by Mónica Teresa Ortiz
(re)conquista fact #2
we name the desert a woman
dunes of femurs and tibias
pyramids de Sierra de San Agustin
body counts can be
touchy subjects in Ciudad Juárez
A week ago I ran across a news story about a female vigilante, clad in black and allegedly wearing a blonde wig, who hopped onto one of the buses in Ciudad Juárez that transport women to the maquilas (factories). She entered the bus for the sole purpose of shooting the male bus driver in the head, execution style. The next day, a second bus driver was killed in a similar fashion. Shortly afterwards, an email was sent to various news organizations in Mexico. In part, it read: “You think because we are women we are weak, and maybe we are. But only to a certain point…. We can no longer remain quiet over these acts that fill us with rage. And so, I am an instrument who will take vengeance.” It was signed Diana, Huntress of Bus Drivers.
At first I thought it was a joke or the plotline of a new graphic novel series. Besides appearing in the El Paso Times, the tale of Diana the female vigilante was also told on the Guardian and the El Ley Times’ websites.
Maquiladoras (women who work in the factories) ride buses to and from the maquilas, often at very late hours. In the 1990’s, women began disappearing. It was rumored that the bus drivers were taking women to secluded areas where there were waiting groups of men. Las mujeres were raped, mutilated, and tossed into pits of bones. No one tried to hide the graveyards. This is still happening today.
Slate editor Josh Voorhees reports that several bus drivers were later arrested in connection with those killings, although at least one had his conviction overturned and another died in prison before he was sentenced. While a precise body count has been difficult to come by, at least one unofficial count pegs the number of women killed at closer to 900.
Few cases have ever been solved and the injustice is mostly protested by families and human rights activists, but when those affected by the femicidios (femicides) speak out, the consequences can be lethal. According to writer Cordelia Rizzo, in 2011, “two of the main pillars of the struggle to bring the perpetrators of these crimes to justice were murdered themselves. Marisela Escobedo, who was fighting for the persecution of her daughter’s murderer, was chased and gunned down in plain sight in front of the governor’s office, where she was leading a protest. Less than a month later, Susana Chávez, a poet who coined the phrase ‘ni una más’ (not one more) was tortured, killed, and left in the street with her hand severed.”
Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, located in the northern part of Mexico along the El Paso, Texas border, relinquished its title as most murderous city in the world to San Pedro Sula, Honduras in 2011, but that doesn’t quite make it paradise. I lived in El Paso from 2003 to 2007, just as drug violence along the border escalated. Most of my free time away from the university, from writing, and from teaching was spent in Juárez. I have family that lives there and I was a mile away from the Stanton Street Bridge, one of the many bridges connecting El Paso to Juárez. On the weekends my friends and I crossed the bridge to Avenida Juárez and tossed our loneliness away into margaritas at the Old Kentucky Club, a famous bar in the area. We scrawled poems on napkins and fed the old jukebox in the corner, listening to Tito and the Tarantulas play. Post-bar, post-drunk, and alive again, we trekked back across the border, back to our world.
Behind the Bienvenidos a Mexico sign, behind the mariachis, behind the beauty of el parque Chamizal that divides El Paso and Juárez, an insidious griminess permeates everything from the streets to the sky. Dark dealings occur underneath neon lights and in broad daylight, with news stations comparing the level of violence to Pablo Escobar’s hold on Medellin, Colombia in the 80’s. This desert landscape I once called home sighs with open desperation. After yet another journalist was murdered, Juárez’s El Diario newspaper published a headline aimed at the powerful cartels, asking, “What Do You Want From Us?” In recent years the media has indulged a widespread fascination with the drug wars and gang violence in Mexico and Central America, diverting attention away from the role that gender plays in the violence. But the femicides of Juárez cannot be swept under the rug; they are not simply myths or cautionary tales told to daughters to keep them home at night. In Juárez, Mephistopheles is real.
BGD is a 100% reader-funded, non-rofit project. DONATE today and help amplify the voices of marginalized people.
The number of Juárez’s mujeres desaparecidos (missing women) is unparalleled, and the femicidios are mechanisms of domination, control, and oppression. It’s a way of asserting power over women – poor women, women of color, lesbian, trans, and queer women – and regardless of geographic location, these women understand their lives are often in danger and regarded as less valuable.
If a man like Robin Thicke blurs the lines on taking what he wants from a woman, he’s god- like. If a sign shop like Hornet Signs Co. in Waco, TX designs a decal that makes it appear as if a woman is hogtied and gagged in the back of a pickup, they’re not reprimanded; they watch their business grow. If women go missing or are killed in Juarez, Chicago, Yemen, or anywhere else in the world, it is in part because our society normalizes gender-based violence. Being a woman, anywhere, demands that one be on guard at all times.
I spent many nights in El Paso on my porch, thinking about the desaparecidos and listening to At The Drive In’s “Invalid Litter Dept.”, a song about the femicides of Juárez.
The idea that there is a woman calling herself Diana (Roman Goddess of the Hunt) while murdering men who literally drive women to their graves, is almost as great as the Juárez Police Department being gripped by fear that such a story could even be true. This is a woman who was a survivor of sexual violence and silenced by society, yet she decided to do something about the murders of maquiladoras. What kind of world would we live in if all women fought back to such a degree? The legend of Diana, Hunter of Bus Drivers, judge, jury, and executioner of men, whether true or not, will strike a nerve in every abusive man around the world.
Tejana author Gloria Anzaldua once wrote that the US/Mexico border “es una herida abierta (open wound), where the Third World grates against the First, and bleeds.” True story. The netherworld of the border is a place of impunity, a place that at times, resembles a war zone. And if a war is happening, why shouldn’t a woman take up arms and resist?
This writer received an honorarium for their work. SUPPORT BGD’s writers and help amplify the voices of marginalized people!
Mónica Teresa Ortiz is a writer born and raised in Texas. She lives in Austin.
All work published on BGD is the intellectual property of its writers. Please do not republish anything from this site without express written permission from BGD. For more info, go here.
Get BGD creator Mia McKenzie’s debut literary novel,The Summer We Got Free. It’s the winner of the Lambda Literary Award.
Follow us on Twitter: @blackgirldanger
LIKE us on Facebook