"The 1997 murder of his cousin, María, in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, was a call to action for Juan Armando Rojas, OWU’s chair of modern foreign languages. On a Sunday evening in August, drug traffickers opened fire in a restaurant, executing their target and massacring nearly 20 bystanders, one of whom was María Eugenia Martínez. At the time, Rojas was completing his master’s degree in the same border city, located just two miles from El Paso, Texas. His cousin’s death inspired Rojas to focus his work as a poet on speaking out against the violence in his hometown, considered by many to be the murder capital of the world.
“I wasn’t yet writing about border violence, gender, and identity until I realized that, as an author, I had a literary responsibility to chant against violence and social injustice,” recalls Rojas.
With his wife as coeditor, Rojas has published a new book, Sangre Mía / Blood of Mine: Poetry of Border Violence, Gender and Identity in Ciudad Juárez. The paperback is a collection of works by more than 50 artists who have become known as “border poets.” They, like Rojas, have emerged as a collective voice whose words denounce the violence in Juárez and its surrounding region, Chihuahua. “The anthology is a collection of poems that chant against gender violence and border violence,” explains Rojas.
Until this anthology, the literary genre of border poetry was accessible only in Spanish. As its title suggests,Sangre Mía / Blood of Mine is presented in both Spanish and English. Translating the work of so many native Spanish speakers was no small task for Rojas and his wife, Jennifer Rathbun, associate professor and chair of the foreign language department at Ashland University. To preserve the verse as a poem takes much more than a translator; scholars must take into account differences in word order, sounds, rhythm, and more.
Rathbun and Rojas named their book in honor of the late poet Susana Chávez, a writer and social activist who managed to publish just one poem, called “Sangre Mia,” before her death two years ago at age 36. “Susana fell victim to the very femicide she denounced,” write the authors in the book’s foreword. Aside from the city’s notorious rate of drug-related crime, nearly 1,000 women have been abducted or murdered in Juárez since the mid-’90s. These victims of femicide tend to be young women who move from rural areas to work in the city’s sweatshops for poverty-level wages. Many are kidnapped while waiting for the bus or walking home.
Since he moved from Ciudad Juárez, Rojas has returned periodically to speak at the city’s annual poetry festival. There he has made friends with like-minded poets and social activists, many of whom contributed to the new anthology. “The idea for Sangre Mía grew out or what we were hearing at festivals,” says Rojas. By reading the verses in his new collection, “readers will discover the border, its daily life, its sufferings, and its beauty.”
Rojas’ book was published by New Mexico University Press."