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Convocation with a Cause

On February 28, the Women’s Studies department provided students with a convocation meant to impart knowledge about a little-known topic. Barbara Martinez Jitner came to Berea as part of her nationwide speaking tour to educate students about “maquiladoras” on the US-Mexico border.

Jitner spoke with students about maquiladoras and femicide in Mexico.

A "maquiladora" is a factory that imports materials and equipment on a duty-free and tariff-free basis for assembly or manufacturing and then re-exports the assembled product-- usually back to the originating country. Jitner also promoted the new film “Bordertown,” soon to be released in theaters, which stars Jennifer Lopez and Antonio Banderas. The full length feature was produced by Jitner and was loosely based on her own documentary, parts of which she shared with those in attendance. The film “Bordertown” is the story of a young woman who fell asleep on the bus going home from work. She was abducted, raped, beaten and left for dead but survived and made her way to safety. “Bordertown” is the dramatization of her story; she was lucky, but for many other women the ending is not as happy.

Jitner's documentary and presentation focused on “femicide” and the “maquiladoras." Jitner stated that by 2006, 450 young women were abducted and killed in Juarez, the border town which holds more than 1,000 “maquiladoras.” Out of those murders not one person was ever charged with a crime.

Thousands of women walk home from work every night in a region famous for human trafficking and drug cartels. Many of the women abducted were sold into sex slavery or were used to harvest organs. No one has ever been held responsible and the government denies that there is even a problem. After so many innocent women were abducted, the citizens of Juarez formed a group of volunteers called “Our Daughters.” The group of volunteers walked the region to try and find clues from their disappeared loved ones. They are the ones responsible for finding almost all of the bodies.

Jitner decided to travel to Juarez and work in a “maquiladora” to uncover the truth behind the factories. She stated in her presentation that women there were being paid third world wages but had to pay first world prices to survive. “A gallon of milk cost the same there as it does here; the only difference is that they get paid fifty cents an hour," said Jitner. She also stated that the women were soldering electrical wires for hours with no masks to protect their faces and many become disfigured.

In her documentary, Jitner also follows a young woman living in a shanty town outside of Juarez. Eva Conseco had to leave her family’s farm land to find work because of new taxes imposed by the government. She walked over an hour just to catch the bus to her job, then worked in horrible conditions for eight hours, and then walked an hour from the bus back home.

At the end of her program Jitner asked that all in attendance go to the link below and sign a petition for the women of Juarez. The petition is directed to the President of Mexico and urges him to do something about the murders in Juarez, as well as Ciudad and Chihuahua.

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