She is Me: Gender, Immigration, and Economics in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico

Curator's Note

Public discourse in the U.S. about Mexican immigration rarely moves beyond a discussion of how it affects economics on our side of the border: Minutemen say that Mexicans steal our jobs, while conservative fear-mongers debating public health claim that "illegals" prevent Americans from receiving care. But there is more at stake than ecomomics--the implicit discourse is about gender: a masuline discourse of young Mexican (read: "violent" and "other") men arriving to emasculate the U.S. by hitting us where it hurts--in the economy and the ability of our men to work and provide for our families. However, there is a mirror image at work here, too--one that this video illustrates by calling attention to the relationship between "American Economic Interest" and the act of feminincide (the targeted erradication of women) in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.  Since the 1990s, hundreds of women in Juarez have been kidnapped, raped,and murdered, presumably by desperate and dispossessed men suffering from unbearable economic conditions created by U.S commerce with Mexico.  These women disappear as they travel to or from their jobs in U.S.-owned maquilladoras (sweatshops) where they fill the posts abandoned by men who cross the border.  We see a mirror image of Mexican social structure--one that is inverted and turned inside out.  But it is also a mirror image of us (or U.S., if you prefer).  American economics--our consumer choices as individuals and our corporate choices as industires--create the structural necessity of immigration that then leads to violence against women.  In another twist of the mirror, the narrator tells us that they are us; She is Me.  The narrator uses video to powerfully evoke this reversal, drawing on the violence of hip-hop and the shock of unexpected reflections to illustrate that the only difference between us and them is the where we stand vis-a-vis the border.  At the end of the day, we help create the need for immigration because our consumer decisions at home shape the political and economic conditions of Mexico.  And if this is true, then we are faced with a very ugly reflection indeed: Personal responsibility for economically disenfranchised Mexican men and the feminicide of their women.


Sarah, thank you for a fascinating post and video-- not to mention all of your comments this week. What you are saying here is interesting, and resonates in part with the discussion on Tuesday's post, with the issue of sex workers and their rights. You noted the ties between trafficking and sex work, and raised the question of choice. These are really essential questions, and the ties are there and important to consider, but I have a few concerns around the continued linkage between sex work and trafficking, particularly when linked to anxieties over immigration. That is, immigration becomes a story mired in criminality and immorality, subject to (and in fact in need of) policing and border enforcement. This detracts from considerations of economic root causes that encourage migration (within and without of national borders)  or, as you so eloquently note 'American economics...create the structural necessity of immigration that then leads to violence against women.'

I do wonder, though, if these economic issues are more likely to become a matter of concern when explicitly tied to violence and violation of the body. That is, are economic violations only considered human rights abuses when they are covered by the 1st covenant (the political and civil rights) but not when they are covered by the 2nd covenant (economic and social rights)?

Although the historical narrative of human rights notes that the schism between the covenants was rectified in 1993, economic rights seem to continue (at least in the 'West') to be secondary. There are challenges, of course. Economic rights are harder to visualise (although there are films and videos that have been contributing to the field). Economic human rights are also not a concept that seems to be taken seriously in the US (as one can see from the resistance to a public option for health care). And, it would seem that mainstream corporate practices are dependent on violations-- ethical and/or legal-- as one sees in documentaries like A Decent Factory, Mardi Gras: Made in China, Life and Debt, and The Other Europe. These films also make their claims by showing visceral effects of decisions, with indications of bodily violations through confinement, health-issues, and the images of extreme poverty. However, I continue to wonder if economic rights (health, education, housing, fair wages, and right to unionise, among others) will be recognised as important rights to life outwith explicit violence.

Thank you again for an illuminating post and a video that speaks to these important economic aspects of human rights.




Leshu--thank you for your comments and feedback! I agree with you that immigration gets mired in criminality and immorality when it is neither criminal nor immoral--it's just people wanting a better life.  This is why I think we need to consider the structural and economic issues that force people into situations that they seek to leave behind for any number of reasons.  The fact that we, as consuming agents, unwittingly make choices that make living conditions worse abroad is something that--at least in the US--we resist owning up to.  And the upshot is (at least in my opinion) that global economics and human rights are deeply intertwinded and our economic system winds up supporting the conditions for oppressive regimes, wars, or other infringements on rights.  Once we start pulling on one human rights issue thread--for example feminicide in Juarez--another economic thread gets pulled.  The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that all people everywhere have the right to a diginified life, which includes the right to good food,  work, eductation, and health, as well as the right to fair treatment and respct for body and mind as human beings.  Human rights organizations are fabulous at calling attention to the atrocities and degredations that people experience, but I think that these things (as horrific as they are) are often (not always) almost more akin to surface symptoms--the causes of the problem are often located in deepley embedded historical and structural inequalities related to power as governed by economic conditions.  Sometimes these structural issues are more obvious--for example, the political situation surrounding the Iranian elections in June this year--but sometimes they are far less obvious, like the impact of consumer choices in the US on Mexican immigration or human rights violations south of the border.  The same is true for many of the women who immigrate through prostitution. Some may consciously choose that route as the shortest means to their end, but then there is the problem of other women who seek out organizatiosn to help them flee their homes and  find themselves in an indentured servitude relationship as sex workers with little hope of actually paying of whatever debt it is that their "employers" hold over them.  So at the end of the day human rights and economic rights (as well as other rights issues like environmental justice) are all equal parts of the problem. Does it perhaps create a false dichotomy to separate them?

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