On the morning of December 31, 2010, I took the number 1 train uptown to the Washington Heights section of Manhattan to meet with artist Andrea Arroyo in her studio. It was a crisp, bright morning. Arroyo and her husband, Felipe Galindo, welcomed me. We sat and talked over cups of strong, hot coffee and cookies. Galindo, also an artist, first introduced me to Arroyo’s work when we were both at a book event at Columbia University. I was talking about my book-length manuscript on Puerto Rican poet Julia de Burgos when Galindo shared that his wife had created an altar installation at El Museo del Barrio in East Harlem to commemorate de Burgos. That prompted me to learn more about Arroyo’s work.
As I learned more, I became interested in the way Arroyo used her art to bring attention to social issues particularly around women, immigration, and the US–Mexico border. Arroyo’s Flor de Vida (Flower of Life) project celebrates women who form part of the mythologies of cultures from around the world, such as Lakshmi, Xochiquetzal, and Daphne. The vibrant, celebratory images of these mythological women remind viewers of the strength and possibilities of all women. In 2010, Arroyo gathered a group of 27 artists to make art that spoke to the severe SB1070 immigration bill that had been signed into law in Arizona earlier that year in April. [End Page 91] She organized a show titled AriZONA, Artists Respond to the Immigration Issue at the Grady Alexis Gallery in New York in June2010 to raise awareness about the punitive laws and the violence at the border. In her current project, titled Flor de Tierra (Flower of the Earth), she brings together her concern with violence at the border and with women.
Flor de Tierra commemorates the lives of the mostly immigrant and indigenous women who travel to the border town of Juárez to find work. Ciudad Juárez began industrializing rapidly in 1965 when Mexico’s Border Industrialization Program created an export-processing zone along the Mexico–US border. By 1990 the city was host to 500 export-processing factories or maquiladoras. The North American Free Trade Agreement gave the industry a boost. The murders and disappearances of women increased dramatically in 1993, the year after the signing of NAFTA, and most of the crimes remain unpunished.1 Ciudad Juárez is representative of the kinds of settlements that grow out of globalizing political and economic interests, according to journalist Sergio González Rodríguez in his new book The Femicide Machine. It is estimated that 42 million people a year travel through Juárez. This border city is plagued with ecological damage, sexual exploitation, and terrorism by the Juárez Cartel. Narco-trafficking and the growth of the Juárez Cartel have led to the creation of a second or illicit state that operates beyond the reach of the official state. The authorities “seek to discount the systematic and peculiar violence against women, a violence wherein organized crime and Juárez’s political and economic powers converge” (González Rodríguez 2012, 73). This is what allows for the growth of the feminicide2 machine according to González Rodríguez.
An estimated 400 women were victimized and many more disappeared. The murdered women had been mutilated, tortured, and raped. The state has continued to turn a blind eye to the violence. Over the years there has been speculation that this was the work of a serial killer. As the numbers continued to grow and it became clear that this could not be the work of a single individual, the victims were often blamed. They were accused of participating in transgressive sexual practices such as being lesbians, dating many men, and prostitution. In meXicana encounters, Rosa-Linda Fregoso states that “Feminicide in Juárez makes evident the reality of overlapping power relations on gendered and racialized bodies as much as it clarifies the degree to which violence against women has been naturalized as a method of social control” (Fregoso 2003, 2). Still, little is known [End Page 92] about the deaths of these women, and rarely...