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Juárez “craftivists” use embroidery to preserve the names of femicide victims

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Mujer aún desconocida alrededor de 13 años localizada el 10-9-95 Lote Bravo. 

Carla Berges can’t find an explanation for the words she embroidered on a handkerchief-sized cloth panel to memorialize a victim of femicide in Juárez. Translated to English, it says “Woman, still unidentified, approximately 13 years old, found 9/10/95 Lote Bravo.”

 “One of the first (panels) that I did, it was about a little girl,” Berges, an English teacher in Juárez, recalled. “A 13-year-old girl, they don’t know who she was. She was like a Jane Doe. And you say, ‘How could that happen?’ It’s a little girl! And you say, ‘Why?’”

Berges is a volunteer in a project coordinated by the Juárez collective Bordeamos por la Paz. The group is modelled after similar anti-violence initiatives, such as Fuentes Rojas in Mexico City, that sprung up around the country during some of the worst years of cartel-related violence. The groups of mostly women protested the violence by gathering in public space to embroider handkerchiefs in memory of victims. 

Hazel Dávalos, then a graduate student and a founding member of Bordeamos por la Paz, brought the idea to Juárez in 2014. 

The members and collaborators of Bordeamos por la Paz, whose name in Spanish includes a play on the words “to embroider” and “to border,” embroider cloth panels with information about victims of violence and forced disappearance — one panel for each victim. 

This panel, which reads, “Elizabeth Robles, 23, found in the PEMEX sports fields in December 1995,” is one of nearly 250 cases already assigned to volunteer embroiderers by Bordeamos por la Paz. Their goal is to embroider one panel for each femicide victim since 1993; they have reached the year 2000 and have 20 years to go. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

For several years, their work focused mainly on victims of Juárez’s drug-related violence. Now, they are working on a project called “Desde Casa Yo Te Bordo” (From Home, I Embroider for You), specifically dedicated to victims of femicide in Juárez.

The “From Home” project is based on the work of Ivonne Carlos at Ellas Tienen Nombre (They Have Names), a website that provides a digital map, layered by year, of the locations of all femicides recorded in Juárez since 1993. “From Home” provides each volunteer embroiderer with a “case” that Ellas Tienen Nombre has taken from the archives of government agencies, newspapers, and civil associations. The information available for each case varies widely.

“Some of them come with only the name and ‘disappeared,’ for example, ‘in 1990.’ Like that, very simple,” Berges said. “And others, for example, ‘She was killed by her husband’ or ‘She was found in a slave place.’”

The idea behind “From Home” is that the participants will send the finished panels to Hazel Dávalos. Then, like quilting squares, each panel will be joined into larger “blankets” that can be displayed in venues such as schools, universities, and conferences and workshops.

“Wherever we are called, we always go,” Dávalos said. “It’s an opportunity to generate more awareness.” 

A finished panel in memory of a victim of femicide. Bordeamos por la Paz will collect panels made by volunteers and join them into larger quilts that can be displayed to memorialize and seek justice for victims. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

For the original “craftivists” — a term for activists that protest through craft — who gathered together in Mexico City, and for the Bordeamos por la Paz collective in Juárez, the act of gathering socially to embroider side by side in public space was an important element of their protest. During the pandemic, “From Home” attempts to fill in that missing aspect of community by sharing details about the process through photos and comments on the group’s Facebook page.

“Everyone starts to tell us how their feelings were very moved when they received the name, when they began to transcribe it, all of these feelings and reflections that (embroidering) is generating,” Dávalos said. “That’s where we feel like we are achieving the creation of a shared project, a project that is of the community.”

“I think that (embroidering) is very important because it’s to honor (the victims) in a certain way. I feel like it’s to give them a voice,” Berges said. “To let people know who they were, to say, ‘I was this person, this happened to me, I was someone who lived and for some reason this happened.’”

Dávalos stressed the idea of diversity among volunteer participants, who come from all over Mexico and some areas of the United States as well.

“Fortunately, we have had a marvelous response that has really motivated us a lot,” Dávalos said. “Many people, from very diverse backgrounds, have joined, from many different cities. For example, we have a group of friends in Chihuahua, we have a community of nuns that are working from Guadalajara, we have judges, activists, environmentalists, forest rangers, feminists, politicians. … We feel very motivated by seeing the diversity of hands that are working on a common project.”

Hazel Dávalos, founding member of the collective Bordeamos por la Paz in Juárez, looks through a small selection of embroidered panels. Bordeamos por la Paz is currently coordinating a project whose goal is to embroider one panel for each victim of femicide in Juárez from 1993 until present. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

Even some children who observed their mothers’ participation have asked for their own cases to embroider (Dávalos chooses short cases with no descriptions of violence for children to work on).

So far, the collective has given out the names of about 250 victims from the years 1993 to 2000. “There are still 20 years left to go,” Dávalos said. “But it’s important to remember that (Ivonne Carlos) is only working with news archive data. So we also know there were many (victims) who were never a news story. It is very likely that there are many more femicides that were not publicly known.”

It is the extent of the Ellas Tienen Nombre list, which includes hundreds and hundreds of entries written in the dry tones of a news bulletin, that most weighs on Dávalos emotionally. But she recognizes that embroidering quilt panels and “raising awareness” will not stop violence. Rather, Bordeamos por la Paz aims to create change through the process of embroidering and not just through the finished product. 

“We could go on filling and filling boxes and boxes of embroidered handkerchiefs. That’s not the point. (The point) is that the person who joins, who wants to embroider, and who wants to give their time for the memory of someone, it gives them that space,” Dávalos said. “Maybe they don’t embroider again, or maybe (they continue to embroider), but we want to open even just a small space for reflection in the individual that later, I think, could be collective. Now there’s that connection. And for me, that’s the objective.”  

Hazel Dávalos displays panels embroidered by volunteer Carla Berges. Berges, Dávalos, and dozens of other participants have created embroidered memorials for victims of femicide in Juárez. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

That space for reflection has opened for volunteers like Berges, who embroidered nine cases already and plans to request more.

“I know that there are going to be people who are not going to notice, but I want even one or two people to know who (the victims) were, to read a little about them,” Berges said. “They don’t talk about them anymore. But they are still there. It is a way to remind everybody, ‘I am here, I’m not gone. Here is the proof we were human beings.’”

Anyone interested in participating in the “From Home” project can request a case by messaging Bordeamos por la Paz on their Facebook page through May 9. 

Cover photo: Hazel Dávalos, who was a founding member of the Juárez collective Bordeamos por la Paz in 2014, views building community as one of the primary goals of their “From Home I Embroider For You” project. “It’s to generate ties, links with people who are in solidarity before a situation,” she said. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)

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Corrie Boudreaux

Corrie Boudreaux is a lecturer in the Department of Communication at UTEP and a freelance photojournalist in the El Paso-Ciudad Juárez region. She specializes in photography as a tool to explore insecurity, violence, and trauma; spatial environments; and memorialization practices. Her academic work has been published in Social Research, The Latin Americanist, and H-ART: Revista de historia, teoría y crítica de arte.

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