UO

Silence and Gendered Violence in the COVID-19 Pandemic

As Guatemala and the US have been under strict “stay at home” orders, the displaced, deported, detained, those awaiting asylum hearings, and those hoping to flee violence have seen their vulnerability skyrocket. 

The New York Times cited a sharp uptick in domestic violence globally, but in Guatemala, gendered violence reports have decreased significantly. This is not because violence has actually reduced, but rather because women have been silenced. 

For indigenous and other women in Guatemala who have experienced violence – whether at home, work, in public, or their communities – there are fewer places to flee to. 

While Guatemala is under curfew orders and stay at home decrees, the few shelters that existed were shut down. Complaints filed about violence against women fell by over 75 percent during the first two weeks of the quarantine.

Guatemala’s Indigenous Women and Gendered Violence

Last summer, with my research colleague Dr. Erin Beck and local indigenous collaborators, I carried out focus groups with indigenous women on their strategies when confronted with gendered violence. Those who shared that they would not go to the police, local officials, or local justices – often because of terrible past experiences – nevertheless said that they would seek help from local NGOs, churches, friends, or relatives. In some cases, they would seek help from a women’s organization in the regional capital.

Now, under lockdown orders, women cannot leave their homes, let alone make the trip to the regional capital. “Shelter in place” and strictly enforced curfews cut off these forms of support and access to assistance.

In Guatemala, as elsewhere, the ordinary, every-day obstacles to formal and informal support and justice for survivors of gendered violence are even more sharply amplified.

Fleeing Home

As of June 30, 262,548 Guatemala immigration cases are pending in the US, primarily for asylum. Many of them are indigenous women. Immigration courts have been closed to most cases since early April. 

For indigenous women in Guatemala unable to report violence for a variety of reasons, and those awaiting asylum in the US unsure about work, their ability to procure food and housing, the spaces of literal and embodied incarceration have multiplied in the pandemic.

Indigenous women from Guatemala and elsewhere have been fleeing their home countries in increasing numbers in the past decade. The complex series of circumstances that produce high levels of migration, together with COVID-19, extend the detention experience of women refugees in many spaces in their lives.

 Even after being released from ICE detention, the electronic tracking bracelet marks them as deportable in all contexts: in public spaces, when walking around town or putting their children in school, and as they are shopping.

In the past few months, the US has begun emptying detention facilities by deporting people directly back to their country of origin. The US has deported people to Guatemala who tested positive for COVID-19, making them possible targets of violence again in their own country and deporting the virus with them.

Role Models

Orders to shelter in place in the US greatly limit access to medical care, work, social services, and immigration courts for hearings for indigenous refugees. The pandemic has extended the incarceration of indigenous women refugees in many forms.

Practices of elimination of indigenous peoples link the US and Guatemalan states to histories of genocide, invasion of indigenous lands, extractivism, and militarization. American foreign policy from the 1950s to the present has supported these ongoing processes in Guatemala and is now coupled with immigration policies that seek to eliminate access to asylum for Guatemalan indigenous refugees and many others from around the world.

These histories and policies come together in the bodies of indigenous women refugees such as those I study and work with and for.

As role models for the rest of us, however, they continue to persevere and build survival strategies – evidence of strength, resilience, and creativity.

Lynn Stephen, Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Philip H. Knight Chair.

This opinion piece was originally published here in The Globe Post.

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Friday, July 10th, 2020 Human Rights in Guatemala No Comments

Spring 2020 CLLAS Notes, Part 3

Climate change effects on tropical cloud forests and coffee farms: a social-ecological study

By Adriana Uscanga Castillo

Adriana Uscanga Castillo visited a tropical cloud forest in the Chinantec region of Mexico to study the effects of climate change on small-scale coffee farms.

My field research centers on the Chinantec region in the Mexican state of Oaxaca. This region harbors one of the most biodiverse tropical forests in the country. This landscape is a mosaic of large patches of cloud forest embedded in a matrix of coffee plantations and maize plots which, along with the capricious topography and the cultural and socioeconomic history, create a complex socioecological system. Four communities of the Chinantec region are organized collectively in a forest conservation project known as Comité de Recursos Naturales de la Chinantla Alta (CORENCHI), which has carried out actions that over time have resulted in greater forest cover in the area.

I conducted initial fieldwork in this region in September 2019. My main objective was to establish connections with Chinantec community members and CORENCHI, as well as to evaluate the feasibility of my project and the interest or lack thereof that local people could have on the effects of climate change. The Tinker Field Research Grant helped me to accomplish the following particular objectives: (1) visit three communities in the Chinantec region that are involved in CORENCHI: Santa Cruz Tepetotutla, San Antonio del Barrio, and San Pedro Tlatepusco; (2) Introduce myself to CORENCHI’s president and to other members of CORENCHI; (3) document information about smallholders’ experiences in relation to agricultural production, especially concerning coffee, forest conservation, and climatic changes; (4) determine the most convenient ways of transportation, lodging, and eating in the area for future research stays.

Arriving to the Chinantec region all the way from Eugene involved several flights, buses, and a local special transport that runs among towns in the mountain range and must be booked in advance. I was lucky to be accompanied by a local guide that has worked in the region for several years now and knows people from the community, as well as the best means of transportation. During my stay in the region I met the president of CORENCHI, went to the main office in each community to introduce myself, and talked about my intention of doing research in the region.

Besides talking to the local authorities and asking for permission to conduct my research, I had the opportunity to visit some of the coffee farms, the patches of conserved forests, and maize plots. I was surprised to see how people manage to grow coffee and annual crops in such steep slopes. Although one of my objectives was to talk to coffee producers about their perspectives on climate change and their strategies for climate change adaptation, other topics seemed more important to them which drew our conversations into other matters.

Some topics that came out recurrently were, for instance, problems with the coffee rust and the international price of coffee. This finding resonates with research showing that small-scale coffee farmers are usually more concerned about problems directly related to yield and price, and less so about medium- to long-term problems, as climate change is currently considered. I also found that local people are interested in knowing about the carbon stocks and biodiversity present in their coffee farms, and realized that data about temperature, precipitation, or streamflow is not available at local scales.

These findings have shaped my work moving forward. First, the fact that climatic data is not available closed the possibility of assessing climatic changes at local scales. However, other interesting options arose, like assessing changes in carbon stocks. Furthermore, I realized that learning about the current effects of anthropogenic climate change will probably require a different approach than simply asking whether temperature and precipitation have been changing and affecting people’s lives.

Understanding climate change effects and people’s adaptation strategies requires an approach rooted in daily living experiences. Regardless of whether I will be able to assess this last point, doing fieldwork last summer was fundamental for clarifying the feasibility and scope of my project and to broaden my understanding of the small-scale coffee farmers’ reality in the Chinantec region.

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About the author
Adriana Uscanga is a PhD candidate in the Department of Geography working in the Soil-Plant-Atmosphere research lab. She’s interested in the ecology of tropical landscapes and her research focuses on the interaction between land-use change and climate change and their effects on tropical montane forests. Adriana is currently studying carbon and water relations in cloud forests and coffee farms in Mexico.

Winter-spring Events Recap

By Feather Crawford, CLLAS Events Coordinator

While 2020 started with a full event calendar for CLLAS, unpredictable and unprecedented conditions brought dramatic changes for all of us. Here are some highlights.

On January 21, we hosted the CLLAS Winter graduate student colloquium, Gender and Sexuality in Latin America in the Knight Library Browsing Room. Jon Jaramillo, from Romance Languages, spoke about gendered minority community formation in Chile and Argentina, Polet Campos-Melchor, from Anthropology, spoke about LGBTQ+ migrants on the U.S.-Mexico Border and their strategies of love and survival, and Emily Masucci, also from Anthropology, spoke about gender-based violence and justice in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

In mid-February, CLLAS collaborated with the College of Education to host Bilingualism: Myths Abound!  At this exciting event, students, community members, and educators packed the Gumwood Room in the EMU to share in the expertise of faculty researchers from the College of Education and the Department of Linguistics. Check out the PDFs of their presentations at https://cllas.uoregon.edu/bilingualism-myths-abound/and learn more about their research related to bilingualism at all stages of the lifespan.

On February 20, David J. Vázquez, UO Associate Professor and Head of Department of English and recipient of the CLLAS Latinx Studies Seed grant, gave a presentation of his research, entitled Decolonial Environmentalisms: Race, Genre and Latinx Culture. Professor Vázquez analyzed environmental representations in contemporary Latinx literature and culture that include decolonial and anti-racist forms of thought as well as environmentalism. But then our programming suddenly ceased for two months as we all adapted to the COVID-19 crisis.

By late-April, CLLAS began hosting virtual events on Zoom; this new medium has worked especially well for our final two graduate research colloquia. On April 30, 2020, faculty and graduate students from across campus attended Gender and Climate Crisis in the Americas. Holly Moulton, from Environmental Studies, spoke about the way women in the Peruvian Cordillera Blanca experience their proximity to dramatic ice-loss in that region of the Andes and Adriana Uscanga Castillo shared her research on small-scale farmer’s vulnerability to climate changes in the Chinantec Region, Mexico.

Our Gender and Climate Crisis in the Americas graduate research colloquium, conducted via Zoom, was attended by faculty and students from across campus.

On May 26, in the final colloquium, entitled Politics and Justice in the Caribbean and Central America, Alberto Lioy, in Political Science, spoke about rapid political change and the 1994-1998 story of political collapse in Costa Rica and Carla Macal Montenegro discusses mourning and the search for justice for the 56 Guatemalan girls who were lost in the fire at Hogar Seguro Virgen de la Asunción. All four graduate students who shared their research over Zoom gave powerful presentations and benefited from robust Q & A and discussion with their virtual audiences!

CLLAS rounded out the academic year with two more successful virtual events. The Latino Roots Celebration drew almost one hundred guests on June 3 (more below) and showcased exceptional student work. Our final event on June 9, Remote Research: Sharing Ideas for Domestic and International Research During the Pandemic, was moderated by Professors Erin Beck (Political Science), Audrey Lucero (College of Education), and Lynn Stephen (Anthropology) and graduate student Emily Masucci (Anthropology) and featured important resources and ideas for carrying out research in the era of COVID19. The Zoom video and chat for this event can be accessed from the CLLAS website at https://cllas.uoregon.edu/remote-research-sharing-ideas-for-domestic-and-international-research-during-the-pandemic-2/.

Latino Roots

Guitarist Ricardo Cárdenas performed at our virtual Latino Roots celebration on June 3.

The fifth Latino Roots Celebration took place through Zoom on June 3, 2020. Students of the Latino Roots I & II courses presented their ethnographic documentaries to peers, faculty, staff, and community members.

The virtual events included:

  • Guitar music by Ricardo Cárdenas
  • Remarks by UO President Michael Schill, PCUN Executive Director Reyna López and Latino Roots students Emily Chávez Romero and Jackson McCormick 
  • Symbolic deposit of work in the library with Mark Watson-Interim Dean of Libraries
  • Screening of documentaries and websites in Zoom breakout rooms

Professors Gabriela Martínez (SOJC) and Lynn Stephen (Anthropology) developed the courses Latino Roots I and Latino Roots II a decade ago. Latino Roots I focuses on giving a theoretical, documentary, and ethnographic understanding of the processes of Latino immigration and settlement in Oregon during the past 150 years. Latino Roots II teaches students how to produce a short video documentary from oral history interviews.

To view student documentaries and learn more about the Latino Roots courses and the traveling educational Latino Roots exhibit, please visit https://latinoroots.uoregon.edu/

CLLAS to Host Symposium on Languages and Diaspora in Spring 2021

CLLAS will be hosting its third symposium during spring 2021. The tentative title of the symposium is “Languages on the Move.” The focus will be on linguistic diaspora, indigenous languages, other forms of language (i.e music, audiovisal-films/TV/other), and the politics of language in the Americas. The symposium will be a 1-2 day event during week 4 or 5 of spring term next year.

CLLAS is still working on the details but panel topics may include:

  • Languages in the Pacific Northwest
  • Encountering linguistic diasporas in Latin America
  • Other types of language – music, visuals
  • Political discourse
  • Borders
  • Education

CLLAS would also like the event to have a space for student research and engagement. Other potential activities include music and connections to art. The coordinating committee is Audrey Lucero from the College of Education, Monique Balbuena from the Honors College, and Gabriela Pérez Báez from the department of Linguistics. Please check back on our website at cllas.uoregon.edu for updates as next spring approaches.

2020-21 CLLAS Grant Recipients

CLLAS congratulates its graduate and faculty 2020-21 grant recipients, listed below.

Summer Graduate Research Grant Awards:

  • Polet Campos-Melchor, Anthropology: “LGBTQ+ Migrants: Demystifying Love and Survival in Ciudad Juárez.”
  • Lola Loustaunau, Sociology: “The hands that feed us: analyzing the experiences of migrant Latinas in food processing.”

Graduate Field Research Grants in Latin America:

  • Lindsey Romero, Counseling Psychology: “Sanando las Heridas del Pasado: An Examination of Trauma Healing among Peruvians Post the 20-Year Period of Violence.”
  • Annalise Gardella, Anthropology: “Visibility, Risk, and Violence: Face-to-Face and Online Organizing among El Salvador’s LGBT Organizations.”
  • Alejandra García Isaza, Prevention Science: “Parenting through adversity: Barriers and facilitators of parent engagement among Buen Comienzo families.”

Faculty Latinx Studies Seed Grant Award:

  • Audrey Lucero, Associate Professor of Critical and Sociocultural Studies in Education: “Languaging While Comprehending.”

Faculty Research Seed Grant Awards:

  • Stephanie Wood, Director of the Wired Humanities Project and Research Associate at the Center for Equity Promotion: “Visual Lexicon of Aztec Hieroglyphs.”
  • John Arroyo, Assistant Professor in Planning, Public Policy and Management: Book project: “Shadow Suburbanism: Mexican Immigration, Urban Change, and Place in Greater Atlanta.”

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Monday, July 6th, 2020 Publications No Comments

Spring 2020 CLLAS Notes, Part 2

LGBTQ+ Migrants: Strategizing Love and Survival at the U.S.- México Border
by Polet Campos-Melchor

For eight weeks during summer 2019, Polet Campos-Melchor crossed the U.S.-Mexico border daily on foot as part of her CLLAS-funded research project. This photo captures her first time crossing the border. Photo by Ingrid Leyva.

During summer 2019, I conducted ethnographic research with Indigenous and Afro-Indigenous Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT+) migrants in Ciudad Juárez, México. As part of my research, I asked my interlocutors questions about their experiences and motivations. I documented their migration process, observing both the uncertainty and the constant threat of violence that LGBTQ+ migrants face daily. I also took note of the survival strategies that they were using and how they understood survival. Each one of my interlocutors said love motivated them to continue their journey to the United States despite its many risks. 

Throughout my fieldwork, I crossed the U.S./ México border daily. For eight weeks, I worked with LGBTQ+ migrants in an LGBTQ+ centered shelter in Juárez. About a week into my fieldwork in Ciudad Juárez, I met Esperanza, the Rarámuri, and Mennonite “mother” of the Pink House. As I walked through the streets of Calle Hospital, I saw a bright pink house with a rainbow and a trans flag hanging from the roof. Esperanza, a tall, pale woman with nineties-styled rolled bangs and warm brown eyes greeted me. She, along with recently arrived migrants, runs the house as a safe space; on many nights, residents dress and perform pasarelas (fashion shows) freely. Before meeting in person, we had spoken on the phone twice. The process of making this contact was circuitous. I was introduced to Esperanza via a contact from Las Cruces, New Mexico – an on-the-ground volunteer who received my information from a member of the El Paso LGBTQ+ center where I was volunteering. Esperanza is a well-known member of the LGBTQ+ community, and her goal is to keep LGBTQ+ migrants off the streets and get them into homes where they feel safe and welcome.

The Pink House, an LGBT+ centered shelter in Juárez. A large rainbow and trans flag are on display at the house. Occasionally, the flags are used as dresses for pasarelas (runaways). Photo by Polet Campos-Melchor.

During our initial interview, Esperanza told me that all her local friends in the LGBTQ+ community had passed away. She is motivated by the loss of her friends from the AIDS epidemic and has committed herself to serve and protect her community. But, she mentioned, ongoing transfemicides are difficult to tolerate. “Migration is a situation of life and death [for us],” she said.[1] Each time a trans woman is killed in Ciudad Juárez, the authorities call her to see if she can identify them. Love, as articulated by bell hooks, emerges as a tool for establishing kinship, relationships of mutual trust, survival, and obligation.[2] 

Esperanza created the shelter as a form of caring and providing security for trans women. Today, the Pink House is the only shelter in Ciudad Juárez created by and for the LGBTQ+ migrant community. Esperanza not only provides a home for the community, but is also a witness in accounting for transfemicides in Ciudad Juárez as well as accounting for the whereabouts of the trans women who pass through the Pink House and into detention centers. Esperanza’s testimonies provide witness accounts of the ongoing injustices committed against trans women; she shows up for the dead regardless of her relationship to them. 

My research takes place amidst ongoing racial, political, and humanitarian crises at the U.S.-México border. The support from my advisor Dr. Ana-Maurine Lara, the Tinker Foundation, and CLLAS has allowed me to conduct research that maps LGBTQ+ migrants’ experiences and works towards how they articulate survival strategies and love, expanding beyond only the imaginary into tangible strategies of survival. Through community organizing, LGBTQ+ migrants are bringing visibility to the LGBTQ+ community in Ciudad Juárez.

A line to cross the U.S.-Mexico border from Juárez. During Campos-Melchor’s research, it sometimes took her 3-5 hours waiting to cross into the U.S. Photo by Polet Campos-Melchor.

References

[1] Esperanza. “Esperanza Parte II.” Interview by Polet Campos-Melchor. September 4, 2019.

[2] bell hooks. All about Love: New Visions. 1st ed. New York: William Morrow, 2000. Print.

About the author

Polet Campos-Melchor is a second-year graduate student in the Anthropology Department whose research focuses on the U.S./ México borderlands with interests in love, the continuities of colonization, Black, Xicana, and Native feminisms. Her Master’s research explores how LGBT+ migrants in Ciudad Juárez articulate survival strategies and love. Her PhD research analyzes how love can be re-conceptualized as a survival strategy in the context of migration. 

CLLAS News & Updates

Maria Fernanda Escallón, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, was recently awarded an NEH Fellowship to fund completion of her book, tentatively titled Excluded: Black Cultural Heritage and the Politics of Diversity in Colombia. Fernanda Escallón also recently published an article on “Rights, Inequality, and Afro-Descendant Heritage in Brazil” in the journal Cultural Anthropology. Additionally, her article “Negotiating intangibles: the power, place, and prestige of NGOs in heritage governance,” was published in the International Journal of Heritage Studies in December 2019.

Carlos Aguirre, Professor of History, co-authored an article that was published in late 2019 in the journal Revista de la Biblioteca Nacional de Uruguay. The article was co-authored with Augusto Wong Campos, and is titled, “Mario Benedetti y el internacionalismo literario: Casa de las Américas, el Centro de Investigaciones Literarias y la serie Valoración Múltiple (1967-1976).” Additionally, Aguirre received the 2020 Presidential Fellowship in Humanistic Studies from the UO to fund his research for the upcoming academic year, on “The Inner History of the Latin American Literary Boom.”

Audrey Lucero, Associate Professor & Doctoral Program Director of Language and Literacy Education, has received a Faculty Research Award from the UO Office of the Vice President for Research & Innovation. The grant will fund a project titled “Crossing Borders: Perspectives of Transnational Students in Oregon High Schools,” wherein doctoral student Bobbie Bermúdez Bonilla and I will distribute a survey to approximately 300 Oregon high school students from immigrant families, and conduct focus groups in four parts of the state to better understand how high schoolers who identify as immigrant or transnational young people construct their identities, and how these identities influence their social and educational high school experiences.

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Wednesday, June 24th, 2020 Publications No Comments

Latinx Studies Minor Announced

The Indigenous, Race, and Ethnic Studies (IRES) Department recently announced the addition of a Latinx Studies minor for undergraduates. Laura Pulido, head of IRES, says, “We were delighted to learn that the Latinx Studies Minor was approved earlier this month. A large group of Latinx Studies faculty from across campus have been working to ensure that the minor is ready to enroll students in the fall and to begin developing ancillary programming and student opportunities.”

We at CLLAS look forward to finding ways to partner with the new minor to engage undergraduates in research opportunities. Check back with IRES as fall approaches for more information. https://ethnicstudies.uoregon.edu/

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Wednesday, June 24th, 2020 Academic Courses No Comments

CLLAS Celebrates DACA Decision

CLLAS celebrates the Supreme Court’s decision in favor of DACA. This is very good news for all UO DACA students, DACA-Oregonians, and others across the country.

This decision provides a glimpse of hope and fresh air in these times of policies that are divisive and hurtful to people. Even when it seems that progress takes two steps back, today we can say that we have move at least one step forward. DACAmented people and their allies will continue to push for a path to citizenship. Meanwhile, let’s celebrate this moment that comes at very trying times for our nation.

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Monday, June 22nd, 2020 Dreamers, News No Comments

Spring 2020 CLLAS Notes, Part 1

Editor’s note: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve moved our newsletter online for this edition. This is the first of three newsletter installments to be published over the next several weeks.

Director’s Letter
by Gabriela Martínez, CLLAS Director

As I write this, I’ve been stranded in the highlands of Peru since mid-March when two days after my arrival the government closed all of the country’s borders, suspending domestic and international commercial flights and inter-departmental land transportation, imposing a curfew, and giving the police and the army control of streets and roads. Peru is one of the countries in the region that began responding early to the crisis; however, for weeks it has been suffering a rapidly rising number of cases. Although COVID-19 has touched all social strata, still the most affected are people living in shantytowns, and in large working class and populous areas where the living conditions tend to be substandard and people subsist by working in the informal economy. Thus, this population doesn’t have a safety net allowing them to shelter in place for weeks or months.

At the beginning of the academic year CLLAS got off to a great start launching its new two-year theme (2019-21): “The Politics of Language in the Americas: Power, Culture, History, and Resistance.” Throughout the fall and winter the line-up of research and creative events filled rooms to capacity, attracting undergraduates and graduate students, faculty, staff and extramural members of our community. You can read more about fall events in our fall newsletter here (insert link). Winter term ended with the arrival of the unprecedented pandemic COVID-19, which has impacted CLLAS operations as well as that of our entire campus, our state, the country and the world. We had to recalibrate everything we do, and change most plans we had in place for the rest of the academic year and beyond.

Although CLLAS has continued its operations remotely, and has successfully held its research grantees presentations via Zoom, our new grantees setting out to do research over this coming summer are going to be limited due to the restrictions caused by the pandemic. Some researchers may not be able to travel abroad to their sites of study, thus most will need to conduct research through virtual platforms instead of in-person. This situation is no doubt causing anxiety, as there are many uncertainties facing the future. CLLAS remains supportive and we have changed some of our policies for grantees given the circumstances, for example, some will be able to defer the use of funds beyond this summer and potentially until the next academic year or next summer. Others will conduct research locally or remotely.

There seems to be no corner in the world unaffected by the pandemic, and millions of people around the world are suffering the multiple consequences of it — illness, death, loss of jobs, serious economic hardship, among others. In Oregon the Latinx population remains disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and its consequences. This is principally due to the structural racism in the state (and the country) where there are systemic disparities. Much of the Latinx population lacks access to healthcare, has no job security (much less jobs that can be done remotely), and many live in small houses or apartments, in some cases, with large families or sharing the space with multiple roommates to cover rent.

The pandemic has made social and economic disparities all over the world more salient. It has shown how broken the public health systems are in a large number of countries, including the United States. Existing social, economic, political, and racial gaps in the US have become exacerbated and deeper due to this health crisis. However, we should always remain hopeful that our societies can change with the will of the people and with citizens claiming changes through voting. Now we need more than ever an ongoing civic participation.

Finally, I want to say how proud I am of all students from the Latino Roots course who have shown resilience and commitment. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, our students were able to produce significant work, adding their documentaries and multimedia work to the Latino Roots digital repository administered by CLLAS and UO Libraries. This new addition raised the number in the collection to 82. This work is more important than ever given the times we live in where open racism and anti-immigrant policies and sentiments are harming our society.

CLLAS rejects racism and the violence that this generates against people of color. We should always remember that the richness and greatness of this nation was (and continues to be) built on the backs of Black people and immigrants of color, mostly Latinx and Latin Americans.

I wish everyone a healthy and restful summer! And may health and life conditions improve for all in the US and around the world regardless of race, religion, and nationality!


“Fue el Estado!:” Justice for the Guatemalan Fifty-Six Girls and Embodying Emotional Geographies

By Carla Macal Montenegro, PhD Candidate in Geography

Altar of the 41 girls located in Central Park Guatemala City Zona 1. This altar was taken apart by city authorities after two years on September 11, 2019 to make space to celebrate Guatemala’s independence. Feminist organizations created a new altar to continue commemorating the memory of the 41 girls.

Guatemala is home to the Maya, Garifuna, and Xinca people, as well as Ladino and European settlers. It thrives with cultural traditions, delicious cuisine, and beautiful landscapes. Guatemala is also a colonized territory and experiences ongoing land dispossessions and exploitations by imperialist powers such as the United States and Canada. Colonization in Guatemala has generated race, class, and gender inequalities, from structuring a system of patriarchy that normalized gender roles based on power dynamics and domination. Due to this system, indigenous women are still rendered invisible and subjugated to domestic care roles. A tragic component of this inequality is the high number of femicides in the country. From 2001 to 2011, 5,000 women and young girls were murdered in Guatemala with less than four of the cases resulting in a conviction (Stephen, 2015).

As a Guatemalan woman living in the Global North, I feel a deep sense of responsibility to share the stories of Central Americans experiencing the ongoing violence of colonial imperialism (Speed 2019). On March 8, 2017 Guatemalan people responded to state oppression and demanded justice for the fifty-six girls. Forty-one were burned to death at Hogar Seguro Virgen de la Asunción, and fifteen survivors are physically and emotionally injured. Hogar Seguro Virgen de la Asunción located in San José Pinula, Guatemala is a state-operated shelter for adolescents identified as “troubled youth.” Families trust this shelter as it promises good caring conditions for their children.

However, on March 7, 2017, a day before the fire, a group of girls ran away from the shelter due to cases of rape, sex-trafficking, inadequate food, and physical abuse. The shelter authorities punished the girls by locking them into a room to the point of causing the death of forty-one girls ages twelve to seventeen. This tragic story enabled me to ask the following question:

How are feminist organizations in Guatemala responding to state level gender-based violence?

With the support of a graduate student research grant from the Center for Latina/o and Latin American Studies (CLLAS) I embarked on my first ethnographic field work during the summer of 2019 to conduct preliminary research for my studies. I identified 8 Tijax and MuJER, two organizations that are entrenched in the work against gender-based violence leading me to do a comparative study.

8 Tijax is a small volunteer collective that began providing support to the families of the fifty-six girls. They support the families with different roles such as hospital accompaniment, social work, journalism, and advocates of justice for the girls. I was able to interview all of the collectives’ participants in addition to one of the mothers of one of the girls. They shared how their work is to humanize and highlight each of the girls’ stories. As one of the participants’ shared, “Within deep pain, love is born.” She mentioned how they do this labor of love to amplify the truth and to valorize each of the stories. 8 Tijax has created commemorative altars to aid in the perseverance of public memory and even an international campaign #NosDuelen56 as a tribute to all the girls who were inside the shelter.

MuJER is the second organization I approached to interview and compare the work on gender-based violence in a formal setting. The director of the organization shared that they identify as a community-based organization providing services to women facing domestic and sexual violence. The organization’s main campaign is to provide a safe space for sex workers by providing skillsets they can use to generate different sources of income. MuJER is one of the organizations in Guatemala helping to advance gender equity and is part of a feminist network. One of the best moments during my field work was when they invited me to provide a natural deodorant-making workshop for the women in the organization. I provided the materials and shared with them a step-by-step natural deodorant recipe. We were building community as well as reciprocity.

From the interviews I made the connection that MuJER could potentially provide emotional support to the mothers of the girls. In addition, both organizations were deeply connected emotionally with the people they were supporting. Compassion was demonstrated by eating a meal together or applying on each other a calming essential oil during the interviews. Embodying emotional geographies throughout the interactions with the participants abolished the feeling of being an outsider. Instead we were weaving feelings of solidarity and sisterhood.

References

Speed, S. (2019). Incarcerated Stories: Indigenous Women Migrants and Violence in the Settler-Capitalist State. The University of North Carolina Press

Stephen, L. (2015). Gender violence and female indigenous Guatemalan refugees. Department of Anthropology, University of Oregon. Pp. 1-27

About the author

Carla Macal Montenegro is a PhD student in Geography at the University of Oregon. She is studying the interconnections between borders, migrations, and feminist geographies. She is an educator involved in a pedagogy of liberation. She enjoys reciting social justice poetry with 3 Generaciones and Sin Fronteras group. Carla is also the creator of Ixoq Arte, an herbalist self-preservation project to reclaim ancestral indigenous knowledge. She was raised in East Los Angeles and was born in Guatemala.


 

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Access the above link for giving to the Center for Latino/a and Latin American Studies Gift Fund. Online gifts may be made using the form available at this link; all gifts are processed by the University of Oregon Foundation, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization responsible for receiving and administering private donations to the University of Oregon.

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CLLAS Common Reading Brunch with author Helena María Viramontes / Photos by Mike Bragg / Courtesy of the UO Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art

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