Tiles crafted by women of the MujerArtes collective form an ofrenda to the Juárez women who have lost their lives in the past 10 years.
Someone has been killing the women of Juárez.

Since 1993, more than 300 young women have been abducted, violated, mutilated, and murdered; a terrible price to pay for the televisions, stereos, and appliances that they assemble in the maquiladoras that have proliferated since the passing of NAFTA - not coincidentally - over a decade ago.

Half a day's drive away, in a casita across from Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, under a dreary sky still threatening rain, several women from the MujerArtes collective work diligently on clay figurines and three-dimensional tiles. The weather fits the mood of their pieces: somber, respectful, visually-arresting, and disturbingly honest. Together, they form an ofrenda, or offering, dedicated to the women who have lost their lives during the past 10 years.

At the center of Rosie Zertuche's beautifully crafted altar is the body of a nameless, faceless woman. Above her flies a dove in miniature, carrying the girl's tiny heart away. Hand-crafted roses in successive stages of decay line the altar's frame, as if frozen in time. Zertuche's hope is that the memories of the girls will not suffer the same fate.

Several of the pieces depict this fate, harrowing as it may be. Lucila Vicencio's tiles show families in mourning and prayer, following the graphically-depicted discovery of a young girl's remains.

In other cases, the violence is implied: Beneath the shadow of the angel of death, a bus marked "sin returno" - no return - transports the girls from home to the maquilas in Carmen Lujan's Viaje Especial. Visually, her piece indicts the companies - like RCA, Philips, and Sony - who own the factories and profit from the girls' labor.


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Saturday, July 26
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The majority of the factories are American-owned, but as author and scholar Alicia Gaspar de Alba points out, "interestingly, factories have not gotten involved in either investigating the crimes or promoting more security." A native of the El Paso-Juárez border region, Gaspar de Alba has completed a novel and is organizing a conference about the killings. NAFTA is the larger picture, she says, for it has brought young women from the interior of Mexico to the border. So many, in fact, that they have become "expendable."

"For every girl that leaves, gets fired, kidnapped, or killed, there's another 25 ready to take her place," she says.

Someone, after all, has to assemble the electrical components and car parts intended for export.

Yet, in the midst of all the death and suffering the girls continue to work. They have no other choice. Dee Ann Guarjardo's tile, entitled Sueños quebrados - broken dreams - echoes this sentiment. Under the watch of a guardian angel, a young girl walks to work between telephone poles marked with pink and black crosses, a silent, symbolic reminder encountered throughout Juárez. "Siento miedo, panico, y terror ... pero necesito trabajar `I feel fear, panic, terror ... but I need to work`," she thinks. The remains of another girl occupy an adjacent panel, a vivid reminder that her fear is all too real.

For some of the women, working on the ofrenda is a way of empathizing with the loss of others. As she placed her altar upright, Zertuche explained: "I have two daughters and three granddaughters. You never know what could happen ... I know how the mothers must feel losing someone. It's terrible - a feeling you cannot explain, not knowing what happened to them." •


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