Latina Feminisms: Violence, Borderlands, and Constructions of Girlhood

pink crosses

“Every pink cross serves as remembrance that these young women will not be forgotten and that the citizens will not rest until responsibility is taken. Many of these crosses can be seen with the words “Ni una mas” (not one more).”

Tomorrow, bright and early, I’m headed to Cleveland for the Latina Feminisms Roundtable with my classmate Rachel and our professor Julie. It is going to be an intense, informative, and exciting experience. Each paper is given 40 minutes, 25 for reading and 15 for questions, so it’s a longer format and more focused attention on my work than what I’m used to. I’m passionate about my paper so, nerves aside, I’m looking forward to presenting. And then for hearing all the other papers!

In my paper, “Girlhood, Violence, and Class on the Border: Desert Blood, If I Die in Juárez, and ‘Women of Juárez’,” I’m analyzing the construction of the victims of the murders in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico in literary and popular media accounts. I specifically analyze articles from Ms. and Texas Monthly, the novels Desert Blood by Alicia Gaspar de Alba and If I Die In Juárez by Stella Pope Duarte, and the spoken word poem, “Women of Juárez” by Amalia Ortiz. The crux of my argument is that literary accounts of the murders and investigations construct the victims as innocents in a way that privileges a middle-class United States ideal of girlhood. In doing so, the authors, clearly writing for a U.S.-based audience, reproduce classist systems and usurp the voice of the women.

There’s been a lot written about the complicated relationship between scholar-activists and other activists, including the mothers of the dead or missing, but in this space, I am also arguing that the way these accounts construct the girlhood of the victims creates an obstacle to fighting the systems that make women disposable. Though the victims of the murders are mostly young (teens to early-twenties), poor, and thin, some of them are young mothers or acting as adult workers in the maquiladoras to support their families. The depictions forefront the youth of the victims in a way that portrays them as naive, I think, to counter the popular government/police argument that they were prostitutes or somehow complicit in their abduction. This construct is problematic, however, not only because it leaves room for excusing violence against women who do not fit the mold of innocence, but also because it represents them in terms of a class privilege and security to which they very well may not have access. I think in this way the productions re-victimize the young women (a la Volk and Schlotterbeck) as they are portrayed as naive and powerless victims of a system beyond their control. Worse still, Desert Blood privileges the safety of the middle-class U.S. citizen over an anonymous 15 year-old maquiladora worker and If I Die in Juárez depicts the internalization of violence in such a way that a central character, Evita, is victimized by herself too. In my long paper, I examine the way that young women are produced as workers in a postnational manufacturing system; the relationship between gender, class, and citizenship on the U.S.-Mexico border; and provide a literary analysis of these dynamics in the texts above.

As I conclude, I compare the literary accounts to the testimonios collected by Claudia Cervantes-Soon in a high school in the most marginalized colonia in Juarez. These narratives from real-life teenagers in the community show that twenty-years into the femicide, many young women are aware of the gendered and classed oppressions, violence, and exploitation that structure the life of many residents of Juárez. They are not naive or passive about their place in the community and the heavy burdens of their positionally. In this space, the testimonios counter narratives such as Desert Blood and If I Die in Juárez, demonstrating how essentializing their portrayals are in their failure to give the subaltern a voice for anything but an inarticulate scream for help. These narratives construct the girls as undereducated or uncritical objects rather than critical subjects because of their poverty and, maybe, their race or nationality. As Cervantes-Soon calls the testimonios “a politicized discourse that situated the girls’ experiences in the context of power dimensions and systematic oppression” (386), she argues for the impact they can have: “In a space where women’s bodies are positioned as docile objects and abused by patriarchy and voracious capitalism, young women’s reclamation of voice and knowledge requires…epistemological tools that take students’ everyday life and suffering seriously” (387). I think critical education like this is so amazing and powerful.

I’m presenting a shorter cut of this paper in November at the National Women’s Studies Association Conference and hoping to publish, so I’m excited for the feedback and the opportunity to hone my argument that presenting offers.

If you’re interested in learning more about any of the issues above, here’s a selected bibliography:

Adams, Rachel. “At the Borders of American Crime Fiction.” Shades of the Planet: American Literature as World Literature. By Wai-chee Dimock and Lawrence Buell. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2007. 249-73. Print.

Balli, Cecilia. “Letter from Juárez: The Missing.” Texas MonthlySept. 2011: 104-14. Web.

Blancas, Patricia Ravelo. “We Never Thought It Would Happen to Us: Approaches to the Study of the Subjectivities of the Mothers of the Murdered Women in Ciudad Juárez.” Hector Dominguez-Ruvalcaba and Ignacio Corona, eds. Gender Violence at the U. S. –Mexico Border. ; Media Representation and Public Response. N.p.: University of Arizona, 2012. 37-57. Print.

Cervantes-Soon, Claudia G. “Testimonios of Life and Learning in the Borderlands: Subaltern Juárez Girls Speak.” Equity & Excellence in Education45.3 (2012): 373-91. Print.

Dominguez-Ruvalcaba, Hector, and Ignacio Corona. Gender Violence at the U. S. -Mexico Border. ; Media Representation and Public Response.N.p.: University of Arizona, 2012. N. pag. Print.

Duarte, Stella Pope. If I Die in Juárez. Tucson: University of Arizona, 2008. Print.

Gaspar De Alba, Alicia, and Georgina Guzmán. Making a Killing: Femicide, Free Trade, and La Frontera. Austin: University of Texas, 2010. Print.

Gaspar De Alba, Alicia. Desert Blood: The Juárez Murders. Houston, TX: Arte Publico, 2005. Print.

Livingston, Jessica. “Murder in Juárez.” Frontiers25.1 (2004): 59-75. Web.

Lopez-Lozano, Miguel. “Women in the Global Machine: Patrick Bard’s La frontera, Carmen Galan Benitez’s Tierra marchita, and Alicia Gaspar de Alba’s Desert Blood: The Juárez Murders.” Dominguez-Ruvalcaba and Ignacio Corona, eds. Gender Violence at the U. S. -Mexico Border. ; Media Representation and Public Response. N.p.: University of Arizona, 2012. 128-151. Print.

Monarrez-Fragoso, Julia E. and Georgina Guzman, trans. “The Suffering of the Other.” Alicia Gaspar De Alba and Georgina Guzmán, eds. Making a Killing: Femicide, Free Trade, and La Frontera. Austin: University of Texas, 2010. 183-199. Print.

Quinones, Sam. “The Maquiladora Murders.” MsMay/June 1998: 10-16. Web.

Rippberger, Susan J., and Kathleen A. Staudt. Pledging Allegiance: Learning Nationalism at the El Paso-Juárez Border. New York: RoutledgeFalmer, 2003. Print.

Schmidt Camacho, Alicia. “Ciudadana X: The Denationalization of Women’s Rights in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico.” CR: The New Centennial Review 5.1 (2005): 255-292. Print.

Volk, Steven S., and Marian E. Schlotterbeck. “Gender, Order, and Femicide.” Aztlan32.1 (2007): 53-86. Web.

Wright, Melissa W. Disposable Women and Other Myths of Global Capitalism. New York: Routledge, 2006.


3 thoughts on “Latina Feminisms: Violence, Borderlands, and Constructions of Girlhood

  1. Pingback: Conference Wrap-ups | Ph.D.s and Pigtails

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