Good evening and thank you for inviting
me to share with you my thoughts on gender and sexuality at the
You will be hearing from my notes
from a work-in-progress titled (**). Although my intended paper
is much longer, today I will be focusing on three parts. First
I want to share with you some stories of the workers I have met
through my research and face-to-face contact with maquiladora
workers at the Mexican Border.
I will be introducing you to some of the individuals who
are volunteer activists with an organization called the Comité
Fronterizo de Obreras/os (CFO), which has its main offices in
Piedras Negras, Coahuila (next to Eagle Pass, TX) Through some
of their experiences I hope to give you a glimpse of the conditions
and challenges they face as workers and organizers for social
justice in the maquiladora industry.
Next, I will tell you a little about what it means for
me to engage in feminist critical legal theory, drawing a little
from the written research I have already published in which I
analyzed the intersection of immigration law and free trade publicy
policy (i.e., NAFTA) border, using the voices of women workers
to illustrate the industrys operations and to identify the
problems that arise from a gendered human rights perspective.
Third I want to make a short commentary on a theme I have
called sexualterrorism, anti-terrorism and the global economy,
and to use the film we have just viewed (Señorita Extraviada)
as a background to my criticism of the current governmental stance
in promoting more of the global economy and free trade policy
along the lines of NAFTA as a remedy for terrorism, while ignoring
other pernicious forms of terrorism, that are distinct
byproducts of the globalized economy, including systematic
violence against women.
Let me first explain to you how I
met some of these worker who volunteer for the CFO. In the winter
2000 I published a hefty law review article called Voices from
the Barbed Wires of Despair: Women in the Maquiladoras, Latina
Critical Legal Theory and Gender at the U.S. Mexico-Border. That
summer I returned from a visiting professorship in Chicago to
my home in Austin, Texas and began to give some thought to finding
a way to produce a sec ond part to my research project in which
I would begin to focus more intensely on not just the operations
of the industry form a gendered labor perspective, but from angle
that would look at the health impact on workers.
Before too long I learned about a
newly formed activist group that was taking people to the Mexican
border to meet maquiladora workers and learn about the global
economy in Mexico. I jumped on the opportunity and
was able to join the group at the last minute; my bilingual Spanish-English
abilities became an attraction for including me on the ride.
Once there I met not only a number
of fabulous people who seemed committed to educating the broader
public, including open-minded U.S. allies, to their cause for
justice in the maquildoras. I learned that while the CFO was
not a union that it often engaged in union type organizing activites,
although it worked with a methodology that I found interested.
For one it relied on the pedagogical techniques familiar
to anyone who has read Paolo Freires Pedagogy of the Oppressed,
that is it depended upon the worker learning first about her rights
and then passing on that knowledge directly to other workers who
would feel empowered to know they were not along. Second, while the workers would
become familiar with the laws of Mexico that are designed to protect
them against abuses in the industry, knowledge of the law is not
deemed enough. The CFO stresses community and
solidarity and doesnt make a move under the labor laws without
a sense that there is true unity among the workes for an action
to be takenmeaning that they understand that the risk of
opposing say, an obstructionist and corrupted union, may mean
they will lose jobs, be blacklisted, be harassed, etc.
That first weekend of visiting the
CFO was a very powerful experience for me.
My research had come to life.
In fact I met a person whose testimony at international
human rights events had been published and that I had used in
my own article. I
was sold on the importance of forming solidary relationships with
these people. I went
back very soon, this time with permission
and invitation to interview many workers who were eager
to tell me their stories. That weekend I met Paty, a young woman who when I met her had
three children, had been an activist for about 8 years and who
I always remember because of the emotionalism that overwhelmed
the both of us when I asked her to detail some of her earlier
experiences as a maquildora worker. During the interview she cried
as she recalled that the stress of the long work hours, without
even a break for the bathroom (unless it is on the companys
schedule) had caused the miscarriage of her first child.
It was a memory that hadnt been recovered in many
years. I also met two sisters, both of whom had been fired by
Dimmit Industries, which made jeans sold in the U.S., who described
to be how even the appearance of questioning of authority by workers
can become the basis of an uncalled for layoff or firing.
Raquel also told me of the time she developed a serious
bladder infection because of the policy of so many companies in
not letting workers go the bathroom when they feel their bodily
urges. So she learned
to control it so much that she had lost all sensibility in that
part of her body and as a result had developed a serious infection.
Another worker I met that weekend,
Juany came from a large family.
Very poor and originally from a rural background.
Juany described herself as someone whom when she met her
first CFO volunteer was so shy and so intimidated by authority
figures in the workplace that she wouldnt even lift her
head, wouldnt look someone in the eye and only knew total
and complete submission and deference.
Today Juany is a powerful voice and a leader activist.
In a reunion last fall with U.S. allies, a group that even included
some lawyers from Austin, Juany astounded a number of us in the
group with her ability not only to identity the relevant portions
of the labor law that should help a group of workers who had been
scapegoated in the post-9-ll layoffs, but also in her ability
to argue against the expected position the employer was likely
For example, Maria Elena from Reynosa,
who was 27 years old when I interviewed her gave me a most graphic
illustration of the kinds of health problems that can arise from
exposure to toxicity in a maquiladora and from failure of the
employers to care enough to provide them with safety gear. She once worked for a predecessor
of TRW, making thousands of seatbelts per day.
She began her job at fifteen.
Her job entailed her cutting the same kind of part to a
seat belt all day long. Literally thousands, and as fast
as she could. During
the interview she pulled off her white socks and showed me the
scars on her feet that were left overs from the mysterious infection
that had emerged on her exposed feet at seventeen.
By this time she had worked for the company two years.
The infection got so bad that it was pre-gangrenous and
the doctor warned her that she had to leave the environment that
was no doubt causing the problems in thiscase the exposure
to the fine dust particles filled with some chemical that was
damaging her skin.
OTHER EXAMPLES MAYBE --Amparo
who exemplifies the migrant who comes from extreme poverty
and moves north in search of work she was sexually abused
by her father; then beaten when she got pregnant; had her baby
alone in conditions she would best describe as hardly a livable
home. Has raised two boys on maquiladoras wages: Has lost
jobs and will continue to lose them for organizing but she is
committed to the struggle to educate others
Juanita whose answer to my
question about the health impact told me about the time
the chemicals on the worksite caused an infection on her finger
that would not heal the Seguro Socials answer- why
dont we just amputate the finger _ she ran out crying; left
the job and healed it with home remedies after several months.
Juan Pablo, who was fired for being
an activist maybe because of his gayness; he found acceptance
among the CFO; he tried to cross the U.S. to experience the greater
openness on sexuality: but found Dallas to be much too hostile
to immigrant workers and after a year got on a bus back home to
Piedras Negras. ]
The commonalities for all these workers
is in their working conditions and pay as well as a number of
other environmental factors that affect their work on a daily
basis earnings of about 25-35 U.S. dollars per week, depending
on the employer, 10-12 hour workdays, harsh supervisory methods
that are infused with arbitrariness and capriciousness, toxic
environments and continual threats to health; sexual harassment,
sexualized favoritism Very little about the system is
set up to respond to workers needs, whether it is exposure
to toxic chemicals or adequate safety gear to prevent injuries.
Some workplaces operate like fiefdoms- supervisors have
absolute control over the workers hours and can mark them
up for insubordination if they question the rules of the workplace
in any way. As a
result organizing for rights invokes a grave risk. When CFO volunteers first
talk to workers in their homes it is not unusual to discover that
the workers do not know that they even have rights.
The most common frustration that is likely to turn the
worker into an activist is an acute injury or a long-term illness
that they cannot get attended to in the Seguro Social. The attitude of the employers (and often union representatives)
is that if the worker is unhappy they can head for the
door because hundreds wait in line for a job, no matter how poorly
cannot emphasize enough how the treatment of the workers and their
health injuries resulting from these working conditions evoke
the image of a total dehumanization of the worker.
She or he is nothing but a commodity to be used up.
(Mention that Norma Iglesias Prieto
first documented the conditions;
see her work: La Flor Mas Bella de la Maquiladora
How I relied on her work because it had a feminist perspective. But I found need to talk about
law and public policy so began the project of doing my own interviews
thus Voices Project II; began to talk to workers of the
situation with Paty, that of miscarriages on the worksite is too
common. That of Juanita
and her medical conditions is even more common; workers complain
of guts and gashes because they dont have adequate safety
gear; the impact on the children
child labor is rampant; the law says don;t hire them
before 16 but over and over the workers tell me that they started
at l4 and l5 and they just acquired a false birth certificate.
Amparo tried to get her children
out of the system put them through school as long as she
could; made sacrifices. But eventually her older son,
who wanted to be a commercial artist couldnt stand to see
his mother go without eating to feed them. So he quit school and
started working in a maquiladora.
II. LATINA FEMINIST CRITICAL LEGAL
I look at law and public policy through
lenses of gender. I continue to be focused on women in the maquiladoras
because it is a place where the borders of race, class, age and
sexuality meet. For a few years now, critical
race feminists have been arguing the value of the intersectional
perspective ; the work I have done is just that; a holistic view
of gender that is inclusive; sensitive to the variety of factors
that define a personal identity; a perspective that allows me
to deconstruct the abstract concepts in law, public policy and
political discourse (e.g., free trade, the global economy,):
My mission is simple to humanize
the discourse give a face to the impact of NAFTA.
Using Gender as a Category of Analysis I have
argued in my study Voices from the Barbed Wires of Despair
that the problems at the U.S.-Mexico border
that have expanded under NAFTA can be understood by looking closely
at the maquiladoras for their impact on women's lives. Many
other perspectives, such as economic class, or racial attitudes
could also be used as the starting point of analysis.
I use the gendered lens to be critical of how law, culture or
society constructs meaning to the relations between the male and
female sexes, or explains how and why they are different from
each other. My use of gender seeks to
be totally inclusive;
that how those differences between male and female are viewed
affects in turn how a society or culture distributes power and
resources. In a gendered and patriarchal world or culture
this distribution is usually unequal.
unequal distribution, women's differences from men are often used
to justify lower pay, second-class citizenship, objectification
of women's bodies, sexualized harassment and abuse of girls and
women, etc. In essence it is a devaluing of the female in
relation to male, or of the feminine in relation to the masculine,
women to men, girls to boys, etc.
a gendered lens, in my view, is to look at persons identity
with holism, or holistically. That is, with sensitivity to intersection
factors such as race, class, age, sexuality and culture, from
which the analysis can benefit greatly with the use of narratives,
drawn from the experiences of women who work or have worked in
the maquila industry. The use of gender at the Mexican border,
for example, allows the researcher to inquire, what
role does gender play in explaining any alleged forms of oppression
in the maquiladoras? Why, for example is it a matter of
recorded history and contemporary fact that women have been so
heavily represented as "ideal workers" in the maquiladoras?
How does the working women's gender, and the Mexican or
Anglo attitudes about their class, their sex, their gender role
expectations or their race affect their treatment in the factories?
How does gender intersect with race, class, sexuality, age,
and culture to explain the paltry wages that most maquiladora
workers are paid? Are there specific ways in which a female
maquiladora worker is treated that one would never expect of a
male maquiladora worker? What expectations do factory ow
ners or supervisors have of working women in the maquiladoras
that they do not have of men, and why? Is the
treatment universally bad and less about gender and more about
poverty and race or class, or does providing a gendered view give
one additional reasons to critique the whole enterprise and alliance
between government, investors in Mexico and multinationals in
the U.S.? At root, I think of using this kind of perspective
as broadening any concept of engaging social justice theory with
critical practice (i.e. "praxis").
B. Using gender as a category of
at work with Mexican patriarchy - The Mexican woman's gender
role is one where she is traditionally viewed as dependent on
men and one who has little experience in the working world, and
thus with making demands for better pay, or better working conditions.
Many Mexican working women interviewed internalize these
attitudes, speaking of factory owners preferring women "because
men created more problems for them." Meanwhile plant
managers believe them to have special qualities as workers stating,
for example, that "females are much less tolerant of mistakes,
poor quality, whatever."
at work with sexist ageism -
Factory owners prefer to hire young Mexican women in the
factories because they are easier to manipulate and exploit. Job
security is equated with allowing herself to become the object
of sexualized attention and with invasions of her privacy. The
"Miss Maquiladora pageant" for example, encourages women
to curry favor from the bosses and supervisors with sexualized
and stereotyped conduct for "ladies." Not surprisingly,
such behavior is viewed as the anti-thesis of an angry and frustrated
worker who seeks to unionize her co-workers and demand better
pay, a healthier and safer workspace or.
and pregnancy discrimination - One extreme example
of gender differences explains a particular form of abuse by maquiladora
owners in the practice of mandatory pregnancy testing for new
and current employees. The
irony of the pregnancy tests, which often include not only "surprise"
urine testing but also examination of menstrual pads to prove
that a young workers isn't pregnant, is that to this day, the
industry seeks out young women as workers because of their "natural
ability" to engage in delicate, fast, repetitive and monotonous
work. At the same time a young woman is more likely to show
interest in dating, getting married and getting pregnant to have
a family. Consequently, the female body is both a benefit to the
employer because of its youth and strength and ability to be put
to work and it is a burden because of its potential for fertility
and motherhood and the facts of life that will interfere with
the industrys demand, especially in a boom period, for a
24hour production schedule.
III. SEXUAL TERRORISM, ANTI-TERRORISM
AND THE GLOBAL ECONOMY.
Now, obviously someone who has an
interest in examining the working lives of women in the maquiladoras
cannot escape the question of Mexicos role in the globalized
economy. This portion of my paper
seeks to bring together an an analysis of the post-September 11th
rhetoric of global economics as an answer to terrorism
throughout the world and to question the relationship between
the two from a gendered and human rights perspective.
This is not an easy analysis because the overwhelming sense
I have had in talking about this issue is that people dont
want to talk about it. There is so much emotionalism and romanticization of the
destruction of the World Trade Center and the thousands who lost
their lives on that day that the rhetoric of patriotism
eliminates the possibility of questioning the policies and the
answers that our current administration is currently proposing
to handle anything from the Middle East Crisis to the threat of
another lurking terrorist attack of massive destruction.
But let us think for a minute about
what it means to participate in the global economy.
I have been told we cannot escape it.
And so this means that we allow for the further expansion
of multinationals whose agents trot throughout the world in search
of new natural resources either to mine, or places where products
can be assembled more cheaply than what it would cost to do the
work for union wages on domestic soil, if you imagine that whether
it is to bring cable TV or microwaves or to new markets, or make
them want to buy a McDonald French fry or watch a subtitled version
of Disney movies, then we have to think of globalism as having
global subjects women, men, children, indigenous populations,
workers, communities, rivers, lakes, etc.
I think it is clear that if in fact we cannot escape globalization
then we cannot escape the need to come up with everything from
the good, to the bad to the hope and the possibilities embedded
in a socio-political-economic reality of living in a globalized
world. It is clear
that we do not have yet a critical theory of globalization. There are no strong voices right now that would advocate
for the global subject.
If anything what we have is strong voices in the current
administration, as witnessed by President Bushs recent trip
to El Salvador and Peru, that would advocate more globalization,
and that would characterize the forging of those economic alliances
with other countries as an answer to global terrorism.
The Question of Terrorism
I have been thinking a lot about
the meaning of terrorism because the word has overwhelmed contemporary
discourse and is always on thetip of the tongue of our current
roots of terrorism it is often believed, lie in the rage and despair
that come from the wide gap between those who have and those who
dont. The dictionary meanings describe it as either the
act of terrorizing; as a system of government that governs by
intimidation; as a systematic effort to use terror to overthrow
No, I happen to find it ironic that
the U.S. is taking this lead in the world
on getting rid of terrorism. And that the Bush administration
is trotting around the globe, selling the message of free trade
to countries like El Salavador, where we have a sordid history
of alliance with terrorists who killed hundreds of innocent people
and whose murderers were kept in power and strengthened with the
U.S. military and the School of the
Americas. But we dont think of that
kind of terrorism when you enter into a current conversation about
terrorist activity what we think of is evil Arabs who destroyed
hundreds of peoples lives here in New York and destroy frequently
the lives of innocent Israelis. Some argue with me saying that
terrorism of that kind poses a threat to the safety of others
and that a global problem requires a global answer.
But since when have we guaranteed peace to all as a result
of our economic polices in other countries.
Whose battle is it? Peace and Safety for whom? Hundreds and thousands die day
in and day out around the world and many do so because other forms
of terrorism that we dont think about, like economic terrorism.
Like the policies that tell a country, accept the financial
policies of the World Trade Bank and Organization or die.
Yet the current discourse has us believing that there is
only one kind of terrorist to worry about .. That is the socially
constructed image of a brown man who is an undocumented illegal
with fundamentalist beliefs. He is defined as someone different from the average
American citizen who has no respect for American values,
who is daring to enter our neighborhoods, eat in our restaurants,
and use our public facilities (post office) for destruction.
But no one ever thinks of the terrorist as wearing a blue
suit and nice tie from Nordstroms or Nieman Marcus who forces
upon governments free trade agreements in the name of economic
recovery without caring about the consequences of that design
on the workers who will be essential to the success of that new
version of global economics.
The Other forms of Terrorism Economic, Domestic
and Sexual Terrorism.
NAFTA is currently being sold to
the countries of Latin America through what is being called the
Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). It will mean an expansion of the many duty free privileges
for the investor as well as the investor protection parts of the
agreement that create a right to sue any signator government for
interfering with the promised and anticipated profits of the foreign
investor in that country. Chapter 11 is that provision
in NAFTA and it is a powerful tool. It can hamper the democratically founded actions of a government
that seeks to pass an anti-pollution law or from acting on a policy
that by the corporate investor is deemed tantamount to expropriation
and therefore the stripping of future profits. (If You regulate and I get hurt economically you pay).
(The Metaclad example San
Luis Potosi- governor said, you clean up this dump first; local
authorities said, dont build here until you clean up; U.S.
company welre going to build and well go to the federal
A recent public television program
by Bill Moyers captured the problem well
it described Chapter 11 as a fraud and lie to America
what it does is give the foreign investor protections that are
triggered by the phrase tantamount to expropriation
The criticism is simple -- this is nothing but the
undermining of democracy and an unprecedented boon to corporate
investors the whole idea that a corporation should be guaranteed
profits in an economic venture, when gambling is at the heart
of venture capitalism is ridiculous.
Yet our President goes traveling around the world selling
democracy. Meanwhile the free trade agreement
being sold by this democratic and powerful country of ours actually
mocks democracy, literally interfering with the
power of a government to respond to the concerns of its citizens
that a certain product is harmful and dangerous;
it heeds not at all that these investor protections may
actually cripple a government with millions of dollars in damages
which could be used for health and welfare but that must now be
used to pay a corporation for its loss of anticipated profits
It is well understood that at the
heart of NAFTA and the proposed FTAA is a marriage of the principles
of capitliam and neoliberal economics; a kind of effort to make
governments more efficient and less socialized in
nationalizing its services and resources by allowing business
to take over. In
Mexico that has led to the destruction of the communal agrarian
system known as the ejido. So when the members of the economic
forum get together their goal is to pound out those provisions
for expanding the markets engaged in free, unregulated, trade
throughout the world. To some it is nothing but the
infusion of government with corporate philosophy; the ultimate
coup by the economic conservative to make government more efficient.
(Give me your governmental programs and Ill make
them turn a profit. Conservatives
have been speaking this line for a long time and now they have
it down to a science. )
The market economy is no guarantor
of success and profits; its all a gamble, while to those
who work in the industry it is sometimes the only means of livelihood.
Mexico has sacrificed much to have foreign investment.
In abandoning the ejido it abandoned its indigenous populations
and farmers. It has
contributed to the rebellion and the feelings of betrayal by rural
peasants and indigenous (e.g., the Zapatistas) who charge rightlythat
the conquest of the indigenous peoples and the genocide of their
cultures has continued after 500 years, despite the Mexican Revolution.
Of course the argument is made that
in fact the only means for Mexico to enter the First World will
be to expand foreign investment. Whether it is the talk of policy analysis or foreign investors
the maquiladoras continue to be seen as a boon. The theme runs in the background of the film we just saw
you dont touch the maquiladoras.
So no matter what is happening with the consequences of
Ciudad Juárez going out of control with economic expansion, it
is still seen as the answer to Mexicos economic woes.
Economic conservative President Vicente Fox continues to
encourage the foreign investment and to open up the borders, an
issue that has become more difficult to sell given the intense
focus on militarizing the border even more to prevent terrorism.
Yet is clear that the whether investments
are at the border or in the southern tips of Mexico in Mayan lands,
the industry we know as the maquiladoras is not designed to help
the worker; it is designed to help the foreign investor.
Neither NAFTA nor NAFTA on steroids as FTAA has been called
is designed to help workers acquire a living wage, no matter what
the rhetoric says in the agreements. (E.g., although the North American
Agreement on Labor Cooperation NAALC
incorporates the promise of compliance with international
labo norms, there is widespread lack of enforcement
with health and safety issues is rampant;
E.g., cities like Cd. Acuna (next to Del Rio, TX) ; the
mayor promises - there wont be unionizing
in this town to bother you; of course, he is a shareholder in
the company that leases the land to the investors;
because when you have government and investors in bed with
each other its easy to pay off the elected union leaders
and the voice of the worker is going to be lost. The final obvious problems are
detailed in the human face of NAFTA I have previously described;
womens bodies being made essential to the success of such
industries, conditions feminizing poverty, oppression being highly
gendered, some of the violations of the law rising to the level
of human rights abuse. Thus
it hasnt surprised me at all that post September 11th,
that maquiladora workers who I stay in touch with through the
CFO in Mexico also lost their jobs in this economic recession. They would be the first to go because they are most likely
the ones who are targeted for work activism.
Add to this the militarization of the border and you have
situation at the Mexican border that is ripe for abuse as factories
close, workers lose jobs and there is more and more desperation
to cross into the U.S., only to be faced with intensely militarized
crossing points and inducements to risk life and health in crossing
through other more dangerous areas.
Let us remember, as we see in Ciudad Juarez or any other
city along the border, that these industries represent the puls
of the economic interdependence between the U.S. and Mexico.
When we do well so do the workersrelatively. El Financiero,
just reported that 239,000 jobs had been lost
simply in the maquiladora sector. When youre talking
about 1 million workers thats nearly a 25% unemployment
rate in that sector alone. Workers who dont have it
good to begin with earning non-living wages, working 10-12 hours
per week, being exposed to toxic chemicals in the workplace because
of inadequate safety gear, accidents like cuts and gashes are
I find it quite amazing to see the
naivete of the American people as new
laws are being passed and new agencies are being created
to ensure our national safety without any consideration
for how these new security measures are likely to affect our civil
rights and liberties.
Personally, I do not see a happy answer to terrorism in
the global economy. It fits too neatly with another rhetoric about increasing
methods being used to secure homeland security without
any concern for the trampling of civil liberties. But the lessons
of history remind us that there have been other times of crisis
and that crisis often invites rash judgment, reaction and poor
decisions in the making of policy and law.
(E.g., Korematsu and Japanese internment camps!)
Yet we are all being lulled into
this sense of were taking care of you with news
reports of the latest measures being taken for homeland security
by the linkages being forged now between the CIA, the FBI, the
Homeland Security Office, and the Secretary of State. I worry about the propaganda of national security that banks
on anti-immigrant attitudes which can be especially exploited
with the image of a lurking terrorist in our neighborhoods, sending
coded messages to linked computers that provide data of flight
patterns or train schedules. It is the kind of rhetoric
that makes it easier not to question the new legislation that
is very problematic from the standpoint of civil rights and liberties.
Consider for example that the Patriot
Act provides for a host of measures that should worry the civil
libertarian. For exampe, the sneak and
peak provisions that would allow for you e-mail and mine
to be tapped without notice, your telephone accounts to be examined,
your bank accounts scrutinized; all with no notice; unless of course, the investigators find something and then
you can invoke your rights under the self-incrimination clauses
or get yourself a good lawyer.
Whether it is in changing the role of law enforcement and
its access to computers and computer use, authorizing pen registers
and trap and trace devicing, broadening the definition of foreign
intelligence information, allowing the collecting of domestic
intelligence without the legal restrictions associated with domestic
law enforcement (e.g., due process, notice, Miranda rights), expanding
the use of wiretapping, or delyaing notification of a citizen
that her home might have been the subject of investigation, we
have a loosening of the standards for domestic surveillance that
is contrary to other laws that were put into place because of
historic abuses (e.g., Watergate).
In the name of terrorism we have policymakers crying out
for more intelligence (why didnt we know they were going
to do this?) but not crying out enough for balancing the need
for preventive investigation with the protection of civil liberties.
The usual safeguards to protect our constitutional rights
were simply given up in the name of national security, with no
real sense that the new laws will in fact do any better of a job
in helping us prevent terrorist activity.
As a matter of policy I do not support
the rhetoric of globalism as a remedy to anti-terrorism because
I distrust it. In my opinion, the same philosophical
approach that would allow a corporation to undermine democracy
by suing a government because it passes an anti-pollution measure
(e.g., NAFTAs Chapter 11), would also allow a government
to sneak and peak at my personal e-mails in order to target me
through guilt by association as a potential terrorist. Thus, because the voices of dissent are in the minority,
or dont have the powerful connections to government that
are the privilege of the corporate lobbyist, we have seen their
voices repressed, as was witnessed a year ago this week in Quebec,
when the Canadian government simply built a four foot wall with
a chain link fence to keep out the peaceful protests of feminist,
labor, environmental and human rights activists at the latest
of the economic forums designed to expand the pro-free trade agenda.
What this means is that the anti-globalism
individuals might be identified as being pro-terrorist and that
the unleashing of this philosophy of anti-terrorism is really
an unleashing of domestic terrorism on our civil rights and liberties.
I think the voices Zapatismo captured
the ironies of the pro-globalism rhetoric well.
At least in Mexico it translates into a program that is
not designed to respect difference but rather to homogenize it;
it is designed not to accept the expression of dissent but instead
to squelch it and to label the organized who are oppressed as
the terrorists. At
least in Mexico the economic philosophy that gives rise to globalism
creates both economic and domestic terrorism by engaging in cultural
genocide, destroying the identity of the indigenous by turning
it over to private investment, and thus destroying a relationship
to the land upon which their history is etched including the history
of their Conquest. Their
point being, of course, that
500 years later the indigenous are still being conquered
Yet, U.S.A. economic and governmental
elites try to convince themselves that what we do is export
freedom and democracy, or loans and financial aid only
to those who tow the WTO line.
To do this however, they have to be in denial over how
much of our wonderful package of Red, White and Blue freedom and
democratic political theory rests on the foundation of erasing
important parts of history of cultural genocide, whether on Native-American
soil here or on other parts of the Western Hemisphere and a they
have to deny that current efforts to globalize the economy is
part of the same historical pattern.
It may not be imperialism but it
certainly may be a new form of empire at least a reorganization
of power throughout the world that has empowered the multinational
to do government and life for us. Whether it is subsidiary factories
in Mexico, or the Yucatan region, or in South America or East
Asia the function
is same -- to exploit resources, to multinationalize
means to homogenize (e.g., McDonalds or Disney everywhere)
or to be selective in the differences celebrated, thus turning
anti-terrorism into a programmed view of the world on glitzy media
channels that exclude the voices of difference and dissent.
3. Sexual Terrorism.
My final comments are about the sexual
terrorism that is also a definite byproduct of promoting more
global economics as an anti-terrorism remedy.
Women of course, have been key to
the expansion of the global economy.
Whether seen in my own work or studies elsewhere, female
labor is key to the success of corporations who invest internationally.
Women who experience multiple subordination, however, are the
most oppressed national minorities. For the women in the maquiladoras
we are talking about interlocking oppressions seen in the conditions
of their families, the lack of adequate nutrition, shelter, health,
employment civil liberties violations in not being able to speak
out against the abuses, being stripped of reproductive rights
and violations of their sexuality.
The sacrificial female body.
I want to argue that free trade agreements
like NAFTA have nurtured sexual terrorism at the border.
Because so much of the global economy thrives on the exploited
labor of women , the body of the working poor woman is
a sacrificial victim. Gender attitudes make them ideal employees
but also perfect victims. I am no longer shocked at how young a worker may tell me
when she started working. I am still shocked at young some of
them are when I learn of the permanent disability they might have
acquired from working in the factories. I have been more disturbed
at the parallels between the ages for recruitment of the young
women to work in the factories and the youth and association of
the victims of the unsolved murders with work in the factories.
As essential is her body to the success
of the profiteers her voice is deemed unimportant and unessential;
my work then is about trying to give voice to the threats to her
health and safety, to get people out of their complacency
and to bring awareness to what is happening just minutes
or hours away from some homes in the U.S.
This is a challenge that is even presented here in El Paso,
where there are people I hear who have never set foot in Juarez
and no knowing of the lives of the people who live minutes away
The courage of filmmaker Lourdes
Portillo is in saying to the viewer, see what is there and
see how these workers, these victims of the murders are so close
to us because of the work they do. They assemble the products you
and I will buy from a favorite market; their blood, their sweat
and their grief is a part of the item you have have in your household.
One cannot see this film and not
ask Why? Why arent both governments
doing more? There are obviously many possible theories and answers. Whether it is the intensity of
the organized crime in Juarez, the inefficiency of the law enforcement
agencies, the lack of resources to investigate, corrupted officials
or institutionalized lawlessness and misogyny, all play a part.
It is certainly appalling that no mention is made in official
reporting of the relationship between the maquiladora industries
and the expectations of workers to show up at all hours, and the
lack of protection for workers coming to and from the factories.
Portillos interviews gathered information that differed
little from that I have gathered. That workers indeed are expected to show up very early and
leave very late; that they are poor and that they have no resources
to ensure their safety. That working is essential
in order to survive. And
that many young girl may see the miserly wage as the opportunity
to experience a bit of liberation and to help out her family.
Meanwhile they are being murdered.
Currently the primary source of documentation
of these murders appears to be taking place by photojournalists. (Describe photo I saw; burned and mutilated body; looks
as if she were silently screaming-the pain, the horror, the murderers
names). This is the result of indifference
by those who have helped to create the environment in which she
worked the terrorist in a suit. the men in
business opening up factories that are unsafe to work in
and unsafe to walk to and from for work day in and day out. To me that photo epitomized the image of the global subject
most wanted and most ignored in the fight against any kind of
terrorism. The woman recruited for work in the maquilas are usually
between 15-35. The women found murdered are 15-25.
Hatred unleashed is terrorism.
Misogyny, the hatred of women, unleashed
is sexual terrorism and THIS too is the counter reality
that accompanies all that talk about a happier and safer world
forged by a global economy against global terrorists.
In the same way that the maquiladora employers like the
female applicants young, the terrorist who is murdering the women
also likes them young. They
are kidnapped and raped sometimes shot and burned on their way
to and from work. It is this that I find truly ironic
and tragicthat an extension of the vulnerability of the
young female body, which in the factories translates into
sweatshops working conditions, exposure to toxic chemicals, sexual
harassment, non-living wages, the inability even to take a bathroom
break when their bodies need it, lack of job security or safety
gear, humiliating forms of pregnancy discrimination and even abortions
in the workplace as a common occurrence that all of this
is just a condition precedent to another form of vulnerability
that leads to loss of life. Indeed, that a tired and hungry
worker may begin her walk home or may get on a bus and may never
get home at all.
Factory owners dont care that
they may have to get to the factory so early that it is not even
light when they show up or that a production quota is so important
that they must leave at ll or midnight and go home on public transportation
or walk through unlit streets. Because the home they go to is a shack in a colonia that
has no lighting and no public services.
The fact that so many young women whose bodies have been
exploited for work in the factories, then become victims as they
go to and from work tells you something about the attitudes of
the owners of those factories. An exploitable worker, exploitable
bodies, whether for work, rape or crime.
Sexual terrorism then is the byproduct of the institutionalized
indifference that is found in the maquiladora industry and the
global economy at the Mexican border today.
My final comment is a rhetoric question
to the El Pasoan so why do we want to care about what is happening to the women
in global economy as it is seen at the Mexican border? The stories of the oppression and the violence present you
a future and attitudes about people that are just like us.
My Abuelita and Mami worked in those kinds of factories. Not in Mexico but in Los Angeles
and some may be just the reorganized version of a factory that
they once worked in during the 40, 50s and 60s. That gives me some reason to want to pay attention to the
subject at least from the perspective of my own personal history
and values. I think it is ironic that right at a point when we
hear consistently how Latina/os are becoming this significant
presence in the U.S. that
at our backs and literally for El Pasoans, at your back doors
people that look just like us are not respected, are paid low
wages, and are seen as expendable laborers.
one writer has
put it so well --
the floor under the gore of Juarez and the murders of young women
is an economy of factories owned by foreigners, mainly Americans.
El Pasoans dont have to work very hard to pretend
that its not about them because the culture of the city
encourages that version of Us/Them thinking. Ah but there is one more ironythe
supervisors in those factories are often American citizens, and
sometimes those 2-3 thousand managers are Anglo and white but
sometimes they are Latina/os in the U.S., and they commute back
and forth from the U.S. border city and earn very nice salaries
so they can have a microwave, and a nice big screen TV and put
into the VCR that has no doubt been assembled by workers of his
own race and ethnicity that put those items together for $5.00
a day and no benefits.
When I first wrote my Article Voices
from the Barbed Wires of Despair, I had no idea what I was really
getting into. I was primarily interested in
the intersection of law and public policy on issues of free trade
and immigration at the border, viewed with a gendered perspective.
(i.e., NAFTA and immigration law).
I decided to incorporate the stories of women themselves
to describe the industry I wasnt going to do a sociological
analysis like Devon Peña (The Terror of the Machine) has done
in his wonderful book; but I did want to rely on some of his descriptions
and those of Norma Iglesias Prieto so as to educate readers of
law review articles.
I know I wasnt the first person
to look at conditions for women in the maquiladoras.
Nor the first person to look at human rights concerns at
the Mexican border, especially as affected by immigration law
and policy. What is different about my study
is that I sought and continue to seek to connect the two
to forge a gendered international human rights discourse and to
help develop strategies for survival and lasting positive change.
It is clear that the maquila industry,
which originates at the border at least since 1965, has re-shaped
and is continuing to reshape the socio-economic character of dozens
of cities along the border. And it continues to do so because of a borderlands
culture that is in turn hugely affected by the presence of U.S.
lawful activities at the border, such as INS border patrol, drug
enforcement, and corporate expansionism under NAFTA.
It is easy to see the gendered impact in the favored
hiring of women and the sexual terrorism that accompanies it in
places like Juarez, and in the militarization of the border and
the risks to life and health to mostly male migrants who cannot
support their families because of the loss of the ejido system,
the discrimination in hiring, and the generally non-living wages
earned in the maquilas. The opening being open to investors
but closed to workers and migrants is a hypocrisy and yet it is
daily enforced at the border through the force of immigration
law and policy, defining the unwanted identity and desirable identity,
making it possible for the investor to be assured of a surplus
of cheap, exploitable labor.
This analysis can get complicated but that is why I have
used narratives to try to expose the workings of the law and public
policies, and their potential for perpetuating oppression.
[A word on narratives
I collect stories so that
what were talking about doesnt become too abstract;
ll tell you about Irma Salvador a maquila worker and
her husband Osvaldo who are maquiladora workers.
Irma was among l85 workers who lost their jobs at
a subsidiary of ALCOA in Ciudad Acuña, on the other side
of Del Rio, Texas.
The timing of the layoff was perfect for ALCOA.
September 11th gave them an excuse to
accomplish what they had wanted to do earlier- get rid of
the workers who are seen as troublemakers because they dare
to protest wages and working conditions. But it didnt stop
there with ALCOA.
After they laid off some workers, a few got to go
back and now the recession brought about by September 11th
became the reason for cutting back on wages. The very thing
that had made them troublemakers in the first place was
their complaining about the fact that they earn non-living
wages. Irma and Osvaldo have two
children who are disabled; in fact how I met them was that
through other activist groups an effort was made to get
new wheelchairs for Lizette and Osvaldo and they needed
a Spanish interpreter.
Because they have spina bifida and their surgeries
to straighten their backs destroyed the ability to walk
they will be in wheelchairs all their life. They had outgrown the wheelchairs
which had also been donated by a humanitarian project that
didnt take the time to fit them to the bodies of a
spina bifida child. They are loved and clearly cared for.
Their bodies are about the size of healthy children
of age 5 or 6 at the most. Osvaldo was so debilitated
by his last bout of pneumonia that he can no longer even
sit up. The cost of a new wheelchair? $6-10,000 each for a decent
one. Where would their parents
ever get something like when they earn together about $50.00
U.S. per week in a border economy that functions at about
90% of the U.S. dollar.
So when I think about the global
economy, I think of people like Paty, and Amaparo or Lizette
and Osvaldo. Because they illustrate what lies behind the
remedies for terrorism reproducing a lifestyle that
is profitable to the investors and their shareholder but
inhumane for the global subject whose voice is not being
heard. It is economic terrorism.
I first want to recognize that
what we call narrative is already controversial
in legal discourse. I on the other hand believe
they are powerful, useful and essential. As a feminist critical theorist I am committed to an
inter-disciplinary perspective on the question of subordination. I am trained as a historian
so I believe in the use of narratives.
Narratives help us deconstruct
the abstract, the statistics, the public rhetoric that is
proposing the expansion of NAFTA type policies through what
is being called the Free Trade Area Agreement for the whole
of the American continent and that will be the focus of
a summit by ministers of finance and heads of state in Quebec
this coming Spring.
Narratives even help deconstruct
what we like and don't like about the borderfrom the
U.S. perspective of the border just being a place for great
bargains and shopping or now foreign investments, and what
is bad, such as the human rights and labor abuses that can't
be understood until you hear the story of the woman who
had a miscarriage right on the worksite because of unsafe
working conditions, or the what it felt for the man who
nearly lost a foot or a hand because of poor training and
dangerous equipment, or the one who can't get a job because
she tried to organize a union and she got fired and now
he's blacklisted throughout the entire industry in that
A critically based analysis,
or praxis, meaning the connection between critical theory
and practice, absolutely assumes the relevance of narratives,
as an important way of communicating issues that concerns
Latina and feminist critical scholars abut also audiences
beyond the legal academy .
Of course one could question
whether the way in which a narrative is being used is truly
serving the analysis; has it turned into just the telling
of a story, or is the choice of the story told a true aid
in addressing the problems of multi-dimensional aspects
Yes, while narratives can be
powerful, they can be risky, because one may legitimately
ask to what degree can the story of one person speak to
the experiences of a whole group? I use and rely on narratives
because they often most powerfully illustrate the patterns
of treatment and the conditions;
they continue to provide the issues that are open
for legal analysis and that suggest the possibilities for
social justice activism.
The stories I document may
offer the counter narrative that is embedded in the assumption
made by such political figures as the President elect of
Mexico who just told a gathering of Fortune 500 investors
last month in Austin, that "Mexico is open territory
for investors; come one and come all, we welcome you."
We need narratives to bring
to life the day-to-day experiences of oppression, of the
migrant farm worker, the domestic servant, and of all those
who are not showing the promise of the free trade agreement
that promised an improvement in the working lives of the
host country to a maquiladora.
Those of who do use narrative,
know that while there is the risk of the disconnect, that
someone won't get the point of the story, at other times
the narrative is "the light bulb" that goes off
in someone's head and that helps them get beyond abstract
terms like "free trade policies," "transnational
corporations," or "human rights abuse" and
"labor exploitation." ]