The Women of Juárez

By Amalia Ortiz

at the West tip of Texas
a line divides us from them
and on the other side
they all look like me
yet on my side we sit passively nearby
while the other side allows a slow genocide

500 missing women
some claim more
some less
some dismissed as runaways
against parents protest
hundreds found dead
hundreds still missing
the exact count is a mystery
and those disappearing daily
they all look like me

I am a dead ringer
for an army of the dead
Mexico’s slaughtered sisters
all slim, long dark hair, petite
some say pretty

all young
all lost
or dead
and they all look like me

some foolishly search for one serial killer
when bus and cab drivers
even cops are under suspicion
while the ever growing numbers reflect an entire society
where young women are expendable
young women like me

mothers recognize raped and mutilated remains
daughter’s clothes with mismatched human bones
DNA that doesn’t match
those are her shoes
but that’s not her hat
this shirt is my sister’s
but those aren’t her slacks
dumped like trash

burnt to ash
in the desert that keeps its secrets
one body found in the middle of the street
in a neighborhood not unlike mine
on my side of the line
where I am alive
and my father reclines
in his retired military easy-chair bliss
of Ft. Bliss

Mom and Dad warn to be careful
but aren’t overly concerned
when my brothers and I
cross the border from El Paso to Juárez
for late-night cheap college drink-a-thons
as long as we stay on the touristy paths
that may exploit
but do protect Americans and our American dreams

we are different
and even my parents don’t seem to see
all those missing women
they all look like me
but I am told I am different
less Mexican, less poor
American thus worth more

yet all I can see are eerie similarities
they all worked like I do
so many last seen
going to or coming from work
at U.S. corporate owned maquiladoras
but I’m told this isn’t an American issue
and I’m lucky here on the safe side

yet not quite out of earshot of distant cries
of families searching ditches and roadsides
bearing snapshot after snapshot
of my brown eyes

have you seen this girl?
she is my sister
la has visto?

es mi niña.

my baby
mi hermana

my wife
have you seen her?
this face? esta cara?

when you fit the profile of a predator’s prey
you can’t help but take the crimes personally

I am a symbol of those who survive.
mouth open in defiance of their silence
spared by a line in the sand
drawn between their grandfather
and mine
and if that line had fallen closer to home
somewhere between you and I
who would I be?
what would my worth be then?
and if silenced who would speak for me?

Amalia Ortiz is a Tejana actor, writer, and activist. She is the author of Rant. Chant. Chisme., which was named one of the “10 Great Latino Books” by NBC News. This poem was also included in the Rethinking Schools book by Bill Bigelow, The Line Between Us: Teaching About the Border and Mexican Immigration.