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The Recipes at LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes’ Latest Exhibition Are Keeping the Memories of Mexico’s Disappeared People Alive 

More than 112,000 people have disappeared in Mexico over the last 60 years. A new exhibition, inspired by two books on the tragic subject, is now open at LA Plaza Cocina in downtown Los Angeles, honoring some of them with their favorite recipes for flan, pozole, and other regional recipes.

Image by Zahara Gomez Lucini

Image by Zahara Gomez Lucini

Image included in the exhibition “Recetario para la memoria,” 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.

Since 1964, more than 112,000 people have disappeared in Mexico. A new exhibition, inspired by two books on this tragic subject, is now open at Mexican food museum LA Plaza Cocina in downtown Los Angeles, aiming to honor some of them with their favorite dishes and recipes.  

“People [being] disappeared by their local government is something that I grew up being very familiar with,” says Zahara Gómez Lucini, the Argentinean-Spanish photographer and curator behind the exhibition.

She, along with Las Rastreadoras del Fuerte, Clarisa Moura, and Tai La Bella Damsky, worked together on a self-published book about people who have disappeared in Sinaloa, Mexico.

Lucini, Moura, and Bella also published another book about disappeared people in Guanajuato, along with Alejandra Díaz, journalist Daniela Rea, and nine other collectives within the Mexican state.

Photo by Zahara Gomez Lucini.
Photo by Zahara Gomez Lucini.

Both books are titled Recetario Para La Memoria (followed by the names of their respective states) and will also be available for sale at LA Plaza. The exhibition opened this last weekend and will run through November 19, 2023. 

“As a person whom the families trusted to share their stories, I became immediately aware that the family members always got asked the same old questions," Lucini says. “Why should the narrative behind the lives of these disappeared people be reduced to their disappearance? All these individuals lived such rich lives before they disappeared. What about those moments?”

According to Lucini, these conversations always came back to food.

“In the kitchen there is always love, memories, and feelings of being taken care of, and so many more intangible feelings around family," she says.

For Lucini, memories around the disappeared individuals' favorite dishes was a clear way to honor their lives and humanize them beyond a mere statistic. 

In recent years, Mexico’s surge in disappearances are believed to be related to a failed political strategy against drug trafficking and femicides. As a response to this humanitarian crisis, citizens’ groups have become autonomous and organized to locate their missing loved ones themselves.

Photo by Zahara Gomez Lucini.
Photo by Zahara Gomez Lucini.

These collectives are primarily composed of women—mothers, sisters, daughters, and grandmothers. They search deserts, mountains, and the countryside for the remains of the missing.

Lucini depended on these collectives to obtain the recipes and tells L.A. TACO that proceeds from the book sales are going back to the collectives to aid their searches.

“No one is making money from this,” she says. 

The recipes vary depending on the region. For Lucini’s Sinaloa book, the dishes were mostly seafood-based. For the Guanajuato book, there were a lot of dishes associated with life milestones and celebrations. A total of 11 recipes from both books are featured at LA Plaza via recipe cards and photography. 

Photo by Zahara Gomez Lucini.
Image by Zahara Gomez Lucini Image included in the exhibition “Recetario para la memoria,” 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.

“These recipes and photos are emotive of somber moments, but also lots of joy in these memories around food,” Lucini shares. “That moment of sitting down at the table, being present, and eating the favorite foods of the disappeared family members, is a powerful moment. A lot of times, it was the first time the family members cooked the dish after their disappearances. This moment is more important than the book and exhibition itself.” 

Recetario Para La Memoria Exhibition is running from May 13 through November 19, 2023 at LA Plaza Cocina, 555 North Spring Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012

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