(photos from the Swoon and Tennessee Jane collaboration "Portrait of Silvia Elena" at Honey Space in NYC)

Swoon and Tennessee Jane collaborated at Honey Space last week in an attempt to raise awareness of the brutal killing of women in Mexico that has been rampant since the early 1990s. Below is the text from the exhibition, telling the story of Silvia Elena, one of the murdered women in Juarez, Mexico.


Romana Morales Huerta bends down to clean her daughter's grave. With patient motions that underscore the habitual nature of her task, she brushes away a thick layer of desert sand that has accumulated since her last visit. Later that day, as she leaves the cemetery, the violent desert winds pick up again, and begin to cover the grave once more.

Ramona's daughter, Silvia Elena Rivera Morales, was killed in 1995. Her murder is one of hundreds that haunt the Mexican city of Juarez, just across the border from El Paso, Texas. Since 1993 approximately 500 women and girls from Juarez have been confirmed killed, with at least as many more reported disappeared. Human rights organizations put the number of murders much higher - estimating they could surpass 4,000. Most of the victims are young and poor, and almost all have been sexually assaulted prior to their deaths.

Femicide, the term used to describe this pattern of violence targeting women, is not isolated to Juarez. Since the killings began to occur there in 1993, markedly similar abductions and murders have occurred elsewhere in Mexico and Guatemala. In Guatemala alone alone, over 3,000 women have been killed since 2001, with the official number of victims rising each year.

Despite the horrific nature of these crimes, authorities at all levels have exhibited indifference. In Juarez there is overwhelming evidence of official corruption. There are well-documented cases of the police and local courts falsely pinning blame on innocent people with the use of confessions extracted under torture and planted evidence. To this day it remains unknown whether this disdain can be explained as a perverse symptom of a culture that devalues women, evidence of corruption and intimidation by gangs and drug networks that may be behind the murders, or, at worst, complicity. No matter the cause, the impunity has set precedents: that the murder and disappearance of women is acceptable and there will be no consequences. The patterns seen in Juarez extend to Guatemala, where there have only been 14 convictions related to the femicides, while the vast majority of the 3,000 killings remain unsolved.

Day after Silvia Elena's disappearance, two police officers appeared at Ramona's home. They had come to bring her to the morgue to identify a body recovered from the desert, believed to be that of her daughter. Ramona wanted to bring one of sons along, but the police forced her to go alone. Without the support of loved ones Ramona struggled to identify Silvia Elena's dead, mutilated body. She recognized the pattern of a tattered shirt, but the harsh desert environment left Silvia Elena a skeleton with only patches of skin.

Like so many of the femicide cases, the police made defamatory declarations about Silvia Elena to the press, excusing her death by saying she lived a double life as a prostitute.

Ramona and thousands of other mothers throughout the Americas struggle to find a mechanism for justice. Like the violent desert sandstorms, the authorities have worked to cover up the truth about the murders.

Ramona still doesn't know who killed her daughter. The criminal justice system has failed to give her answers, but she hasn't given up. In spite of intimidation, she and other mothers, fathers, and people of conscience have worked to bring attention to this situation. Ramona's words, and this portrait of Silvia Elena, bear witness to the violence these families have endured. They are also testaments to the heroic and constant struggle of the survivors to refuse victimization, stand up to unjust authority, and demand their natural right to life without fear.

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Thanks to a tip (in the comments), I was lead to this video by old favorites of mine At The Drive In. They did a song and music video about the same issue addressed above, called "Invalid Litter Dept." The disturbing thing for me was that this video is from 2001, and yet it seems nothing has changed at all.


Do you really care why I pick the songs I do? Didn't think so.

• Cary Ann Hearst - Dust And Bones

A band's place in myspace.


  1. At the Drive-In made a song and a very informative video about this called Invalid Litter Department. Check it out!

  2. video interview with Swoon about Silvia Elena: