Last month, 1,200 people marched through San Cristóbal de las Casas to demand justice for Itzel Yaneth Méndez Pérez, a seventeen year old woman whose body was discovered on April 14th, brutalized and chopped into pieces. Itzel is one of twenty+ local women found since January whose last living moments were unimaginably vicious. But the real atrocity implicit in these crimes only begins when girls like Itzel are raped, slaughtered, and dumped. One of the main goals of last month’s march was to put public pressure on the power holders and police officials who had all but scoffed at these girls and their families, conducting sloppy, haphazard investigations and trivializing the profound damage that such crimes have on the community.
In the days leading up to the event, the words “¡Ni una más!” (Not one more!) wallpapered the streets of the city under a sketch of Itzel, who is now a haunting symbol of the fight to end femicide, instead of the beautiful, vibrant high school student she was just a few months ago. With banners and battle cries, the activists present at May’s march declared the region unsafe for women and called for local officials to take immediate action. Someone was listening. (A thousand people hardly whisper.) Last week, two men were arrested in association with the murder (though I’ve heard rumors that the number’s up to four). What must read as dry news copy to a native Spanish speaker makes my hair stand on end: “Hugo Cruz Sántiz y Felipe Pérez Pérez revelaron la forma en que privaron de la vida a Itzel, cuyo cadáver fue encontrado la tarde del 14 de abril en el Fraccionamiento Sonora” (Hugo Cruz Sántiz and Felipe Pérez Pérez revealed how they deprived Itzel of her life, whose body was found on the afternoon of April 14th in the Sonoro neighborhood/subdivision). A good translator would probably replace “deprived” with “took Itzel’s life” but I left it raw because that’s how reading those words makes me feel.
That said, la lucha sigue.
A month after the march–two since her death–Itzel’s faded face still follows me through San Cristóbal. Sometimes there are two or three of her in a row, damp from the rain, half-obscured by the drink promotions and “En Renta” ads that have now usurped her fleeting celebrity. I didn’t know Itzel. But I do. She is every girl I teach in Chalchihuitán, every friend I fearfully despedir to walk herself home late at night, every woman I have ever loved. That is why, in a city that is often too busy sipping its café to take to the streets, over twelve hundred people showed up to demand that Itzel be the last woman they love that disappears.
Femicide is the killing of a woman for being a woman. And since April, Itzel has unknowingly become the face of femicide in Chiapas, where at least twenty more women have met similarly gruesome ends since January. These women could have been her friends, but today they stand side-by-side only in print–names on a newspaper, photographs at a vigil, cries at a march. I struggle to write about Itzel as the beacon she has become. Itzel shouldn’t be a symbol. She is–she was–a human being. A daughter. A besty. A study buddy. She could and would have been a million other things for a million other people if she hadn’t been savagely “deprived of her life.” No one wants to be a martyr when they grow up. But Itzel’s assassins decided for her.
On Thursday, June 14th at 5:00 PM in the aptly-named “Plaza de la Paz,” the people who loved–and love–Itzel will gather again to show that, while the posters may have faded, their determination to end femicide in Chiapas has not and that the people of San Cristóbal de las Casas will be watching as Itzel’s case is carried forward.
I won’t be there this Thursday. I’ll be in Chalchihuitán with Itzel, or, rather the beautiful, vibrant young women who remind me of her, preparing for next month’s graduation, as Itzel would have been doing on this day. Like me, the girls I teach never met Itzel, nor did they join the twelve hundred marchers last month. But, they have heard her story and dozens more like it and when I asked them what they wanted to write about for our end-of-the-year play, femicide was the resounding response. This is our lucha. This is how we love the women who have not yet disappeared. This is our, “¡Ni una más!”