A series of events this weekend at Drexel highlight the mass killings in a dangerous Mexican border town.
Despite having two bodyguards for the last two years, Marisela Ortiz does not feel safe.
"I will never see having bodyguards as something normal," says Ortiz, who got the protection because of the decade-long fighting in Cuidad Juarez, an increasingly dangerous Mexican city. "But me and my family have been the target of death threats, insults, repression because there are people who don't want the truth to be uncovered."
Since 2001, Ortiz, 50, has been leading Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa (Bring Our Daughters Back Home), an organization that helps the families of the many women who have disappeared or who have been killed in that city just across from El Paso, Texas.
About 800 women and students from working-class neighborhoods in Cuidad Juarez have been kidnapped, tortured, raped and killed since 1993. It’s part of an ongoing wave of violence resulting from drug wars, says Diana Washington Valdez, a reporter for El Paso Times who has been investigating the killings since 1999.
"Well, we see the results of the so-called investigations and that's coming up with scape goats, chivos expiatorios, misidentifying victims," she says. "Cases keep getting old and the statue of limitation is expiring, so cases that happened in 1993, ‘94, they have expired now. They're getting away with murder no matter who committed the crimes."
She also points to the widespread corruption that has allowed these killings to continue, despite local and international pressure to intervene.
But a series of events in Philadelphia this weekend will help keep the memory of these women alive.
Ni Una Más (Not One More), a Drexel University collaboration, seeks to raise awareness about gender violence and, in particular, crimes against women in Juarez, says Abbie Dean, a co-curator of one of the event’s exhibits.
The event will kick off with ARTMARCH, a mass demonstration/performance-art piece that will include more than 700 young women from Drexel University dressed in the iconic pink that can be seen on the victims’ memorial crosses in Juarez.
The event is scheduled to start at 2 p.m. Saturday at the 33rd Street Armory. The group will march toward the university and end with a rally outside Leonard Pearlstein Gallery, 3401 Filbert St.
At the gallery, an exhibit will gather 70 works by 20 international artists. One of the highlights is the work of Frank Bender, a Philadelphian whose art has taken him from being featured in “America's Most Wanted” to a hotel a room in Ciudad Juárez, where he tried to reconstruct the faces of six women.
"I stayed there for a month and in that month my wife received a threatening email," Bender said. "We had to move out the hotel room in the middle of the night."
For him, that was the beginning of an ordeal that led him to believe that Mexican authorities had no will to solve these murders.
"How could these bodies lay there all these time and nobody found them until they're decomposed," he said. "How come the evidence locker in Juárez is open for anybody to take whatever they want? This is incompetence by design. They don't really want to solve these cases."
Washington Valdez's work on both sides of the border has resulted in The Killing Fields: Harvest of Women, a book that reveals high-level corruption, specifically the deal between the drug cartel and Mexican officials that allowed for such widespread violence.
"The murders committed by some of the suspects stopped [after the book came out]. Because there was too much scrutiny put on the whole situation," she said. "But the organized crime in general, because that network still exists, is still protecting the killers of women and children."
For more information, visit www.drexel.edu/juarez/.
First Person Arts Podcast: Passing
Savage Love: About Ashley Madison...
First Person Arts Podcast: I Spy