SALT LAKE CITY — The messages, embroidered in red thread on white handkerchiefs, tell horrific stories of violence and death. They are memorials, meant to bring attention to those who have suffered and died because of the drug war in the United States and Mexico, for those who have died crossing the desert while seeking sanctuary, for those who have disappeared.
Back in 2011 Fuentes Rojas (Red Fountains) originated in Mexico City. The original purpose of this collective project was to raise a voice for the victims of violence caused by the U.S.-Mexico drug war.
As the years passed, Fuentes Rojas formed Bordados por la Paz (Embroidering for Peace) with the idea of creating a memorial for each of the victims, widening their focus to victims of feminicide, forced disappearances, and individuals who have died crossing the desert seeking sanctuary in the United States.
The movement has spread all over the world, and on April 14, 2018 members of the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Cross in Mexico and the United States decided to start making embroidery pieces for the cause.
“The Sisters of the Holy Cross got hold of Valerie James, who is one of the initiators of this effort,” said Holy Cross Sr. Veronica Fajardo, one of the sisters and Associates of Utah who have participated in the effort.
After a presentation from James, several sisters from Mexico and the U.S. each made an embroidered piece commemorating the people who have passed away due to the violence.
Each piece displays information from police reports about the victim’s death in words that are hand-embroidered with red thread on a man’s white handkerchief. The information is embroidered in Spanish.
The handkerchief was specifically selected as the background for the message because it is used to dry the tears of those mourning the loss of a loved one.
On May 5, 2018 the Holy Cross Sisters of Utah invited the associates, who are lay people associated with the Holy Cross Sisters, to join the project. They selected the theme “Bordados for peace and memory.”
In addition to Sr. Veronica, the Associate Leadership Team is comprised of Holy Cross Sisters Catherine Kamphaus, associate superintendent of Utah Catholic Schools and Sr. Genevra Rolf, who is retired; Kandie Brinkman, Jakie Capella and Mary Beth Vogel-Ferguson.
Other Utah Holy Cross Associates participating include Bertha Soto, Cate O’Hare Adams, Clara Brennan, Debby Carapezza, Edna Pitore, Emmie Gardner, Esperanza Arias, Ethel Clark, Jean Spicer, Judy Shupe, Kay Hamilton, Marco Gutierrez, Margarita Vizcarra, Maribel Cortez and Maribel Real.
Some of the embroidered pieces already have been completed; others are still in process.
“When we finish them, we send them back to James, and she delivers them to Fuentes Rojas in Mexico,” Sr. Veronica said.
All the embroidered handkerchiefs will be displayed in May in Coyoacan, a plaza in Mexico City.
Each piece will be numbered and also include the total number of pieces made up to that date.
One of Sr. Veronica’s pieces reads in Spanish: “In a place known as the ‘Rincon,’ in a remote area that takes you to Escondida, an incinerated body was found. Tepic Nayarit, February 28, 2012. 2,761/150,000.”
Another reads: “An armed group killed three men and hurt a woman and a child in a workshop located in Olivia Espinoza, Juarez City, in Chihuahua.”
“With every stitch we remember these victims,” Sr. Veronica said.
From 2012-2018 Mexico’s National Institute of Statistics, Geography, and Information (INEGI) reported 139,758 intentional homicides, an average of over 23,293 people per year, more than 55 people per day, or just over two people every hour. “No other country in the Western Hemisphere had seen such a large increase either in its homicide rate or in the absolute number of homicides,” according to the INEGI web page.
In the 2018 fiscal year, 283 deaths were registered by the U.S. Border Patrol, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. In the past 10 years alone, some 2,000 migrants — men, women, children and the elderly – have died this way.
A 2017 joint report from the National Women’s Institute in Mexico and the UN Women highlighted the increase of feminicides, from an annual rate of 3.8 per 100,000 women in 1985 to 4.6 in 2016. The National Citizen Observatory on Feminicide (Obervatorio Nacional contra el Femicidio) released figures that there were 800 feminicides between January and June 2017.