LABOR DAY: Recuerden La Guerra Sucia, Los Femicidios/ Remember The Dirty War, The Femicides

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PHOTO: Ni Una Mas/ Not One More. The femicides of Ciudad Juarez have been memorialized by pink crosses. Approximately 1,500 womyn, mostly maquiladora workers, have gone missing in the border town since the nineties. 

by Anessa Anchondo-Rivera and Nubia Legarda

This Labor Day, we would like for you to join us in honoring and remembering the daughters of Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico a todas las desaparecidas que nunca volvieron a casa, all the disappeared womyn who never made it home from work—for all the womyn who make a living working for Mexican, U.S., and Canadian factories—maquiladoras, that provide us with all the low-priced goods we thoroughly enjoy on this side of the border here in the United States.

Our Mexican neighbors work for long hours, in not the best of conditions, and are severely underpaid— a consequence of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) signed by President Bill Clinton, which went into effect January 1, 1994.

Click to learn more. (Spanish)

Click to learn more. (Spanish)

There is a long history of the U.S. using foreign labor to build this Nation, foreign labor that began with the conquest of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, the enslavement of people from African nations, the use of Chinese labor, and the use of Mexican labor in agriculture and maquilas here in the U.S. and in Mexico.

In the 1930’s, during the Great Depression, President Hoover began what has been termed as the Mexican Repatriation, which illegally deported over a million people to Mexico, with 60% of the deportees being citizens of the U.S.

The point of the Mexican Repatriation was to free up jobs for white Americans.

But when the U.S. entered World War II in the 1940’s, all able-bodied men entered the military, all able-bodied womyn joined the war-force (work force dedicated to helping the U.S. in WWII) and there was a shortage of agriculture labor. Scouts were sent to Mexico to bring in workers and so the Bracero Program was born.

The Bracero Program lasted from 1942-1964 and ended in 1964 because of pressure within the U.S. from labor unions. When the Bracero Program ended, the Mexican government initiated the Border Industrial Program (BIP) to help provide jobs for the unemployed men who were a part of the Bracero Program, and womyn who had come to northern Mexico.

Thanks to BIP, the maquiladora industry grew along the Mexican side of the U.S.-Mexico border after the end of the Bracero Program in 1964.  The maquila industry grew steadily from 1964 until the signing of NAFTA, and after NAFTA the growth of the maquila industry skyrocketed.  This has had drastic economic and cultural effects on Mexico, exasperated by NAFTA , for two decades now.

NAFTA was sold to the public as a treaty that would bring work to Mexican families, but instead severely damaged the farming industry in Mexico and caused southerners to migrate north in search of better opportunities. 

Many of these migrants found themselves in border cities like Ciudad Juarez, creating a diverse, rich and intricate culture fueled by poverty and necessity. The maquiladoras formed a new demand in labor force, mostly shaped by a womyn.

Womyn were in demand because they could be (and still are) underpaid, as they have been economically displaced from their place of origin. The border creates a perfect environment for these factories to flourish as there are fewer regulations to be met and there is a vulnerable population that can be exploited with little to no consequence for the industries profiting from this free trade agreement.  

An art displa, "Homage" memorializing the dead and honoring womyn working in maquiladoras in Ciudad Juarez, by Laura Burns at Baltimore's Contemporary Art Authority

An art display, “Homage” memorializing the dead and honoring womyn currently working in maquiladoras in Ciudad Juarez, by Laura Burns at Baltimore’s Contemporary Art Authority

The border, what is the border?  The U.S.—Mexico border is home, and as Chicana, cultural, feminist writer Gloria Anzaldua accurately describes, it is an “open wound…where the Third World grates against the First and bleeds.  And before a scab forms it hemorrhages again, the lifeblood of two worlds merging to form a third country—a border culture.”

It is here on the border that we call home, so for us, we live an open wound of violence.  In 1993, womyn working in maquiladoras and womyn living in Juarez began to disappear at alarming rates, a number that has grown to an estimated 1,437.

La Guerra Sucia.  Femicidios. The Dirty War.  Femicides. The word femicide, also known as feminicide or gynecide, is a term used to define the murder of a womyn – be it by a significant other, boyfriend, husband, or a member(s) of organized crime.

La Guerra Sucia.  Femicidios. The Dirty War.  Femicides. The word femicide, also known as feminicide or gynecide, is a term used to define the murder of a womyn. “

Perhaps you have heard something about it.  Perhaps you have read an article like this one, or heard of the song, Invalid Litter Dept by former local band At The Drive In, or heard of this movie called Bordertown, or seen this new show on FX called The Bridge.  Or maybe, and perhaps this is true, you haven’t heard of the femicides at all.

The disappearing of womyn in Latin America, and throughout the world, has been a long pressing issue, we believe it stems from the days of colonialism, when matriarchal societies were disrespected, raped, murdered and conquered.

Colonialism, “the policy or practice of acquiring full or partial political control over another country, occupying it with settlers, and exploiting it economically,” is an entire beast of its own, that still affects our society in a deep detrimental manner.  The effects of colonialism are so deeply rooted in our human and social evolution that we still feel it to this very day through the sexism and racism found in our mainstream media and culture.

The femicides of Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico is systemic sexism, wherein womyn are kidnapped, raped, mutilated and killed.

The power dynamics of violence against womyn and massive rape in Mexico are very complex, and most infuriating of all, drenched in impunity—clouded, drowned and met by the indifference of a machista or patriarchal police force and government.

It is a problem the Mexican government tries to keep as quiet as possible, a fact that must be acknowledged, confronted and met with resistance—speaking out against these activities, which are a crime against humanity, and life itself, is necessary.

Womyn sewing garments in a Mexican maquiladora.

Womyn sewing garments in a Mexican maquiladora.

When the femicides came to light in the early-to-mid nineties, government officials and police officers tried deeming this problem by publicly stating in news sources that the disappeared womyn were sex workers or womyn who were out late partying and were dressed provocatively.

It took the families of the disappeared womyn, protests, marches and demand for justice for the media and Mexican government to pay attention to the issue.

To this day, families of the womyn are met with condescending comments from the police, “Maybe she left with her boyfriend.  Did she get in a fight with you?  Maybe she didn’t want to live with you all anymore.”

One, it does not matter if the womyn was a sex worker or not, she is a human being whom no one deserves to deprive of life, and two, a missing person’s report should be met with professionalism and respect from the authorities who have sworn to “serve and protect” the community.

The vast majority of these murders/disappearances rarely get solved because of various reasons that mainly boil down to fear, and if a case happens to be solved, it is sometimes suspected the person that has been caught isn’t really the perpetrator, but rather a desperate attempt by police to solve a crime.

Because of this lack of prosecution, more and more womyn have been murdered and/or disappeared, and more and more these womyn are not just maquiladora workers, but also students, female children, womyn working in the informal economy, waitresses, sales womyn, womyn from all walks of the impoverished life.

But these murders/disappearances all began with the maquiladora worker. Here in the border, we constantly ask ourselves the question of, why?

PBS documentary on the femicides: For more on the Bracero Program: Follow journalist and author Diana Washington-Valdez, who covers Los Feminicidios in depth.

Photo by Angela Bacca.
To learn more:
Watch the PBS documentary on the femicides. For more on the Bracero Program, click here. Follow journalist and author Diana Washington-Valdez, who covers Los Feminicidios in depth.


Every day, so many work to make sense of the senseless criminal acts and the inaction of those in power.  Directly across the Rio Grande is El Paso, Texas, one of the safest cities in the United States. El Paso is not separate from Juarez, we are sisters, we are connected through blood, love, obligations, history, culture, traditions and family.

This border that has been created by a government made justifiable by “homeland security” fails to separate El Paso and Juarez.

The U.S. has always taken what it has needed from the country and/or peoples it colonized.  Modern colonization is wrapped up in globalization and terms of neoliberalism; components of neoliberalism are free trade, privatization of resources, deregulation, and the abandonment of social welfare.

The U.S. has received people from all over the world to produce goods, to be the worker in the fields and to run the machines, and this is the history of labor in the U.S.

So this Labor Day, while the U.S. celebrates with sales of goods at different stores, with days off, with party celebrations, remember the disappeared womyn from Ciudad Juarez, remember the womyn workers of the world.