Doctoral candidate discusses violence against immigrant women in Mexico

Nidia Cavazos

A UT graduate student, at a lecture Tuesday at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, discussed violence against women along the Central America and Mexico border.

Yalli Rodriguez, a doctoral student in the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies, has concentrated her research on immigration issues with particular attention to Central American women. Her work was done with a focus on Tapachula, Mexico, a city that receives immigrants from Central America.

According to Rodriguez, women who reach the Mexican border are often raped, forced into sex labor and subject to discrimination from Mexican citizens. The incentive of economic security in Mexico, however, is a strong motive for them to endure such daily hardships. She said these women are more susceptible to this violence because of their level of security, perception of human rights and problems with law enforcement. 

Rodriguez said she spent seven months in Tapachula, where she collected a number of stories from immigrants and conducted interviews with institutional figures. During the lecture Tuesday, she shared experiences from her trip, including how she was able to build relationships with the immigrants and encourage them to share their stories.  

“The best way for them to trust you is to be completely honest, and you have to spend time with them before they can begin to tell you their life stories,” Rodriguez said.

According to Rodriguez, one of her main objectives in conducting research with Central American migrants was to familiarize herself with how immigrant women perceive issues of security and human rights. She also said that not many women in Tapachula know the concept of human rights exists, even though some are working for immigration institutions. 

“When what is supposed to be universal definitions, such as human rights, are often unknown amongst these women, a problem is created,” Rodriguez said.

In order to increase the familiarity of such concepts with the immigrant women, according to Rodriguez, it is important to familiarize the social workers first.

“It’s not just the work of the women to know about their rights but also those who are working with them,” Rodriguez said. 

Prisca Gayles, Latin American studies doctoral student, said she would like to learn more about children in similar situations. 

“I was really interested from the moment she said some women have been there for 10-20 years, but I started thinking about the peculiarities of children who are also affected by this situation,” Gayles said.

Rebecca Jackson, Latin American studies graduate student, said, although this is a problem in Central America, it is something that relates to the United States. 

“In the U.S., we’re used to talking about immigration — but only at our own border — and we don’t realize that a lot of the population that makes it to the U.S. have had this really long trip of being marginalized from country to country,” Jackson said.