Chapter 2

“They're not giving me tenure? Shut up!”

“I’m not kidding.”

“On what grounds, for fuck’s sake? I have a published book. I’m on all kinds of committees. I have more students than all of them put together. Nobody wants to take their boring-ass vanilla courses.”

“The vote was four to two with one abstaining, Ivon.”

“Who abstained? Our beloved Chair?”

“Actually, Mildred and me were the two who voted in your favor. That shocked the hell out of me. I thought she was going to go after you with a hacksaw, but it was everyone else who did the cutting.”

“She stacked the vote, don’t you see? And then voted with you just to make it look like she’s being magnanimous, but you know she’s the one who orchestrated this whole thing, Lourdes.”

Lourdes was the only other woman of color in her department, an African-American-Irish-Mexican with cappuccino-colored skin (I ain’t no milky latte, she’d say, I’m dark cappuccino without the foam), who’d been hired two years earlier to help develop the postcolonial aspect of their curriculum. She was a big-boned, natural redhead with her tight curls cropped close to her head and tiny rimless glasses perched low on her freckled nose. She wore heaps of copper bracelets on each arm—her armor, she called it—and batik scarves—to keep her rooted, she said. Her dissertation looking at strategic essentialism in Diasporic women’s literature from Ireland to India to Africa to El Salvador, had just been contracted by Oxford. Tenure waited for her on a soft cushion just a few years down the bend.

"It’s your book, girlfriend. They went after your book like dogs at a meat market.”

“They’re not going to tenure me because of my book? Does that make any sense? Isn’t that what you need to get tenure? To publish a book?”

“They don’t see it as real scholarship, Ivon. To them it’s another example of your obsession with those Juárez murders. They say you’ve been writing about that topic since your dissertation, and that you’re still writing about it seven years later, you still haven’t moved beyond it. In fact it’s even more—what was the word they used? Let me look at my notes.”

Lourdes ran a French-tipped fingernail over the writing in her notebook.

“Entrenched. The topic is even more entrenched than ever, because it’s infiltrated not just your scholarship and your research, but your teaching as well. You manage to plug it into each one of your courses, even Intro to Women’s Studies—”

“Oh, I see. Over 500 slaughtered women on the border is not a pertinent topic for Women’s Studies?”

“Look, Ivon, if you want to know the lowdown about what happened at the meeting, you’ve got to stop interrupting me. Don’t kill the messenger, okay?”

“Sorry. Go on.”

“You teach about it in all of your courses. All the papers you’ve published and delivered at conference since 1998 are on that same topic. You’re operating a website on the murders from the university server. Students’ parents are complaining that their kids are being exposed to graphic images of murdered women in your classes. And now, you’ve published an inflammatory book on the murders (published by a non-academic press, by the way) that’s based, they say, on nothing but conjecture and conspiracy theory that you’re trying to pass it off as legitimate scholarship.”

“Inflammatory? What the hell do they mean by that?”

“I don’t know. I would venture to guess they feel personally accosted by your introduction.”

“Oh, give me a fucking break, Lourdes.”

“Like I said, I’m just the messenger, Ivon.”

“Did they actually say that? They were accosted by my introduction? Did they read any other part of the book?”

“I don’t think so. You know how it is in this department, nobody ever reads anybody’s work.”

“Did anybody say anything in my defense? Did you say anything, Lourdes?”

“What am I gonna say, Ivon? I’m just the new kid on the block. Ain’t nobody gonna listen to some black Irish-Mexican rookie assistant professor.”

But Ivon wasn’t listening. “Did you tell them that my book is a critical analysis of NAFTA and the labor exploitations of young poor Mexican women who get disassembled in the desert after serving on the assembly line for U.S. corporate profit? What the fuck are they talking about—not real scholarship?”

Lourdes took a copy of Ivon’s book off the shelf. Las Maqui-Locas: The New Toxic Waste on the U.S.-Mexico Border published by Arte Publico Press in Houston. “Read your intro again, Ivon, and see if you can figure out why they’re tripping. They’re white women, remember? They don’t have hard skin like we do. They got soft pink baby skin and it burns if you look at them too hard. You burned them, Girl. I told you not to put that in that diatribe in the first paragraph.”

“I’m gonna sue their soft pink asses. Fuck them. I’m going to call Rudy Acuña at Northridge and get his advice. They don’t know what burn means.”

“You gotta do what you gotta do, Ivon. I’m outa here. My hubby’s gonna divorce me if I keep coming home past eight every night. Is poker still on this Friday?”

“Mm-hm. Girls-only,” Ivon said, but she’d opened the book to the inflammatory paragraph already and was lost in her diatribe.

Let’s make something clear at the outset: It is not white women or middle-class, light-skinned Mexican women who are being targeted on the U.S.-Mexico border. If you fall into either of these categories, and you are afraid getting involved because you might be next on the perpetrators’ list, please get over yourself. Your demographic is not what the killers are hunting. If it were over 400 white women or middle-class Mexican women whose bones and bodies had been found dumped in the desert, you can rest assured that there would never have been a need to write this book. The perpetrators would be rotting behind bars by now, and there would be no crusades to end impunity or to break the silence or simply to bring an end to the brutal misogynistic killings. It’s not that the “¡Ni Una Más!” campaign doesn’t want your help. We need all the allies the gods and goddesses can muster. It’s just that you need to remember one very vital thing: this is not about you. This is not a struggle to protect your safety and freedom. It’s about poor, young, Mexican women who are being slaughtered on the border precisely because they are poor, young, and Mexican, and because their bodies pose a threat to the racial economy of white supremacy and, thus, to the national security of the United States. That said, I hope you—whoever you are—will take everything I say personally. “¡Ni Una Más!” not only needs your outrage; we demand it.

“This is great stuff,” Ivon said, looking up. “Are these white women really so egocentric? … Lourdes?”

She was alone, the door to her office ajar. The building felt very still. Not even the sounds of the cleaning lady broke the silence. She checked her watch. Nearly 8:15 and she was still in her office. That was her normal routine on Wednesdays, coming home after the two of them had had their supper. But now with Brigit gone, she had to remember that Jorgito was waiting for her. Picking him up from his friend’s house was her responsibility now. And he’d probably already eaten there, too. She hadn’t made arrangements with Sarah, his friend’s mom, for him to eat there. Hadn’t even told her that Brigit wouldn’t be coming for him at half past five, as she usually did, or that she, Ivon, would be late picking him up.


She checked her cell phone and realized she’d forgotten to turn the volume up after her class. Three missed calls. She listened to the messages. One from Sarah, wondering if everything was alright since she hadn’t heard from either Brigit or Ivon. A second one from Jorgito asking if it was okay if he stayed to dinner at Sarah’s house. The last one from her cousin Ximena in El Paso saying nothing but, “Call me ASAP. It’s an order.”

Ximena sounded a little desperate, and for a split second Ivon worried that it had something to do with Ivon’s mom, some emergency that she couldn’t tell Ivon about in a message. But no, it couldn’t be that. She would’ve heard from her sister Irene or her Uncle Joe, if it had been an emergency. She called back Sarah’s number and apologized profusely. Explained she had a late class on Wednesday nights. Blamed Brigit, but couldn’t bring herself to tell the truth about what had happened.

“I can’t believe she didn’t call you. I don’t know what’s going on with her. I’ll be right over. Thank you so much for feeding him. I hope he wasn’t any trouble.”

“It’s fine,” Sarah said in her kind maternal voice. “George told us about Brigit leaving. He was a little upset and scared, I think, that you might not want him anymore, either, but my husband talked to him. He’s okay now.”

Her husband talked to him. Was she rubbing it in that Jorgito needed a father figure?


“I should be there in twenty minutes, depending on traffic. Thanks.” She hung up and realized her ears were burning. Who she was angry at, she couldn’t say, but the idea of stopping at the liquor store at the corner of Centinela and Palms occurred to her again.


Don’t be stupid, Ivon, she told herself as she packed up her briefcase. Your sobriety’s the only thing that’s going to keep you sane right now. She didn’t know if it was her voice or her sponsor’s, and it didn’t matter, especially since she’d fired her sponsor last month.


On her way out of the office, she kicked the trashcan and sent it flying against a file cabinet. Didn’t make her feel any better.

© Alicia Gaspar de Alba, 2008

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