_Don_t Kill Our Dreams._

By design, the metal pane... <p><img src=The memorial to Mexico_s victims of violence looks like it has been dropped from the sky by an angry God. Welcoming it is not, with its rusted slabs the size of movie screens standing next to a busy intersection.

Nor is its mission clear. Even before it was inaugurated in April, the monument had set off debate over whether it should be a tribute to all the drug war_s killed, missing, kidnapped and extorted _ or just those subjected to human rights abuses by the Mexican authorities.

But then, you walk a little closer and the slabs begin to speak.

_Pinta lo que sientes ... expresa lo que piensas._

The graffiti scribbled in white paint across the hunk of steel introducing the memorial _ _Paint what you feel ... express what you think_ _ is not vandalism. It_s a request: Share. Remember. Grieve.

By design, the metal panels are blank pages. Quotations chosen by the architects, from Octavio Paz, Carlos Fuentes and others, appear in the corners, cut out like stencils. The rest is open to public expression.

_Don_t Kill Our Dreams._

Some of the messages, like those calling for protecting dreams or legalizing drugs, are in English. All but a few inscriptions are drawn and scratched by Mexican relatives or friends of those lost to violence. The police officers guarding the memorial say people come from all over Mexico, but cities where the back alleys have seen more blood are better represented. Ciudad Ju__rez. Torre__n. Tijuana.

Usually, it is just one person or two who visit with something to add. Many, the guards say, sob as they write or carve a message into the metal with their keys.

_Cu__ntos muertos?_

The question _ How many dead? _ hangs above a large portrait of a crying heart with hands drawn on its sides as if waving for help. Spartan and direct, it is a question that haunts all of Mexico.

An honest answer is hard to find. The most recent government report, released in January 2012, showed that 47,515 had died in drug war violence between Dec. 1, 2006, and Sept. 11, 2011, but that does not include the thousands who are missing. And the definition of _drug-related_ has also never been clear.

This year The New York Times submitted public records requests with the attorney general_s office, the Interior Ministry and 10 states with the highest murder rates in an effort to review case files with basic data on the dead: age, gender, place and cause of death. The goal was to explore details of cases that were defined as drug-related and those that were not.

Only one state delivered information. Every other entity refused, mostly citing privacy exemptions, though one state admitted that it was _not competent on the matter._ Now even the federal government has decided to broaden its tally: On Aug. 9, officials announced that all murders would be included, whether drug-related or not.

_Alfonso Arqui Medina te extra__amos!_

The memorial_s reddish walls include a handful of names, but their stories are nowhere to be found. The message to Mr. Medina _ _We miss you_ _ could refer to the death of an architect named Alfonso Medina who was killed in his Ford pickup five years ago, just a few blocks from the home of Tijuana_s mayor. Or it may not.

The stories of most victims will never be known. State and local authorities increasingly keep information about violence to themselves, saying they must protect their communities_ image from sensationalism, even though many Mexican news media outlets have become so intimidated by organized crime that they no longer cover the murders corroding their own communities. Even the families that come to write on the memorial seem scared to share; there are far more first names than full names.

An exception is Marcela Geovana Mendoza. A steel slab in the middle of the monument has been turned over to a message of love for her, and more discreet iterations of _te amo Marcela_ appear elsewhere in white, like soft whispers heard from behind. But that is all there is. She cannot be found in the databases of Mexican newspapers. A Google search for her full name turns up nothing.

Another for just Marcela and Mendoza leads to a single lead: Fanny Marcela Mendoza Rodr__guez, 19, a college student in Honduras who was shot in the head at home last September.

_Menos monumentos, menos minutos de silencio. M__s acci__n._

Many of the memorial_s messages are not for individuals, but for Mexico as a whole, for _fewer monuments, fewer moments of silence. More action._ They plead for and demand more justice in a country with so much going for it: resources, history, culture. Those who visit say the memorial has a lot of potential.

_The messages surprised me,_ said Salvador Enriquez, 43, a visitor on Saturday. _It_s a beautiful idea._

But even here on the walls, it is a struggle to keep the focus where it belongs. One recent afternoon, on the panel farthest from the entrance, a man in gray quietly drew a face with white chalk, suggesting a lost brother. Then he added a mane of hair, a guitar and a long tongue. It was Gene Simmons, from Kiss.

_I work in maintenance here,_ the man said, nodding toward a broom near his celebrity portrait. _When I get bored, I draw._

Over a fence, a giant Mexican flag hung, as limp as a broken arm, at the military base next door _ a jarring juxtaposition in a country where the military has been implicated in many cases of death and disappearance.

To the right, one of the memorial guards could be seen using chalk to outline the ears of a rabbit in what appeared to be a child_s version of heaven. To the left, car horns wailed in clogged traffic along Paseo de la Reforma _ Boulevard of Reform _ as a mime with a cherry-red nose performed for laughs and change from drivers.

Closest to the entrance, the first panel held more messages than all the rest, from _shal__m_ to _quiza la reina mala nos prot__ga_ _ maybe the bad queen protects us. There were also names here (Lupita y Jerry) that could represent love or loss.

Hidden among them all was a simple phrase in small handwriting. As confounding or clear as the memorial itself, it exhorted Mexicans to look inward for a way out, and to acknowledge that all of society plays a role in both violence and peace.

_Si sabes lo que vales. Ve y busca la que mereces._

_If you know what you_re worth,_ it said, _go find what you deserve._

The New York Times | By DAMIEN CAVE

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