Kristin E. Pitt, Comparative Literature, UW-Milwaukee
“Stories That Are Hard To Tell: Ambiguous Borders, Disappearing Women, and Narratives of Murder”
Wednesday, December 4, 2013, 3:30 pm
Lapham Hall 260
For twenty years, Ciudad Juárez—just across the border from El Paso, Texas in the state of Chihuahua, Mexico—has been the site of modern history’s longest epidemic of femicide, a subject that has increasingly become the focus of a growing body of literary, cinematic, and other artistic works. This essay examines several of these literary and artistic representations of the murders of women in Juárez, exploring the significant challenges of depicting these crimes and the circumstances in which they occur, not only in art but in any form of documentation. Crime statistics are highly disputed, as are demographic data and even the terminology with which we describe the murders of more than 500 women, many of whom were sexually assaulted and whose bodies were mutilated before being discarded in the desert and abandoned lots in and around Juárez.
Many of the literary, film, and television narratives depicting the murders take the form of detective fiction or police procedurals, investigating who is perpetrating the crimes and how they are getting away with them. But the works also explore the complex discourses of citizenship and the border in Juárez, particularly those established by the maquiladoras, foreign-owned factories where raw materials can be imported to Mexico and finished products exported while paying only the low wages offered to a largely young, female, and frequently migrant Mexican workforce and without incurring taxes.
The maquiladoras effectively extend the border beyond the Rio Grande, creating a zone in which both Mexico and the U.S. have clear interests but also recourse to denying responsibility for the events that occur there, including not only murder but such wide-ranging issues as sexual harassment, economic exploitation, and environmental degradation. In this environment, the literary and cinematic works ask, where is the border and what does it signify? Who lays claim to the land and to the bodies of those who live and work there? Whose death or disappearance matters and to whom?