Secrets in the Sand: The Young Women of Juárez by Marjorie Agosín

Ciudad Juárez is a border town in the Mexican state of Chihuahua.  Depending on who is counting, anywhere from 350-5, 000 women have been killed or gone missing in Ciudad Juárez since the mid 1990s.  A conservative estimate is over 350 women. It’s not even a number you can really fathom.  Ciudad Juárez was recently in the news because a USian couple were killed at the consulate, but why is that what finally gets our attention, when according to one columnist 2, 600 people were killed in Ciudad Juárez in 2009 alone?  I have an add-on for my blog that collects news articles that might be interesting based on what my blog post says.  All of the articles are about the couple killed a couple weeks ago, none of them are about the femicides.

Published in 2006, Secrets in the Sand is a volume of poetry written by Marjorie Agosín and translated by Celeste Kostopulos-Cooperman.  This is a bilingual edition that features the Spanish on one page and the English on the other, plus an introduction by the translator.  Marjorie Agosín is a professor and poet at Wellesley College and she is known for her commitment to women’s rights and human rights.  Secrets in the Sand is a demonstration of both of those commitments that describes the terror that happens daily in Ciudad Juárez in beautiful, chilling verse.

What struck me most about this collection of poetry is how quiet it is.  What I mean by quiet is not that these poems are not full of anger, sadness and pain, because they are.  But there is a silence in this verse that is palpable, that appears in almost every poem.  It is found in between every line, it is found in the blank space on the page, it is in everything that is said about these women, but what is not said.   It is contemplation and meditation; it is a slow burning sadness that fills page after page of haunting images.  It is brutal and it is beautiful at the same time.

Some of my favorite poems:


She was dreaming about borders
To cross them and gain permission to enter them
To be another and not to be another
To cross, to travel and to invent another landscape.
Her mother would tell her:
Be careful at the border
Women should not leave   home
Words would not be sufficient to save oneself
Poor women don’t know how to save themselves
Through words.

She dreams about borders
And on a night when the moon is full and calm like a woman
She crosses them
Her feet know the night desert
The sounds of emptiness
The sounds of absence
The hours of death.

It rains
And only death awaits her
Like in the dreams foretold to her by the wise women
The grandmothers of Chihuahua.

News Reports

The news report of  Ciudad Juárez
Announces another death
The child says that it looks like the same woman
All of those women are the same, the father replies
The mother prepares the food
She sees herself in those women
The news report continues
They announce the winners of the soccer tournament
The child asks his mother why
They always kill the same woman
The mother’s voice is strange
Like that of a little girl
And a well of silence
Forms on her sad mouth.

I really can’t recommend these poems enough.  To end this review, I would like to close with the last words of Celeste Kostopulos-Cooperman’s introduction: “The world cannot afford to ignore these crimes against humanity that continue to destroy so many lives.  The rights to life, physical integrity, liberty and personal safety must be protected and ensured wherever they are threatened.”

So go read this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR

5 thoughts on “Secrets in the Sand: The Young Women of Juárez by Marjorie Agosín

  1. I agree with EL Fay – my only knowledge (or maybe I should say “knowledge,” since it is a work of fiction) is through Bolaño, and something in me says that can’t be quite balanced. Thanks for drawing my attention to another literary perspective on these terrifying and baffling crimes.

  2. I have been very interested in the Women of Juarez after my husband, who was stationed at Fort Bliss, told me about them. He was stationed near Juarez while in Texas. Going to check and see if they have this one for kindle. Love poetry with a common theme/message.

  3. Hi there, when I read the poem “Borders” I noticed that it is extremely similar to another poem of Marjorie Agosin entitled “The border” that was published in the book ‘Mother, speak to us of war’ in the same year as the book “Secrets in the sand”. I was wondering if you had a chance to read this other poem I am referring too. would you say that both poems are referring to the violence experienced by the women of Juarez? It is interesting that Agosin decided to include to similar poems in two different poetry books of hers, what would be the reason for that in your opinion? Is there a specific reason why you chose to include only part of the poem “Borders” here in this blog instead of the whole poem? What do you think this poem is about?

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