Dr. Rafael Luevano Discusses Woman-Killing in Juarez at the Chapman Visiting Scholars Series

The Chapman Visiting Scholars Series returned to the Nicholas Academic Centers on Saturday, October 20, with Dr. Rafael Luevano’s lecture about violence against women in Juarez, Mexico. The lecture, which revolved around Dr. Luevano’s research for his recently published book, Woman-Killing in Juarez, challenged students to think critically about social problems on a local and global scale. Moreover, because Dr. Luevano is a theologian as well as a professor, he examined not only the socioeconomic and political aspects of the tragedy, but also the spiritual responses of those who have suffered in its wake.
To open the lecture, Dr. Luevano shared his experience of growing up in Santa Ana. Although he has travelled the world, earning a Licentiate degree from the Gregorian Pontifical University in Rome, as well as a doctoral degree from Nijmegan Catholic University in the Netherlands, Dr. Luevano notes, “I grew up in Santa Ana, [and between] Chapman University, St. Joseph’s [Hospital], and the Catholic cathedral, I can walk my whole life in about ten minutes.” The anecdote closed the distance between Dr. Luevano and the students, which allowed the students to more openly join in the discussion.
After briefly sharing his personal background, Dr. Luevano expressed how he, as a theologian, contributes to the larger conversation concerning world events, in this case the current crisis in Juarez. “I talk about a historical crisis, something that’s happening in Mexico, but I use my Catholic faith to try to understand it.” He adds, “There’s a major moral issue here. There’s a crisis [involving] politics, money, and all of those things, but as a theologian who looks at ethics, morals, and what’s going on, that’s the contribution that I can make.”
Dr. Luevano first became involved in the crisis in Juarez while reading the paper one morning in 1993. “In 1993, I was reading the paper, like normal. Nothing had happened, and there was just this tiny, little article in The Los Angeles Times, it was about three or four lines, and it said that five or six women had been killed in Juarez, Mexico.” Then, Dr. Luevano mentioned his epiphany. “I was sitting there, and I lifted up my head… and in that instant, my life changed. Something happened to me; it grabbed me very deeply inside of me, and from that moment until the present, every day I’ve looked at the newspapers, and every day I’ve followed these stories.”
Nearly ten years after he first learned of the killings, Dr. Luevano travelled to Juarez. While he was there, Dr. Luevano met with friends and family of victims and missing women, and he visited many of the sites where the bodies of women had been found. During the lecture, students saw several pictures that Dr. Luevano had either taken on site in Juarez or that he had collected from outside sources. Among the collection were images of various memorial sites, missing person posters, partial remains of discovered bodies, drawings of patron saints used by cartel members, and the factories where many of the women worked. While the images evoked a range of responses, NAC student Jackie Martinez said the images, especially of the dead or missing women, made her “angry”.
After spending nearly two decades researching the woman-killings in Juarez, Dr. Luevano has linked a number of factors to the tragedy, two of them significant. The first, the implementation of NAFTA, allowed several large businesses from the United States and Canada to open factories, or maquiladoras, in Mexico, eliminating most of the tariff trade barriers, and opening a floodgate for cheap labor. Because of its centralized location, which is ideal for shipping purposes, Juarez became a hub for new factories, as well as a cheap labor hot spot; thousands of laborers, or “invasiones”, migrated to the city, and the factories mostly hired women, under the notion that they would be more easily controlled. At the same time, drug cartels took advantage of the new “open” border, and Juarez also saw an increase in the narcotics industry. As the power of the drug cartels grew, increasing their stranglehold on local politics and law enforcement, the city of Juarez became progressively unsafe, especially for the women commuting to and from the factories.
The killing of women in Juarez has become significant enough to earn the label of “feminicide.” According to the Guatemala Human Rights Commission, “Feminicide is a political term. It encompasses more than ‘femicide’ because it holds responsible not only the male perpetrators, but also the state and judicial structures that normalize misogyny.” One of the reasons for indicting the state includes its “toleration of the perpetrators’ acts of violence,” or a failure to “protect the rights of women.” Interestingly, much of this “tolerance” stems from communal paralysis, wherein fear overrides any notions of retribution. Dr. Luevano notes that the killings have had a profound effect on the community of Juarez, and that most people are too afraid to counter the violence.
Dr. Luevano offered a step towards a solution: Solidarity. To illustrate the concept of solidarity, Dr. Luevano encouraged all of the students to hold hands. Soon, the students found themselves connected, holding hands in a web of outstretched arms. Dr. Luevano commented, “This is what solidarity is. We’re all human beings, and no matter what religion, or what we are, or how old we are, or who we are, when you are suffering, it puts you in contact with your deepest part of being a human… and when you see somebody else suffering, it puts you in deepest contact with your suffering.” According to Dr. Luevano, many of the friends and families of the women killed in Juarez often find support by forming relationships with others who are familiar with their suffering.
To close the lecture, Dr. Luevano asked all in attendance to name something they are thankful for. Some students mentioned they are thankful for having been born while others were thankful for the relationships they’ve formed with fellow students at the NAC. Dr. Luevano mentioned that he was thankful for having the opportunity to spend time with the students, and said, “You are such an inspiration.”
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