Ciudad Juárez: Reckoning with feminicide, part 2
By Beth Connors-Manke
North of Center
Editor’s note: In part 1 of this series, Beth wrote about the exhibit Wall of Memories: The Disappeared Señoritas of Ciudad Juárez by Lexington artist Diane Kahlo. Here, Beth reports more on the feminicide in Ciudad Juárez.
In 1993, young women began disappearing in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, which sits across the border from El Paso, Texas. The young women, often workers at the assembly plants along the border, are found around the city or in the desert, tortured and mutilated. Many believe that the murders are partially the result of neoliberal economic policies, drug trafficking, and governmental corruption. One can only say ‘partially’ because the murders have never been solved and the situation in Juárez is a confusing web of violence, drugs, conspiracies, and fear. While many news reports put the number at 350, scores more women are believed to have been killed under similar circumstances.
The murders in Juárez have haunted me for more than ten years. In the last few months, as I spoke with Diane Kahlo about her exhibit, looked at her portraits of the murdered girls and women, researched the situation in Juárez, the haunting has become more acute. Once one knows that brutality like the feminicide exists in the world, it becomes harder to believe that the civil society we enjoy here in the U.S. sits on an unshakable foundation. What we have here is not indelible; it exists only as long as we demand a just body politic and a safe community. When we relinquish safety and justice, society unravels—and very quickly.
This is the case with Juárez. Charles Bowden, who has reported on the city for years, calls it a “black hole in the body politic.” A black hole destabilizes everything around it.
Bowden’s view on Juárez is bigger than the feminicide: it encompasses the murders related to the drug trafficking—just as torturous as the women’s murders—and the economic shift that is slowly, like a cannibal, eating everything in it’s path. The environment. Governments. The social contract. Men, women, children. As Bowden sees it, what is happening in Juárez (and in other borderlands) is a new beast, a new war:
“[T]his war I speak of cannot be understood with normal political language of right and left or of capitalism and socialism. It is not postcolonial or precolonial or even colonial. It is life against death. For the poor moving north, it is their life against death. For the ground and the sky and the rivers, it is slow death as human hungers outstrip the earth’s ability to feed them.”
These hungers exceed the simple need for a full belly. These hungers are vicious, cruel, careless, and they have created a shadow world with its own rules. “There is a new order in the wind,” Bowden writes in Dreamland: The Way Out of Juárez, “and it looks like chaos but it is not. There is a new order in the wind and it sidesteps government, or, if pressed, steps on government. There is a new order in the wind and it cannot be discussed because any discussion might threaten the old order now rolling in the dirt.”
I sat in a sparsely populated room watching the 2001 documentary Señorita Extraviada by Lourdes Portillo. Señorita Extraviada tells the story of Juárez in a way that is now relatively common: a new economic order has made poor women targets of sinister violence. As much as I already knew about the feminicide, the film was still a blow. Portillo’s documentary presents terrifying and gut-wrenching testimony from the families of disappeared women. We meet mothers who investigate and demand justice. We see a government that will not or—worse yet—cannot intercede.
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