February 28, 2012—Speaking “first and foremost as a social activist,” New Mexico criminologist and university professor Cynthia Bejarano examined the unsolved murders of girls and women in the region of Ciudad Juárez-El Paso before a gathering of more than 80 students and faculty at the UO Knight Library. Bejarano showed images of some of the activist mothers who seek justice for their missing and/or murdered daughters as she presented her research on “Terrorizing Women: Feminicide and Gender Violence at the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands.”
Noting that there are more than 32 different theories put forth about the murders and disappearance of hundreds of girls and women since 1993, Bejarano explored the complexity of efforts to understand and resolve a nightmarish horror story. She cited drug cartels, gangs, sexual slavery, the preying on poor and vulnerable migrants, a militarized, failed state, recreational drug use by Americans, a patriarchal system that devalues the feminine—and more. Numerous people have been scapegoated and brutalized for these murders, and there is tremendous cover-up. Activist mothers are themselves being targeted and murdered. Only last week four teenage girls from a middle school went missing in downtown Ciudad Juárez in an area known as a hotbed for abductions, she said, and recently 15 girls’s bodies were found in a region frequented by drug cartels.
“The systematized and sexualized violence that these girls endured can be found across the world,” Bejarano emphasized.
She quoted one teenaged girl who grew up in Ciudad Juárez who told her, “I have been terrified my entire life thinking that I would be the next girl to go missing.”
“We underestimate the PTSD that young people are suffering,” Bejarano said.
Bejarano also highlighted the sociological implications for the 10,000 to 15,000 orphaned children in Ciudad Juárez. Gangs or drug cartels solicit some children as lookouts or assassins, she said, roles for which they are paid and drugged. “We need to provide outlets for these kids not to gravitate toward the violence. There needs to be new infrastructure for people left behind, the abject poor who have no choice.”
“What can we do from here?” several in the audience inquired. Among other things, said Bejarano, U.S. residents can ask their members of Congress what the U.S. government is doing about drug movement, sex trafficking, and the smuggling of guns across the Mexican border. Ninety percent of guns seized in Mexico enter through the United States, she said.
Held at the UO Knight Library Browsing Room on February 28, 2012, the lecture was cosponsored by Center for the Study of Women in Society and the Center for Latino/a and Latin American Studies.
—reported by Alice Evans, CSWS Research Dissemination Specialist
Dr. Cynthia Bejarano is the Stan Fulton Endowed Chair in Arts and Sciences and an associate professor of Criminal Justice at New Mexico State University. Her publications and research interests focus on border violence, immigration issues, and gender violence at the U.S.-Mexico border. She co-founded Amigos de las Mujeres de Juárez, which works for justice for missing and murdered women on both sides of the border, and is the co-editor of an interdisciplinary anthology with Rosa-Linda Fregoso entitled Terrorizing Women: A Cartography of Feminicide in the Américas (Duke University Press, June 2010). She is also the author of the book “Qué Onda?” Urban Youth Cultures and Border Identity (University of Arizona Press, 2005). She is the principal investigator for the College Assistance Migrant Program (CAMP), a federally- and state-funded university program, which assists farmworkers and the children of farmworkers to attend New Mexico State University. Dr. Cynthia Bejarano was the recipient of the Donald C. Roush Excellence in Teaching Award in 2008. She grew up in southern New Mexico in the El Paso-Juarez borderlands and received her Ph.D. from Arizona State University.