Journalist Covering Juárez Soccer Questions “Femicide” Narrative

Robert Andrew Powell, the author of This Love is Not for Cowards: Salvation and Soccer in Ciudad Juárez, criticizes the "femicide business" and claims that activists, academics, and journalists profit from furthering the narrative.

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Associated Press | Guillermo Arias

Journalist Robert Andrew Powell moved to Ciudad Juárez in 2009, intending to write broadly about the war-torn city, but during his time in the “most dangerous place” in Mexico, he became captivated by Los Indios, the city’s star-crossed fútbol team. He viewed the team as a symbol of the city’s hope and violence, and last week, Bloomsbury USA published Powell’s book on the subject, This Love is Not for Cowards: Salvation and Soccer in Ciudad Juárez. 

As Eben Lehmen of FMF State of Mind, a blog devoted to Mexican soccer, explained in an interview with Powell last month, in 2008, the Indios, a three-year-old team, earned their way into Mexico’s Primera division, the nation’s top league. As Lehmen pointed out, the weekend before the game that clinched their new standing, “there was a widely-distributed e-mail that warned of extreme violence planned for Juárez during the same weekend of the promotion playoff in late May 2008. People were extremely frightened, but the Indios [won] promotion and tens of thousands of people [came] out in the streets to celebrate. It [was] a huge moment with massive crowds everywhere, and there were no reports of violence.” Powell described it as “the most hopeful thing that may have ever happened in the city.”

But, as everyone knows, the violence continued. Two years later, the team fell into the second league division, and in December 2011, the Indios folded. 

In his book, which Salon‘s Steven Almond describes as “a mashup of Nick Hornby’s ‘Fever Pitch,’ Bill Buford’s ‘Among the Thugs’ and Charles Bowden’s grim 2010 survey of Juárez, ‘Murder City,'” Powell chronicled the rise and fall of the team. 

Powell moved to Juarez in 2009 and began spending time with Marco Vidal, a Dallas-born son of Mexican parents who grew up hoping to play for Dallas’ soccer club. Vidal, who became a central character in Powell’s book, saw Juárez as a place of opportunity, and it was in a sense, as he joined the Indios that same year.

It was Marco’s story that fueled Powell’s book. Powell told Salon‘s Almond: 
I knew Marco was an American, but until I got there, I didn’t know his Mexican father had entered Texas illegally, first trying to cross the Rio Grande in Juárez. I knew the owner of the team, Francisco Ibarra, was living in El Paso for his safety, but I didn’t know how painful it is for him to live in another country. I didn’t know an Indios coach would be murdered. I didn’t know that Marco would marry a young Juárez woman, or that her family would flee to El Paso in fear. I didn’t know that the Indios team would lose and lose and lose. 

As Almond notes, another notable thing about the book is Powell’s take on the infamous murders of Juárez’s women. According to Powell:

There’s a well-established narrative of young girls who work in the maquiladoras being snatched off the streets and murdered, supposedly just because they are women.

When I moved to the city, I believed the narrative. I had no reason to doubt it. Amnesty International is behind it, and they’ve won a Nobel Prize. All the big news outlets have publicized it. Roberto Bolaño placed the killings of the women at the center of his book “2666.” I’d watched a few films, too, both Hollywood and documentary, that showed how women are especially vulnerable in the city, and how Mexican men can’t handle the growing independence of the factory-working women in their lives. How NAFTA is to blame, too, and also, come to mention it, how serial killers and spree killers and organ harvesters and random sociopaths are equally to blame. The government cares so little about women, according to the popular narrative, that it refuses to resolve any of the “femicides,” or female murders.

But living there, I began to see that the popular narrative didn’t jibe with the world around me. Relatively few of the female murder victims are girls. Almost none of the female victims ever worked in a maquiladora. Women are being killed in the city, often in horrible ways. But many, many, many more men are being killed at the same time. Also in horrible ways. And the government doesn’t investigate these male murders, either. They don’t investigate anything! Murder really is effectively legal in Juárez. This failure of basic government, which in Juárez is sarcastically called “a weak judicial system,” has nothing to do with gender.

Proponents of the femicide [narrative], most with the best of intentions, have been extremely effective in taking the generalized violence in Juárez and turning it into something that supports their agenda. I came to call it the “femicide business.” As in any business, there are people profiting. The traditional narrative has funded their clinics and/or won them academic positions and/or book deals and/or paid speaking opportunities at conferences. Most reporting on femicide ranges from disgustingly opportunistic to depressingly sloppy. 

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