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Mujeres Unidas Honors US-Mexico Border Deaths During Dia de los Muertos

Mills College Weekly

This November, Mujeres Unidas decided to take a political angle
in celebrating Dia de Los Muertos by honoring the men and women who
have died on the U.S.-Mexico border because of border enforcement
policies and practices like Operation Gatekeeper and the continuing
unsolved murders of women in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.

“This year, we wanted to bring light to the issues of the
Femicides in Juarez, and to Operation Gatekeeper. Not many people
on campus are aware of the issues,” said Lisol Velazquez, a
sophomore and Co-President of Mujeres Unidas.

The honoring of the victims began last week when students placed
pink and blue ribbons around the trees that line Richards Road, and
began creating a makeshift cemetery on Toyon Meadow with stakes
bearing victims’ photographs and information on wooden

The process ended with an event on Tuesday night where students
gathered to build an altar in Mills Hall to remember loved ones as
well as those who have died on the border, which has increased by
500 percent since Operation Gate Keeper began in 1994.

In an effort to bring attention to the murders in Ciudad Juarez,
students, faculty, staff and alumni spent an hour in the College
Chapel honoring the deceased with a reading of some of the
individuals’ names. Over 4,000 women have gone missing in
Juarez since 1993 and nearly 400 of them have been found mutilated,
raped, tortured and murdered after being kidnapped from the city
center in broad daylight.

The students were inspired to draw attention to these deaths
this semester in part because of the new perspective brought to the
club by Ethnic Studies visiting professor Jose Palafox, said Daisy
Gonzales, the club’s other Co-President.

Palafox, a Ph.D. candidate at University of California at
Berkeley, is teaching a course in the department on the U.S.-Mexico
Border and has published numerous articles that critically analyze
policies such as Operation Gatekeeper. In a lecture that took place
at the Faculty-Staff Lounge last Wednesday, Palafox discussed how
border policies like Operation Gatekeeper have led to the deaths of
over 3,000 migrants deaths since the beginning of the operation in
1994. As many critics of this operation have noted, these new
border policies have not stopped undocumented immigration but
merely pushed migrants out of the public view and into harsher
terrain in the desert, said Palafox in his lecture.

“The principal perpetrators of this violence are state
actors… who make these deaths invisible,” said
Palafox. “Those who create the policies that lead to migrant
mortality on the border and to the killings in Juarez further
dehumanize them by putting the blame on the victims themselves
without looking at the larger structures of violence that lead to
deaths on the border. And so these deaths become silent

“We have to fight the racism, misogyny, and imperialism
surrounding their lives and deaths. We seek justice for those who
cannot be heard,” said Maria Dominguez, a jjunior.

Alma Garcia, a College reference librarian, responded to the
event on Tuesday night with an appreciation for the club’s
efforts to bring attention to the two issues. “It’s
hard for me as a mother to think about how the Juarez mothers must
feel not to have their daughters ever return. We need to do
whatever is in our hands to give justice to them.”

Many students have reacted strongly to the visual
representations of the deaths of individuals on both sides of the
border. These can be seen as soon as students drive onto campus and
walk between Mills Hall and the Tea Shop. “I think it’s
great that people are taking on the responsibility of informing the
community,” said Shanna Foley, a sophomore.