V-Day in Juárez
Valentine’s Day is celebrated in a very special way each year in Ciudad Juárez, sister city of El Paso, Texas. Not only do sweethearts send valentines to one another, candy and other gifts, but Juárez also throbs with the deep, abiding love of mothers for their murdered daughters. Pink crosses decorated with black ribbon, often accompanied by photos of beautiful girls, are seen throughout the city, grim reminders of the brutal, senseless murders.
On February 14, 2004, the first official V-Day March on Juárez was attended by Hollywood stars Jane Fonda, Sally Field and Christine Lahti, as they joined the mothers and families of Juárez in a protest of outrage over the savage murders and mutilations of hundreds of women of all ages – many of them workers in American factories called maquiladoras. Currently, the count of murdered women is calculated at over 500, with a total of 5,000 who have disappeared in the entire region. The march has been duplicated in numerous cities in many countries as a way to claim “heart healings” for suffering families on a day that traditionally celebrates love.
I saw love in Juárez, close up, raw and open, women’s hearts palpitating, singing a mournful melody that could be heard throughout the city’s busy streets – a secret wail of mothers who would not be comforted until the murderers of their daughters were brought to justice. They wait still, the mothers, undaunted by political ploys to ignore investigations and death threats to families who demand answers from city officials.
They risk even death, as one mother did in December 2010. Marisela Escobedo Ortiz claimed she would not stop until the killer of her daughter Rubi was brought to justice. The attorney general of Mexico and President Calderón refused to see Marisela and did not continue to search for Sergio Rafael, the confessed murderer. Marisela was murdered at the doors of the palace of government and in front of the cross of nails that was placed in Juárez by mothers of murdered women and the group Women in Black.
I recall one of the mothers I interviewed in her humble home, a structure of cinderblocks, freezing in February as I conducted the interview. She showed me a small box containing the only remains she had been given of her murdered 16-year-old daughter. The girl’s picture was stunning, a beautiful young woman full of promise, now numbered as one of the femicides, crimes of hatred committed against women.
Love conquers all things. I believe this. It is what helped me write If I Die in Juárez, even when I wanted to run. And I did run – three times – only to return following a “demand from within” that fortified me with the courage to complete the work and honor the courage and love of so many. I saw love in the eyes of the mothers, and anger, and deep anguish. One woman said to me, “This will end when we no longer allow machismo to become a way of life for our boys. It must begin in childhood.”
I believe her. There are many factors contributing to the murders: NAFTA, which dismantled the corn economy of Mexico; globalization and greed; poverty, so extreme it defies description; drugs, gangs, serial killers and crooked police … the list goes on and on. But it is love, deeply rooted in family – not only on V-Day but every day – that will rise to finally end the murders. Love issues from the human heart and it is unstoppable. Marisela Escobedo Ortiz understood this and paid with her life. How many more sacrifices will it take for justice to reign?