Not My Juárez
Getting ready to settle in for the night and discuss the day's outcomes with a colleague over a glass of wine, I made my way to the Las Cruces hotel bar to borrow a wine opener. (They don't stock the rooms with them, unfortunately.) As I passed the newspaper machines, a headline caught my eye and I was suddenly transported back to my role as an extra on the J-Lo movie, Border Town, shot in Albuquerque earlier this year.
I stood and stared, and immediately felt sick as I read it again—“Juárez Girl, 13, Slain.” This was a real headline, only three and a half hours south of where Jennifer Lopez had played an investigative reporter on the Juárez murders; yet back in Albuquerque I doubted it had even made the papers.
My memories of Juárez are of my mother taking me and my sister with her to get her teeth done at one of those cheap dental clinics, of tortas de jamon y queso and fanta limon, and my little battery-operated radio that magically spoke Spanish as soon as we crossed the bridge. This is not my Juárez, where women and girls are brutally killed, one after another.
The phenomenon is known as the Ciudad Juárez murders. It is also referred to widely as feminicide, which means women are killed just because they are women. Since 1993, hundreds of mangled and desecrated bodies have been found dumped on the Chihuahua desert outside of Juárez, México, just across the river from El Paso, Texas, and within a few minutes of Las Cruces, N.M. The perpetrators of the ever-rising number of violent deaths target poor young women, terrifying inhabitants of both sides of the border. According to Amnesty International, over 400 women and girls have been murdered and more than 70 remain missing in Ciudad Juárez and Chihuahua, Mexico.
Ironically, I had been at the Health and Human Services Interim Legislative Committee hearing that day in Las Cruces and the topic was the Office of Border Health. Yet there was no mention of the headline that day. Was it because it's such common news? And if so, why doesn't the news reach our Albuquerque papers? After all, parts of our state, including Las Cruces, are officially included in the federal government's designated “border areas.”
According to the Religious Task Force on Central America and Mexico, the Juárez murders are one of the most serious human rights abuses taking place in Latin America. And the Latin America Working Group states that authorities have often failed to investigate the murders, botched investigations they actually did, falsified evidence, intimidated victims' families and ultimately failed to produce either answers or culprits for these crimes. In the course of these investigations, authorities have managed to arrest suspects for only half of the murders.
As I passed the newspaper machines again while returning the wine opener, I inserted my quarter and pulled out the last copy of the El Paso Times—“Police Struggle to Control Protest over Killing” was the subhead. It all seemed so surreal. I'd never seen a real headline about the murders, and that, in itself, sickened me.
I couldn't believe that I live so close to where it's all happening, yet the closest I'd ever really been to the issue was when I was on a movie set or at the book signing last spring for Desert Blood: The Juárez Murders, by Alicia Gaspar de Alba. Gaspar de Alba is a native of the El Paso/Juárez border and a founding faculty member of the César Chavez Center for Inter-disciplinary Instruction in Chicana/o studies at UCLA. The novel is a mystery based on the violent deaths of hundreds of women along the U.S./Mexico border.
In an effort to convey the sympathy of Congress to the families of the young women murdered in the State of Chihuahua, Mexico, Senate Concurrent Resolution 16 encourages increased U.S. involvement in bringing an end to these crimes, and was introduced by Sen. Jeff Bingaman earlier this year. The goal is to raise public awareness about the tragedy, express congressional concern and propose a set of actions to deal with the murders and abductions of these young women. You can contact Sen. Bingaman to express your support at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 346-6601.
The opinions expressed are soley those of the author. Giovanna Rossi is the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice New Mexico.