Identity Essay
(Ciudad Juárez 2005-2020)

The Act of Missing

To miss: To be away from who inhabits you.

I began documenting the spaces and personal belongings of missing women in 2005, based on missing persons fliers found on the streets of downtown Ciudad Juarez. These were badly copied papers, with their names, physical description and a photo. When I looked at them, even my soul was muted. From that time, I have not stopped feeling that emptiness.

The first women whose cases I documented were curiously my own age. Visiting their rooms reminded me of myself a few years ago. Their mothers looked at me for a long time and spoke of their daughters as if I were an old friend. I was attempting to create an image, to reincorporate memories of them so I could know them.

Their mothers showed me photos and clothing and sometimes I could sense their smell on an item. I had never seen so much pain in a person, as if missing their daughters unfolded the present into the past, again and again, as the only way to retain their love.
Even now I document everything produced around the disappearance of women in Juarez. The place has become a personal map, drawn by the possible movements of each one of them. I imagine them walking through it; I have not ceased looking for their features and faces of the young women who could not return home. I always wonder where they might be.

I wish I could say “I am deeply sorry.” Repeat it so many times, almost as a prayer, so the sadness would go away, but I know nothing will happen. So I only find this way to accompany the women who shared their daughters’ last moments with me. I wish I could say I have learned to miss with them, that I have felt incomplete for some time, that they have made me understand what love in the depth of memory is.
And that I don’t think of the word “death” anymore, because I know that to miss, when you love, is much more eternal than dying.
Mayra Martell

Mayra Martell