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American University

Publication Date

Fall 2011

Program Name

Nicaragua: Revolution, Transformation, and Civil Society


Since the beginning of time, migration has been a reality in our world. It is a phenomenon linked with the human race that has always existed and is always going to exist. There are a multitude of theories and reasons behind why people choose to migrate, whether it is in search of something different or to flee from something unsustainable, among other things. There are many reasons and each person has his or her own explanation and motive for migrating.

Although there are different motives, migrants and their family members share a human experience, and this experience connects millions of people around the world. Behind their faces are millions of personal testimonies of pain, suffering, strength, bravery, perseverance, and happiness. Some bury their histories deep within themselves and their souls support the weight of their pasts. Others reflect their experiences in their faces and ways of being every day, revealing to the world their feelings. Nevertheless, they all recognize what it is to be a migrant or a family member of migrants.

Here in Nicaragua, more than a million people leave the country each year. In 2008, 1,312,922 people migrated from the country.[1] The purpose of this investigation is to give a face to these statistics because they represent much more than numbers on a page. They are sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters. Specifically, the theme of my research is the people who have disappeared in the migratory route and their families that are left behind.

What happens to the disappeared? This question does not have an easy or defined answer. Some are victims of human trafficking, which includes sexual exploitation, exploitation of labor, submissive marriages, the sale of drugs, the sale of organs, and more. Others lose contact with their families on account of money shortages or changing technology. Others are killed or die during the journey. Some are detained in jail for improper documentation or crimes. And others simply don’t want to have contact with their families, preferring to erase all of the vestiges of their pasts.

What all the disappeared have in common is that when they disappear, they leave their families behind. To lose a mother, a sister, or a son without knowing anything about what happened to them is an unimaginable pain that never stops. It is a pain that lives in the hearts of their family members forever. Narciso Cruz Menjivar from the Jesuit Service for Migrants – one of my advisors – says that “I believe it creates a climate of eternal pain. A climate of insecurity in the mothers. Of eternal suffering in the mothers. If your family member is disappeared, you do not see him or her die. You do not see his or her body. You do not see if he or she is alive or dead. It is an issue without resolution.”[2] This project is a forum for the voices of these mothers and other family members that have disappeared loved ones. The purpose is to call attention to a problem that affects not only these families, but all of us as human beings.

[1] Instituto Nacional de Información de Desarrollo. Anuario Estadístico 2008. “Saldos Migratorios por Condición de Nacionalidad y Sexo, Según Entradas, Salidas y Grupos de Edades Quinquenales.”

[2] Narciso Cruz Menjivar. Personal Interview. Casa de Atención al Migrantes y sus Familiares, 21 November 2011.


Anthropology | Family, Life Course, and Society | Inequality and Stratification | Latin American Studies | Social Welfare


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