Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal
CIUDAD JUÃREZ, Mexico – There was a time when the world often knew of this border city first for the hundreds of women murdered there, often with signs of torture.
The surge of drug violence, and now the city’s still-fragile redemption, eventually replaced the stories of the femicides – the targeted murder of women for being women – that occurred in the 1990s and early 2000s. The murders and disappearances of women still occurring today rarely get international attention.
Activist Lluvia Rocha and her partner, graffiti artist Maclovio Fierro Macias, are working to keep alive their memory while denouncing the machismo, domestic violence, poverty and organized crime that keep many poor women in Ciudad Juárez at greater risk of heinous crimes.
Fierro Macias has painted more than 20 murals around town depicting more than 25 portraits of the murdered or missing women with the permission of their parents or loved ones. Rocha writes their stories on her blog, Los Rostros del Feminicidio, or Faces of Femicide.
A mural of Flor Fabiola Rivera depicts a smiling young woman with red lips and flowing black hair. According to Rocha’s blog, Rivera was murdered in 2002 when she was a 14-year-old mother of a 2-year-old boy.
She was killed in her home. The crime was never solved. Her son, Kevin Yael, now a teenager himself, painted Sesame Street’s Ernie character into the mural – the stuffed toy was his mother’s last gift to him.
“Getting to know these stories is learning how many dreams are broken when one loses a daughter in this way,” Rocha wrote in an October post.
In 1993, Esther Chavez Cano, a Ciudad Juárez accountant-turned-activist, began documenting the gruesome murders of women in the city. Through 2007 – when the more generalized drug violence took root – she documented more than 400 cases. Most of the murders went unsolved and unpunished.
Many of the women were young migrants from other parts of Mexico who came to the city alone to work in maquiladora assembly factories. Poor and vulnerable, heading in to work the industry’s pre-dawn a.m. shift or getting out after midnight on the p.m. shift, they were an easy target for violent criminals.
Molly Molloy, a New Mexico State University research librarian who has studied violence in Ciudad Juárez for decades, has pointed out that the murder rate for men in the border city has historically been higher than that of women, even during the years in which media coverage of the femicides was at its peak.
But the concept of femicide as something fundamentally different from homicide remains a part of the public debate in Mexico. Chihuahua legislators held a forum this past week in the state capital to hear perspectives on whether to legally define femicide and write it into the criminal code.
“Femicide has certain characteristics,” Rocha said. “It’s a hate crime in which the motive is hate against women, and that is expressed in the woman’s body – meaning there is torture, rape, mutilations. These are atrocious crimes. It’s not just any murder.”
Fierro Macias’ murals appear on the facades of homes and buildings and the walls alongside city parks. The faces of the women feature prominently, often ringed by emblems of their life and dreams – a guitar, a caged bird, a crown, a soccer ball, a longed-for home.
Pink crosses nailed at the foot of the international bridge, or painted on buildings and lamp posts, stand as reminders of the women lost and the injustice of the many unsolved cases. In the murals, the women themselves – eyes wide open – seem to watch over the city.