Painted back to life
By Ada Mbogu
The story of the abductions, sexual assaults and murders of poor girls working in the factories of Juarez, Mexico was showcased in a documentary directed and produced by Mark McLoughlin.
Mc Loughlin, a journalist and sound engineer, held a private screening of his documentary entitled “Blood Rising” at University at Albany’s Recital Hall on Tuesday Sept. 30.
“Blood Rising” profiles Irish artist Brian Maguire, walking around the streets of Juarez and painting portraits of the victims to not only keep the memories of the murdered girls alive, but also to provide solace to the mothers of the deceased young women.
The murders first took place in 1993, but even 21 years later, the victims’ mothers and families have seen little justice within the Mexican government.
“Only two–– percent of these murders have been investigated, while many charges have been dropped over the years,” said Dr. William Rainbolt, a retired journalism professor who played the role as moderator throughout the entire screening.
The importance of making this documentary was to provide a voice for those victims and their families who have lost loved ones in these tragedies.
“Art has become the last weapon available to them to fight the drug cartels, and to raise awareness about what’s happening in the city of Juarez,” said Rainbolt. “The mothers of the femicide victims in this city have been abandoned by their government and have urged Brian to bring their stories to the international community.”
“Blood Rising” began with Maguire showcasing one of his portraits of the slain women and his process on how he was able to execute the painting.
“When I was painting the picture, I was contemplating the men who killed her, and what they were like” said Maguire.
Maguire first read about the murders back in 2006, but over the past five years he notices that the killings had become more severe, with the surge of the decapitation of women and even a baby taking place.
The documentary illustrated that the people in Juarez were living in fear, especially young and poor women. Over the past three decades approximately 1,400 young women and children have been murdered and many more have disappeared.
Maguire acknowledges that the femicide killings follow three distinct patterns.
“First, many of these women were abducted and raped and then their mutilated bodies were found in dumps at the edge of the city,” said Maguire. “Secondly, relationship killings have increased with the killers being the husband or the boyfriend. Finally, revenge killings, which occur within the drug cartels and involve shooting and murdering families and children.”
The lack of response from the Mexican government regarding the femicide cases raised issues of the mistreatment of women in Mexican society. Poor women especially were seen as disposable objects to men and the drug cartels, and the factories in Juarez became their hunting grounds.
“My first impression of how the government here handling these cases were that the factory workers didn’t matter,” said Maguire. “As the number of murders increased, there were no arrests being made and the truth was never revealed.”
The testimonies of the mothers of the femicide victims became a focal point within the documentary. Maguire traveled to several mothers’ homes in Juarez and interviewed them about the details surrounding their daughters’ murder, how they are dealing with the injustice and lack of support from the government and most importantly, how they are coping now that their daughters are gone.
“I wanted my children to have a valuable life,” said Elia Perez Escobedo, the mother of Erika, who was 29 years old when she disappeared while going to work at the factory and was later found at a body dump site, where her body showed signs of rape and torture.
Bertha Alicia, mother of 17 year old victim Brenda Berenice Castillo Garcia, acknowledged that
she was very close to her father and gave birth to her son one month before she disappeared.
Brenda disappeared in 2009 and her body wasn’t found until four years later.
The documentary explored the barriers the mothers’ faced in order to seek justice for their daughters. In response for their diligence, many mothers’ received death threats and some have even been killed.
“My sister Rubi was killed by her boyfriend and he was acquitted of all charges,” said Juan Ernesto Maciel, who was the older brother of the victim. “The government did not do anything and my mother was killed because she was trying to fight them for justice.”
Throughout the documentary, Maguire gives the self-portraits of the deceased daughters to each of the mothers and families. The portraits serve as a token of their daughters’ legacy, as well as a symbol of bravery and courage for the mothers finally sharing their stories to the world.
“I know that we have shown respect,” said Maguire, as he hugs Elia tightly and walks away. The screening concluded with a question and answer session with the audience inquiring more information about the making of the documentary, the issue of femicide in Juarez and how the public can get involved with the cause. Marisela Ortiz Rivera, mother of one of the femicide victims, was in attendance and provided an in depth account of her struggles to seek justice and why “Blood Rising” is a great platform for the women of Juarez to vocalize their opinions.
Speaking only English, translator Pamela McNamara was able to get Rivera’s point of view across to the audience.
“This documentary involves real people and real souls,” said McNamara. “The mothers and I have turned our sorrow into a fight and now we are going to continue to put pressure on the Mexican government until we have justice.”
Mc Loughlin urged the audience to get in touch with the Mexican Ambassador of the United States to see that fight stays active.
“We have gotten a huge response from viewers who have seen the film,” said McLoughlin. “Now we are in the process of starting a social media campaign to create a platform for the public to get involved with the cause and in order to tackle the Mexican government and hold them responsible. “
“Blood Rising” captures the voices and raw emotions of the victims’ mothers’ while igniting a new form of activism.
“The documentary explores the concept of artistic activism by using paintings, self-portraits, and even language to combat injustice and corruption,” said Diana Aldrete, a visiting professor of the Language, Literature and Cultures department at UAlbany.
As the rest of the world is catching on, the mothers of Juarez are ready to fight for justice for not just women, but also for their children affected by the femicide killings. Organizations such as HOPE are educating the children who have lost mothers to violence, to not be a product of the rough Juarez environment.
For Rivera, the children are the future and what keep her motivated. “When you see the faces of the children who have lost their mothers and you see their pain, I can’t help but to keep pushing forward.”