The Columns

W&L Hosts William and Mary Professor To Talk on Serial Murders of Mexican Women

— by on May 13th, 2008

Washington and Lee University will host a visit by Professor Carla Olson Buck, Spanish professor at The College of William and Mary, who will give two talks, May 26 and 27, that are free and open to the public.

The subject of those talks will be the serial slaying of 450 women and girls — mostly poor young factory workers — since 1993 in Ciudad Juárez and Chihuahua City, Mexico. Many of the bodies were dumped in the desert, horribly mutilated, and many were sexually assaulted prior to their deaths. The ongoing killings have inspired two Hollywood movies and remain unsolved.

The earliest of those cases are quietly slipping off legal dockets since Mexico, unlike the United States, has a statute of limitations for murder. At a time when U.S. prosecutors are resurrecting Civil Rights-era murder cases – some more than 40 years old – Mexico is closing murder cases forever after 14 years.

Monday, May 26, at 7 p.m. in the Northen Auditorium of Leyburn Library, Professor Buck’s talk “Harvest of Women: Juarez, Mexico’s Killing Fields” will focus on the killings of female maquiladora workers of Ciudad Juarez and on the numerous representations of this ongoing femicide in journalism, literature and film.

Tuesday, May 27, from 12:20 p.m. to 1:15 p.m., in Room 216 of Elrod Commons, Professor Buck will present her work “Consuming Pathos: Cultural Representations of the Murdered Women of Juarez” at a Women’s Studies lunch colloquium. The general public are welcome to bring their own lunches or, to reserve a lunch, please e-mail mayocke@wlu.edu by Wednesday, May 21.

Thousands of families were attracted to Ciudad Juárez by the maquiladoras – assembly plants, most of them owned by U.S. companies – that sprung up blocks from the border because of an abundance of cheap labor that transformed the town into the fourth most populous city in Mexico. Young women were especially prized by factory supervisors because they were considered more reliable and less rowdy than men. Almost overnight, women were making money while men were still struggling to find jobs, leading to resentment in the local macho culture that activists cite as a social undercurrent to the slayings.

For many years, the authorities did little to investigate or prosecute those responsible. Mexican federal authorities and international human rights organizations have accused local authorities of covering up evidence and failing to properly investigate these crimes for over a decade. Human rights activists have said the true killers may have been protected by authorities who tortured innocents to confess to the killings. Victims’ families have been subjected to harassment.

Carla Olson Buck is an associate professor of Hispanic Studies and teaches courses on gender issues and Mexican and Spanish literature and culture. Her research has focused on women cultural producers (writers, playwrights and filmmakers), and she is currently working on a book on cultural representations of the women of Juarez.

Professor Buck’s visit is co-sponsored by The Latin American and Caribbean Studies Program, the Women’s Studies Program, and the Office of the Dean of the College.