, were there waiting for us to bring them to the light.

Maria Hinojosa: Oh my God! 

Lucía Díaz: And, uh, and the authorities had, had, uh, carried out a search over there already. But they didn’t do a good job. 

Maria Hinojosa: And, and how did, like, literally, uh, dig? How did you later figure out, actually, we can’t just dig. We need to come up with a way to see if there’s something underground. We’re going to use sticks and we’re going to use our sense of smell.

Lucía Díaz: Yeah, uh, actually we took a course in forensics. So they, they taught us the basics. So they teach us how not to damage the bones, but the, the, the actual technique of, uh, finding the bodies, we learned in Iguala with the people who were looking for the, the, um, students from Ayotzinapa. 

News Anchor: “Demonstrations in Mexico increased and became violent this weekend as protesters accused the Mexican government of reacting slowly to the disappearance and apparent murders of 43 students who attended a rural teacher’s college.”

Maria Hinojosa: And they’re the ones who teach you to put the stick into the ground and depending on the smell that comes out from the stick that you’ve put into the ground, you’ll know whether or not there’s a body underneath. 

Lucía Díaz: We use, it’s, it’s, uh, two meters and a half, usually, like a pole made of iron. It’s, uh, it’s one of those construction.

Maria Hinojosa: Okay. Okay. 

Lucía Díaz: And, uh, we have a custom-made because we have to place something on top like a “T” so that we can pull it out. We hammer it into the ground completely. All the way in. We have to be very careful because you don’t want to damage or break the bones. And then once we have the, we, we picked up the sense of smell, we, we can make a hole so we don’t have to go around making holes without having any idea. And then, most of the times, uh, if we pick up the smell on the pole, it’s, it’s usually a body. It’s kind of a very basic, very primitive kind of technique, but it works. It works for us because we’ve, we try to use dogs, the dogs didn’t work. I think they are overpowered because there was so many 

Maria Hinojosa: Mmm. 

Lucía Díaz: And the dogs didn’t pick up anything.

Maria Hinojosa: It feels, Lucy, that at this point in the journey, it was like, we’ve taken control of our emotions. So now we’re unstoppable, because now we’re just gonna do all of the research, all of the work, all of the data, all of the digging. It feels like you just, there was a turn in the whole story about, as you said, you know, the emotions went, went to a different place.

Lucía Díaz: Yeah, because the pain is there, it’s there all the time, but you learn to work around it. And I can tell you, I was not expecting to see what I have seen. 

Maria Hinojosa: So how do you take care of each other? How do you support each other as, as mothers of the disappeared in Mexico? 

Lucía Díaz: We are very close. We are sisters because pain is an equalizer.

So I try to, to give them workshops, get people that, uh, teach them how to do things that can help them, you know, make a living, but it’s a sisterhood. And in the group, for example, we can talk about our missing children all the time and nobody gets upset, nobody complains. Because in their houses, you know, with their families, they cannot talk about them anymore. Because families, people complain. They say, “He’s lost, you’re never going to see him again, so stop talking about him or her.” And uh, they get mad. But with us, we can talk about them all the time. And they are present all the time. It’s the, the one place where we can be ourselves because that’s what we are now.

What is at the center of our lives is looking for our loved ones. 

Maria Hinojosa: Mmm, that’s really incredibly powerful, Lucía. So um, our listeners don’t know this, but you’re speaking to us from London where you live these days. That’s a big change to leave Veracruz and end up in London. 

Lucía Díaz: It’s related to my husband’s work, but every three months, I travel to back to Mexico. I’m still in charge of the group.

People say, “But are you going to be doing this for the rest of your life?” That’s exactly the way it looks. 

Maria Hinojosa: Mmm. 

Lucía Díaz: And, and I don’t mind. I know I have to find my son and not only my son because it’s not only about him anymore. If I find him and I don’t find the others, I’m not going to be happy, I’m not going to be complete. So I have to find them all and, uh, or at least continue trying. 

Maria Hinojosa: Can you give us an update on the status of the investigation of the disappearance of your son, Luis Guillermo? 

Lucía Díaz: I know things. But, justice in Mexico is non-existence. They say that the official figure is 98 percent impunity. I say it’s a hundred.

Because we are like 300 mothers in the group, and maybe a little bit more. And, uh, none of those cases has any kind of justice so far. So now I know that my son’s workers were involved, but a lot of pieces are missing because they’ve been so neglectful. And I’m on top of the, of the investigation all the time, even from here, they, they really just, you know, make it so hard so that people say, “Okay, I give up. I’m done with this.” But that’s not going to happen. It’s my son. How can I say I give up? 

Maria Hinojosa: Something is going to happen in Mexico this year that is historic. Mexico will end up having a woman president elected this year. And I’m wondering, have you heard anything from either candidate regarding Solecito, or your son, or the disappeared in Mexico?

Lucía Díaz: Not so far, but I mean, we, we don’t get involved in politics. Solecito is so independent, we make our own money. We do a lot of things to collect the money that we need for the searches, raffles, uh, bingos. We sell secondhand clothes. We don’t want to be attached to any kind of politician, because they would let you down eventually, and we cannot be let down anymore. We’ve been let down by everybody. So that’s it, no more. 

Maria Hinojosa: I appreciate your independence. It’s really something to admire. (MUSIC) 

Every May 10th, 10 de Mayo, is Mother’s Day in Mexico, no matter what day it ends up. You have two other grown adult kids, uh, besides Luis Guillermo, who, who disappeared. And I want to know what Mother’s Day is like at home for you. Do you celebrate Mother’s Day? 

Lucía Díaz: Uh, for us, Mother’s Day, just, it’s just another day for fighting.

Trying to do something for our missing children. And they are always at the center of all those days. We have the, the Mother’s Day march. 

Maria Hinojosa: I just find it so, so interesting that as a, as a Mexican mom, Mexican Mother’s Day has become, as you say, a day of activism and just another day to fight. 

Lucía Díaz: Yeah. Like before, it meant a present and maybe a good time. Today, it means so much more. We don’t celebrate anymore. You know, my other kids, if they are, uh, in Veracruz or Mexico at the time, we get together and we do a little something. But, uh, our fight is, is really the, the core of everything we do. (MUSIC) 

Maria Hinojosa: Lucía, thank you so much for spending some time with me on this Mother’s Day, I really appreciate it. Te lo agradezco mucho. And, and good luck on, on your search for Luis Guillermo. And, and, you know, congratulations on being a grandma, (LAUGHS) also, because la vida continúa.

¡Muchas gracias Luci! 

Lucía Díaz: Gracias a ti y a todo tu auditorio. ¡Un abrazo! (MUSIC) 

Maria Hinojosa: This episode was produced by Roxana Aguirre and edited by Andrea López-Cruzado. It was mixed by Julia Caruso. The Latino USA team also includes Victoria Estrada, Reynaldo Leaños Jr., Glorimar Márquez, Marta Martínez, Mike Sargent, Nour Saudi, and Nancy Trujillo. Peniley Ramirez is our co-executive producer.

Our director of engineering is Stephanie Lebow. Our marketing manager is Luis Luna. Our theme music was composed by Xenia Rubinos. I’m your host and co-executive producer, Maria Hinojosa. Join us again on our next episode. In the meantime, I’ll see you on all of our social media, which now includes TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, X, all of them.

I’ll see you there. And remember, ¡No te vayas! Ciao! (MUSIC) 

Stephanie Lebow: Latino USA is made possible in part by W. K. Kellogg Foundation, a partner with communities, where children come first. New York Women’s Foundation. The New York Women’s Foundation, funding women leaders that build solutions in their communities and celebrating 30 years of radical generosity. And, funding for Latino USA’s coverage of a culture of health is made possible in part by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. (MUSIC)

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