From the air, the Chihuahuan desert looks as though someone laid a vast piece of tan velvet on a table – forgetting to smooth out the material. The mountain ranges – near Big Bend National Park on the American side and other protected land on the Mexican side – look like pleats and wrinkles. These borderlands are hallowed ground – at least, they are to Silvia Ortiz.
“Yo digo que son más de 30 mil [desaparecidos] – muchísimos más de 30 mil en todo Mexico.”
“I believe there are more than 30,000 – many more than 30,000 people in all are missing in Mexico,” Ortiz says in Spanish.
Ortiz believes the remains of many of these people – not migrants but Desaparecidos as they’re called in Mexico – are in the desert. But 30,000 missing people is just a guess.
“Mira, el número oficial no lo tiene nadie.”
“Look, no one knows what the real numbers are,” Ortiz says.
Mexican officials admit they don’t know how many people have vanished in Mexico. And just as alarming, officials don’t know who took them. It could be drug cartels or crooked officials, but no one knows.
Silvia Ortiz is just one of those thousands of people who are missing a loved one. Ortiz is a middle school teacher. She has three children: one daughter and two sons.
“Tengo a mi hija desaparecida desde el 5 de Noviembre del 2004. Su nombre es Silvia Estefany Sanchezviesca Ortiz.”
“My daughter has been missing since Nov. 5, 2004,” she says. “Her name is Silvia Estefany Sánchezviesca Ortiz,” Ortiz says.
Ortiz calls her Fanny. In 2004 Fanny was 16. She was a basketball player who also painted. She made a detailed mural of Britney Spears on her bedroom wall. From the time she was small, Fanny wanted to be a pediatrician. She had been visiting medical schools in 2004.
Two of her cousins told Ortiz Fanny was kidnapped. One cousin belonged to Los Zetas drug cartel. The other cousin was a cop, a member of the anti-kidnapping unit. But without a body, Ortiz believes Fanny could be alive.
“A mi nadie me puede decir si la tienen prostituyéndose en Nueva York o en Los Angeles.”
“They may have trafficked her,” Ortiz says. “She may be a prostitute in New York or Los Angeles.”
Or Fanny could be in Texas – at least, that’s what the family heard at one point. They came to Texas and searched every gentleman’s club up and down the I-35 corridor. But they ran out of money and returned home empty-handed.
It was only last year that Ortiz and her family admitted there was a chance their daughter could be dead. And if she was dead, there was a chance her body was dumped in the desert near the United States-Mexico border.