When Yadira Martinez makes her son's favourite dish it feels like he is back home, so she and other mothers decided to share recipes in a cookbook dedicated to their missing children.
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"When I prepare his eggs I feel that he's here, that he'll come and sit down to eat with us," Martinez said at her house in Irapuato in Guanajuato, one of Mexico's most violent states.
And proceeds from sales of the recipe book are helping to pay for the tireless search by her and other mothers for their children.
Around 3,700 people have gone missing in Guanajuato state in central Mexico, out of a total of more than 112,000 nationwide.
Most disappearances have taken place since 2006, when the government deployed the military in the war on drugs, leading to a spiral of violence.
Using an onion, tomatoes and chili peppers, Martinez makes the Mexican-style eggs with fried beans that her son Jaime loved so much until he disappeared in 2018 at the age of 22.
"Stuffed pepper for Antonio" and "Lasagna for Raymundo" are among more than 70 other dishes in the book aimed at keeping memories of the missing alive.
Karla Jimenez shared a recipe for enchiladas, the favourite dish of her brother Juan Valentin, who disappeared, aged 37, in 2020.
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The book has a note on each missing person and their families' struggles to find them.
"We all have a favourite dish. We have all cooked with love for someone, or someone cooked for us with love," said Zahara Gomez Lucini, the photographer behind the project.
"It's about talking about the missing in a different way, not just about the search for them or their death, but also about what they like, what they don't like, what music they listen to," she added.
Some 2,000 copies of the cookbook have been printed since October 2022.
Half of the profits from sales are donated to search groups.
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Martinez has worked with the collective "Hasta Encontrarte" ("Until I find you") for four years looking for her son and other missing persons.
The mothers report having located 180 bodies in Guanajuato since forming the group in 2021.
On one recent day, members used metal rods to search a patch of land after receiving an anonymous tip about possible remains.
"Afterward, we sniff the rods to see if there's a smell of putrefaction. It might be because there is an unmarked grave," said Carla Vasquez, 20, who is looking for her missing brother.
Armed police guarded the mothers from the dangers posed by criminal groups -- a reflection of the risks they face even looking for the missing.
In May 2023, a mother searching for her son was murdered in Guanajuato, where cartels vie for control of lucrative drug-trafficking routes.
Despite the dangers, the state is a major tourist destination and an industrial hub home to factories of foreign auto giants.
Guanajuato "attracts German or North American investments, but it's also a state that attracts drug trafficking groups," said security analyst David Saucedo.
In addition to the many missing, more than 420,000 people have been murdered in Mexico since 2006.
The country's forensic system is overwhelmed, and tens of thousands of unidentified bodies lie unclaimed in morgues or mass graves.
The book is titled Recetario para la memoria (Recipes for Memory).
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- FIRST PUBLISHED16.10.2023 | 03:30 PM IST