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Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 23.1 (2002) 126-150

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Las Super Madres de Latino America
Transforming Motherhood by Challenging Violence in Mexico, Argentina, and El Salvador

Cynthia L. Bejarano


I saw them in silence shout, there is no other way in which to protest, if they said something more, just a little more, another woman would be tortured with certainty. They dance with the dead, they who no longer are here, invisible ones, they don't cease to dance.

Sting, "Ellas Danzan Solas," Nada Comp El Sol

This essay examines the role Latinas have had in collectively resisting state violence and control through their roles as mothers of desaparecidos, the "disappeared." Although Latinas throughout the Americas are known to be activists in social movements and have protested forms of state control imposed on them as citizens for decades, this role of Latinas as mothers and resisters of state control has not been fully researched. Historically, Latina mothers' responsibilities and assigned roles are strictly placed within the confines of the home and the workplace, and they are forbidden by gendered norms and standards of citizenship to use their status as mothers for anything other than the proper rearing of their children. Yet, the treatment of their children's bodies as disposable and their children's ultimate deaths prompted these women to challenge state institutions of power and violence against its citizens.

This paper explores the transformation of gendered citizenship into forms of resistance by Latina mothers of "disappeared" young women in Juarez, Mexico, while comparing their activism with the activist motherist groups in Argentina and El Salvador. 1 The madres (mothers) in each country acted collectively to transfer empowerment from the private sphere of citizenship reserved for mothers and housewives to the public sphere of motherist activism. Activist mothers who have previously been researched and who are discussed throughout this paper are the highly publicized Madres de la Plaza de Mayo in Argentina and the motherist group CoMadres in El Salvador. 2 Much less has been written on the mothers of female maquiladora (foreign-owned factory) [End Page 126] workers whose daughters have been tortured and killed in Juarez, Mexico, and who have organized to demand some acknowledgment of their daughters' deaths from local authorities.

My motivation for writing about Latina motherist activism is twofold. First, I am a fronteriza, a woman raised on the U.S.-Mexican border near Juarez, Mexico, who is both directly and indirectly affected by this border violence as a young Latina/Chicana/Mexicana committed to social justice and change. Second, I am concerned with the violent and oppressive social, cultural, and economic abuses and constraints imposed on the subaltern communities I come from, especially against Latina/Mexican women, young and old. For these reasons, I have engaged in this research and triangulated these three countries and motherist groups to give evidence of the violence taking place against women in Latin American countries. More specifically, I focus on the U.S.-Mexican borderlands where the transnational nature of this area and the obsession on both sides of the border with globalization, competition, and the border talk of nafta, maquiladoras, and similar destabilizing and nonsymmetrical border practices have had a negative impact on marginalized "brown people." As Chicana/o studies scholar Arturo Aldama explains:

Market driven simulcrums celebrate the transnational movements of capitalist investment and development as the alchemy of globalization, and mask and ignore the further stratification, disempowerment, hyper-exploitation, and increasing abject poverty of subaltern communities, peoples (especially women and children), and bodies who produce, harvest, and assemble goods consumed on the global market. 3

As a Chicana feminist, I see these communities as extensions of myself and want to expose the underbelly of "the new era of globalization and progress," veiled in the maquiladora industry, which is acted out—unintentionally or not—through the exploitation and killings of young brown women, while highlighting the "organic" leadership powers emanating from subaltern/colonia (shanty town) communities through the mothers of these...