By Marissa Ericson
In celebration of Emerson College’s annual HERstory Month, I stood on stage and conveyed a different perspective of the world; a perspective that needs to be known. In the performance of the playWomen of Sand: Testimonies of Women in Ciudad Juarez, I spoke the words of a young girl whose sister was one of the many hundreds of reported women who have been brutally raped and murdered in the last eighteen years in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua.
“We had hoped she would appear at the kitchen door, smiling and telling us that it was just a joke. That she had stayed with a friend or was upset with one of us. But, Erendira never returned.”
Erendira Ivonne Ponce Hernandez was only 17 years old when she was found dead on September 16, 1998, barely recognizable; left raped and beaten in the desert, “her skull bashed in with a rock.”1 She left behind her parents, five siblings, and a diary filled with handwritten thoughts. Her hopes and dreams were to become a singer, live in a comfortable house, and find the love of her life. I think to myself, such humbling and worthwhile dreams, and yet, like so many young women who work in the maquiladoras, or the sweatshops, in Juarez, she went to work one day never to return home. She was never able to make her dreams come true.
As an actress, it was difficult to portray a young woman whose sister went through this type of torture. I wanted to place myself directly in the perspective of Erendira’s sister. To do this, I thought about my own little sister. My sister who is sixteen years old, very close to Erendira’s age. My sister who is just beginning to encounter the world, who’s realizing what her hopes and dreams are for herself. She wants to go to college and perhaps explore a career in art. She hopes to one day live in a city, independent and on her own. She dreams of the first time she’ll fall in love. She is so young, so full of life, wonder, and optimism. But, most of all, she is so very young. The thought of not having my sister was something I’d rather not even contemplate, but I knew I had to try. As I stood on stage, Erendira’s sister’s words took over. Tears filled my eyes.
“ I cling to the diary of Erendira. It’s the only thing through which she continues to talk to me. I read it to hear her muted voice. This is where my sister recorded her last thoughts, her tastes for food, for clothing, for boys.”
What hurts is that as hard as I might try, I can’t even begin to fathom the actual pain that Erendira’s family has gone through. There is a line between trying to understand pain and actually experiencing it. In a way, this is a blessing. I hope I never have to see the other side of the line. But, at the same time, I wish I could take some of the burden off of their heavy hearts. They don’t even have a person to blame. For Erendira, and all the hundreds of other women, no one to this day has been rightfully convicted for their murders.2 Instead, the murderers continue to walk the streets, free to harm the next young girl they find. Perhaps this is what has lead to the more than 800 murders of young women since 1993.2 The few people who have been accused, and/or convicted, are typically those who have fought for justice. Government officials often see them as “traitors,” because their demands and declarations give Ciudad Juarez a negative reputation. I ask myself where the hope is for the remaining young women of Juarez, for the families who have lost loved ones, and for the people who are fighting for truth and justice.
I believe change can start with us. Participating in Women of Sand allowed me to see how powerfully a play can affect people. As I spoke the words of Erendira’s sister, I looked into the audience and could actually see the impact the words were having on each person. When their eyes made contact with mine, I could tell we had a mutual understanding that the words being spoken held great weight. They were words of loss, strength, and passion. In each of the ten scenes of the play, a new perspective and weight was portrayed, as a different girl’s story or aspect of the issue was presented. And with each new scene, I saw greater understanding in the observing people’s eyes. Afterwards, in a question and answer session, the audience asked about the current and past situation in Juarez. I was filled with compassion to see the way in which the audience members expressed genuine concern for the women and families of Juarez. They wanted to know what was being done to stop the violence, how they could help, and where to find more information.Through a single performance and information session, I realized that we had the ability to spark an awareness in the Emerson and Boston Community, an awareness that I know can and will grow.
I feel honored to share the stories and lives of these girls who aren’t much different from you and me. They have hopes, dreams, and families like all of us. They deserve a voice demanding justice, and perhaps through our collaborative efforts, we can provide a sense of hope for them and their families. Below are several websites that provide resources, organizations, and information regarding the murders, most recent updates, and efforts being done to help bring awareness and stop the violence. You can also read a full account of Erendira’s story here, along with stories of several other women. We plan to continue to show Women of Sandthroughout schools and venues in the Boston area to share the stories of young women like Erendira. We want to reach as many people as we can, so that we can help in demanding a stop to the injustice.
If interested in participating in future performances of Women of Sand, please contact Marissa Ericson firstname.lastname@example.org, or Christina Marin at email@example.com.
¹Cabrera, Yvette, Minerva Canto, and Rose Palmisano. “Women of Juarez: She Never Came Home.” Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma. March 26, 2011
²This information was taken from the play Women of Sand: Testimonies of Women in Ciudad Juarez. Compiled and written by playwright Humberto Robles, with supported text by Antonio Cerezo Contreras, Marisela Ortiz, Denise Dresser, Malu Garcia Andrade, Maria Hope, Eugenia Munoz and Juan Rios Cantu. Updates and more information about the play can be found here.