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LA Plaza Cocina Exhibition Memorializes Missing People in Mexico Through Their Favorite Recipes

Pozole, mole and flan … these are the foods of sustenance, of enjoyment, and for a tragic number of Mexican families, the foods that reminds them of loved ones who have disappeared.  

On May 13, LA Plaza Cocina, the first museum and teaching kitchen in the U.S. dedicated to Mexican and Mexican-American culinary arts, will open its exhibition Recetario para la memoria (Memory Recipe Book), based on the favorite recipes of people disappeared in Mexico and preserved in two books by photographer and exhibition curator Zahara Gómez Lucini about families dedicated to searching for and remembering their loved ones. 

Consisting of 15 large-scale photographs taken by the Spanish-Argentinean photographer, with accompanying text and graphics, the exhibition is based on two cookbook collections of homestyle recipes which give presence to those who were forcefully disappeared. The photographs presented at LA Cocina are a selection from the two collections: the first focusing on Las Rastreadoras de Fuerte, a group dedicated to tracing the missing in the northern Mexican state of Sinaloa, and the second dedicated to Las Buscadoras de Guanajuato, a state in central Mexico. 

 “Recetario para la memoria is a photographic and literary project compiling the favorite dishes and recipes of missing people in Mexico, whose families keep their memories alive by generously sharing their stories with me,” explains Gómez. “My hope is through these photographs of something as simple as a meal, those who haven’t lost a loved one can consider the pain of others.” 

“Food memories are very powerful because they use all of our senses,” says Ximena Martin, LA Plaza’s director of programming and culinary arts. “Through smell, taste, sight, touch and sound, these memories come alive again and reminisce with our hearts and soul back to a special place, meal and moment with our loved ones.” 

While viewing the exhibition, which runs through November 19, visitors will learn about the stories of some of the disappeared, including Christian Martin Guerrero Arellano, whose favorite recipe was mole. Christian was disappeared in Silao, Guanajuato when he was only 17 years old, leaving behind his wife María, grandmother Felisa, father Cristian, and several brothers and sisters. All of them are still waiting for his return. 

Many of the disappeared were seen for the last time at the start of their journey to cross the border into the U.S., like Valentín Alanilla Camallo, whose favorite recipe was chicken with potatoes and fried beans. He was 32 years old when he left for the U.S. on March 21, 2011. At that time, his wife Ángela was five months pregnant. She and her four children are waiting for him at home. 

Since 1964, more than 100,000 people have disappeared in Mexico. In recent years, these disappearances are believed to be related to a failed political strategy against drug trafficking. As a response to this humanitarian crisis, citizens’ groups have organized themselves to locate their missing loved ones. Primarily composed of women – mothers, sisters, daughters, and grandmothers – they search deserts, mountains, and country sides for the remains of the missing, explains the author of the book. 

Recetario para la memoria at LA Plaza Cocina can be seen as is a companion exhibition to Hostile Terrain ‘94: The Undocumented Migration Project, currently on display on the second floor of LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes, across the street from LA Cocina. This is a multimedia exhibition that tells the stories and experiences of immigrants crossing from Mexico and South and Central America through Arizona’s Sonora Desert. Recetario para la memoria has been seen at Centro de la Imagen, Mexico City; the Getxophoto International Image Festival, Bilbao, Spain; and the Hay Festival Digital, Querétaro, Mexico. 

Recetario para la memoria website: 

ABOUT ZAHARA GOMEZ LUCINI: Zahara Gómez Lucini is a Spanish-Argentinian photographer, raised in France and established in Mexico City. She got her master’s degree in art history from the Paris Sorbonne University and from the Prado´s Museum School in Madrid. Professionally she has developed her work at the Paris Magnum Agency as a Production Manager / Exhibitions and editorial. Her work, which has been exhibited all around the world, aims to explore violence from the perspective and particularly, from the memory of the territories that have suffered it. She uses tools such as archive research and establishing close relations with organizations that work on human rights, specifically on topics related to enforced disappearance and reconstruction of history and collective memories.