Desaparecidas: Female Laborers and Ultimate Invisibility

Miriam Ching Louie’s Sweatshop Warriors: Immigrant Women Workers Take on the Global Factory explores various the various female-led campaigns that combat corporate globalization and factory industry injustices. Many of these campaigns grew out of other prominent labor organizations of the mid-20th century that were mostly male-dominated, and therefore had the tendency to ignore the qualms of female laborers in cities from Los Angeles, to Juárez, and Oakland.

Apart from experiencing racism, police brutality, and assault at random, immigrant workers are also victims of social invisibility: “Immigrants experience tremendous disjuncture when their life- and movement-related experiences prior to migration are invisible to the non-immigrants and other ethnic groups with whom they work and live” (Louie, 196). Unfortunately, female immigrants working in border cities face these same problems and a slew of other, potentially fatal, ones. As a result, I was primarily interested in Louie’s focus on Chicana laborers and the grassroots Fuerza Unida organization.

Since the 1990s, border worker associations have, rightfully so, shifted their energy to the “exploitation of women inside proliferating maquiladoras in Mexico and Central America” (Louie, 208). Women working in Mexico’s maquiladoras (essentially, free trade zone factories) have experienced a most violent form of invisibility: an estimated 400 female border workers in Juárez have mysteriously disappeared or been murdered. The 2002 PBS documentary Señorita Extraviada (or Missing Young Woman) details these haunting femicides, and attempts to find out what is killing Juárez’s youth.


Many of the crimes against the borderlands women go unsolved, unpunished, or unrecognized—largely, in part, because of a lack of “gender solidarity” in factories and sweatshops (Louie, 231). Although young Mexican women are frequently sought after industrial workers, the economic independence that they gain from employment diminishes patriarchal nostalgia and consequently poses a threat to national unity. They therefore do not receive enough support or protection from their male counterparts. However, the crimes against these women go way beyond gender solidarity and towards a transnational pandemic.

Factory and garment industry jobs provide a vicious cycle of employment for women. Though they provide the female worker with a modicum of social currency, they do not provide her with a more extensive set of skills that will allow for a proper accrual of value. As a result, she becomes a disposable body. What’s more, since she poses this deep national threat, her disappearance and/or death serves as a pretty apt solution. In the end, her death has more value than her life.


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