Despite the limitations of my College curriculum and concentration requirements, last semester, I managed to make time in my schedule to take Professor Kirsten A. Weld’s expansive seminar on the history of modern Mexico. We traveled back to Mexico’s colonial period, then to its independence and the tumultuous aftermath that paved the way for the Revolution in the 20th century, ending in modern-day border politics and drug organizations.
It was a rude awakening. Mexico had always been a beautiful paradise to me, with its ancient sun and mighty temples, whose watching skies led the monarchs to their autumnal home. I was told that I descended from those who built floating cities and guided the dead. We were chosen by gods. We found the eagle perched on the cactus devouring a snake. We communicated with the celestial bodies.
But the modern truth of Mexico is one of disgrace, displacement, and dismemberment.
The number of women dead at the hands of male violence has risen to epidemic levels. Femicide plagues Mexico. Every day in 2020, at least 10 women were murdered — around a third of them for their gender. The femicides only pile up higher as the years pass: From 427 reported victims in 2015, to 940 in 2020, to 1,004 in 2021, femicide has seen a 135 percent increase, with nearly one in five female homicides occurring in the home. These numbers are haunting; yet, these rates are most likely underreported, given the inaction of the Mexican government, which has failed to search for at least 20,000 women who are still missing.
Dehumanized in comparison to men, women are subject to significant violence at home. Men beat, rape, and murder their wives, daughters, sisters, mothers, and neighbors. This displacement of women’s humanity is not a uniquely Mexican invention; it is inherited from colonization by the Spanish with their masculine modes of domination. Slaughtered and tortured, Indigenous communities were dominated violently. In order to leverage any small amount of power under subjugation, Mexican men adopted the patriarchal violence that rendered women second — perpetrating European modes of domination toward their own people.
Such aggression is continuously encouraged at psychological, physical, and cultural levels against women, dismembering not only their bodies but also their selves. Even in communities where women do not fear physical harm, they are often denied the agency of their personhood. In many states in Mexico, women are legally or culturally barred from abortion and education. The gender wage gap grows significantly. Even when women manage to enter the workforce despite the obstacles, many soon come to find themselves punished for pursuing motherhood. Indigenous women receive the brunt of this gendered violence, facing domination in language, land, and labor. The personhood of women is continuously made a shadow in the colossus of the man.
The lore of La Virgen, La Malinche, and La Llorona further recognizes the cultural echoes of violence against women. A woman: immaculate, daughter of Eve, mother of Jesus, whose image was impressed upon the cloak of then-peasant Saint Juan Diego as proof of her most holy existence. A woman: traitor, lover of the white man, mother of the Mexican, whose back faced her sorrowful brethren as she forcefully sought mountains of gold with the steel-plated man. A woman: wailer, ghost of vengeance, mother of dead children, whose own children she drowned after her white lover abandoned her.
The Mexican woman is expected to be pure like La Virgen, yet a passive subject of violence like La Malinche, all while suffering in perpetuity like La Llorona. Chingada, “fucked” in Spanish. Chingar, “fuck” in Spanish. Chingón, “macho man” in Spanish. The writing is on the wall about the behavior of men towards women: It is an act of violence from men that turns into an act of violation for women.
This is not an indictment of Mexican men. They, too, have suffered beneath the violent colonial modes of domination. It is a call for help, an echo of the work being accomplished in Mexico today by women and other organizers alike. While women are being killed and the world watches, mothers and families are mobilizing in their name to unite the body and self once more, to return humanity to women and demand the end of violence against them.
Violence is not unknown to women in the United States of America. But it would be historically inaccurate to claim that white women are subject to the same violence that non-white women are, today and in the past. When I look around at the women at Harvard, I see mostly white. They are strangers to the violence happening in Mexico — the violence happening to women like them, but not like them.
I ask myself why my sisters are not worthy of their mercy. I write this piece standing in front of a grave of murdered Mexican women, whose deaths bear heavy on my hesitating soul. I dedicate this Hispanic Heritage Month to these women, documenting their humanity to the world with the words of this piece.
End all violence against women, in Mexico and everywhere else. My mothers, sisters, daughters, and neighbors: Rest in Mercy.
Brian Baltazar Pimentel ’23, a Crimson Editorial editor, is an English concentrator in Eliot House.
This piece is part of a focus on Hispanic authors and experiences for Hispanic Heritage Month.