EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — Esther Chavez Cano was a women’s rights activist in Juarez, Mexico, who dedicated her life to the fight against femicide. Now, her legacy lives on in a collection of her work stored in the New Mexico State University’s archives.
“That collection of news clippings and archives and photographs tell a very lengthy story of women’s rights, a feminist of a human rights struggle in our border area that impacted so many people,” said Cynthia Bejarano, regents professor at New Mexico State University and Chavez Cano’s longtime friend and colleague.
She said she met Chavez Cano while working on her doctorate studies, after which they became close friends and joined forces to fight for women’s rights in the Borderland.
“Esther was able to connect people nationally and internationally to this issue of femicide and broader gender-based violence,” explained Bejarano, adding Chavez Cano wanted to create a dignified space for women and other oppressed groups in the community.
From 1990 to 2006, Chavez Cano documented every murdered and missing woman in Juarez, creating a list for every month of the year that consisted of basic information about the case along with newspaper articles and photographs.
This collection of several boxes filled with names now rests at NMSU’s Branson Library.
Before her passing from cancer in 2009, Chavez Cano was set to preserve her work and have it kept at the library for others to see and so that they will never forget the atrocities that are still happening to women and girls in Juarez.
“That collection has been visited by researchers, scholars and student activists as well,” said Bejarano.
She recalls a visit from a mother of a murdered young woman — Hester van Nierop — who was raped and killed in 1998 while on vacation in Juarez.
The mother came to see the collection of Chavez Cano’s work and was left startled after browsing through the files.
“The universe was speaking to her because the first document that she opened from the archives opened to the page of her daughter’s case. We all had chills all over our bodies just thinking about what that represented,” recalled Bejarano.
She said she hopes that the collection will become a traveling one and that it will be returned to its rightful owner: Casa Amiga in Juarez.
Casa Amiga is a shelter for abused women that was founded in 1990 by Chavez Cano. It started as a small office but grew into a large shelter housing women and providing them support.
Lydia Cordero, director of Casa Amiga, met Chavez Cano more than 20 years ago when she started as a volunteer at the shelter.
“I remember her as a woman with great strength, but at the same time she had great empathy,” said Cordero about Chavez Cano.
Cordero said that violence against women is still a problem in Juarez, but thanks to women like Chavez Cano creating the necessary support to raise awareness of abuse and femicide.
Cordero recalled an event that forever shaped her life when she was still a volunteer at the shelter.
“Her name was Maria Luisa. Esther gave her a job at Casa Amiga as a receptionist so she could get some financial means and change her life. That year, in 2001 in December, Maria Luisa was murdered,” said Cordero remembering how devastated she felt when she heard what had happened to her friend.
Now, she continues Chavez Cano’s legacy along with other women to fight abuse, violence and femicide, making sure that the murdered girls and women of Juarez are never forgotten.