Frank Islam Athenaeum Simposia: Jennifer Clement
Frank Islam Athenaeum Simposia: Jennifer Clement

[ Music ] [ Music and Applause ] I am honored to introduce
this evening’s guest. Jennifer Clement, although U.S.
born, grew up in Mexico City, Mexico, and has lived there
almost her entire life. She studied English
Literature and Anthropology at New York University
and French in Paris. She was President of PEN
Mexico from 2009 to 2012, a position she took in part due
to the threats against the lives of journalists in Mexico. Clement is the author of
the memoir Widow Basquiat and three novels — “A
True Story Based on Lies”, which was a finalist for
the Orange Prize in Fiction, The Poison That Fascinates,
and Prayers for the Stolen. She’s also the author of several
books of poetry including “The Next Stranger” with an
introduction by W. S. Merwin. Her prize-winning story, “A
Salamander-Child” was published as an art book with work by
Mexican painter Gustavo Monroy. Jennifer Clement was awarded
the National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship
for Literature in 2012 for “Prayers for the Stolen”. In 2014, Ms. Clement was honored with the Sara Curry Humanitarian
Award for that work. She is the recipient
of UK’s Canongate Prize and MacDowell Colony’s Robert and Stephanie Olmsted
Fellow for 2007 and ’08. Tonight she will be
discussing and reading from “Prayers from the Stolen”. The novel has been
praised in all corners of the literary world
and is being published in 24 different languages,
from Brazil to Iceland to Thailand, all over. Critics have called
the novel enchanting, beguiling, compelling. Our own local Diane Rehm called
it beautiful, really beautiful. Rick Bass described in this way. “Prayers for the Stolen is
a magnificent story filled with a wisdom so
dense and ancient as to seem almost unbearable. One wants to turn
away but cannot. It’s a mesmerizing read.” I agree. Ms. Clement was
singularly positioned to bring this marvelous
work of fiction to life. The story arises from
over 11 years of research, interviews with stolen and
kidnapped Mexican women. The exquisite writing style
rises from her skill as a poet. The sincerity arises from
her long love of Mexico. “Prayers for the Stolen”
speaks to women and to the men who love them everywhere
on the globe. We are honored and delighted to
welcome Ms. Jennifer Clement. [ Applause ] Thank you, Julie for that
beautiful introduction. Well, I want to thank a
few people before I start. First I have to thank Joan
Make wherever you are. We’ve been dreaming this dream
for quite a few months now, so I don’t know if we woke
up or if we went to sleep now that we’re here [laughter]. But, anyway, I also want
to thank Julie Wakeman-Linn from the Rockville
campus, and Robert Giron from the Takoma Park
campus, and, of course, Margaret Lattimore
for having me here. So I guess I’ll start a
little bit telling you about the background to
the writing of this book. I imagine that most of you
realize that the drug war in Mexico has escalated and
the figures are something like 120,000 dead in
the last 10 years. And there’s also a genre of literature called Natical
[assumed spelling] Literature which is literature
about the drug wars. But very little of those
works discusses the effects of violence on women. How is this affecting
the women in the country? So I knew that I was
interested in trying to understand what was going
on, and I didn’t really know where that was going to take me. So at first I started out — there were sort of
stages in the research. So the first stage consisted
of interviewing the women of drug traffickers
who were in hiding. They were hiding from
men who were violent or else they were
very compromised because they had
tremendous information so they knew they
couldn’t get away because they would be
killed for what they knew. And there was a kind of
network all over Mexico, a kind of underground
railroad in a way or women that were being hidden
in places, for example, like a K-Mart, that outside
would look like a K-Mart but when you went
inside it was full of hidden women, or convents. Even in hotels. Some floors of hotels were
put aside for hiding women. And then things got
too dangerous because of the escalation
of the drug war and so I had to stop doing that. And that was when I also was
voted President of PEN Mexico and the killing of
journalists began to escalate. So we have in Mexico 98
journalists who have been killed and eight who are missing
and nobody is in jail for having killed a journalist. So part of the problem in Mexico
also is the terrible impunity and the fact that
the laws don’t work and the police enforcement
doesn’t work and investigations don’t work. And on a state level the drug
cartels have infiltrated all the state governments. This is what you’re seeing, for
example, with the problem — I don’t know how many people
are aware of the students that were killed in
September in Guerrero. But part of the problem
is that there’s no law. There’s a lawlessness. So it’s hard to even
investigate these crimes. So doing that I realized I
was become aware that a lot of girls were being stolen
to be sexually trafficked. And so it’s also important to understand the law is
not working for that either. So the people that are
stealing the girls also have complete impunity. And then when I finished being
the President of PEN that was when I heard the story that
in this area of Guerrero where the students were
kidnapped and killed, that they were stealing
a lot of girls because these drug traffickers
are now really what we would call transnational
criminal organizations. They’re not just little small
drug-trafficking organizations. They’re big. They operate all over the world. And so I asked some of the
women, this is a very rural area of Mexico, what they would do. And they told me,
one mother told me that when they would see the
SUVs in the distance driving around looking for pretty girls,
they dug holes in the cornfield and would hide their
girls in the fields so that they wouldn’t be found. So that was the image
that grabbed me and gave birth to the book. Then I spent a lot
of time in Guerrero, which I understand
Guerrero very well. I feel very at home there. I’ve been going to that state
since I was a little girl so it was a very natural
place for me to set my book. So my book has to do
with an area of Guerrero where poppies are grown and where all the major heroin
labs are state-of-the-art heroin labs. So when the students were
kidnapped in September, my book came out in Mexico
in July, I really felt like a prophet in my own land because I had already been
investigating the growing of poppies, the heroin
labs, and what was going on in that part of Mexico. And the killing of the students
has to do with the dispute of the heroin trade in
that part of Mexico. Then by this time I knew
where the book was going and the last two sort
of important pieces of research were to talk to
immigrants from Central America because I don’t think you can
tell the story of America, and I mean all of America,
not just the United States of America, without talking
about Central America. So Mexico really, I say it in
the book, has two borders — the border that we all know and
then the border that’s coming through Mexico going
to the United States. And there’s busses that do this
and there’s a very famous train that we call The Beast
that takes people through Mexico to
the United States. So I didn’t feel that
I could tell the story without having a character
from Central America and discussing this problem. So there’s a Guatemalan
girl in the book. And, lastly, the last part
of the book takes place in the women’s jail in
Mexico City, so that was sort of the last bit of the
research was spending a lot of time in the prison. So another thing has happened
since this book came out and that is that I thought I
had written a very local book. I didn’t think anybody was
going to care that much about some little girls
being stolen in Guerrero. But then the book was sold all
over the world and so I’ve had to travel all over the
world with the book. And what’s become
very apparent is that girls are being stolen
everywhere all over the world. And no country is
immune to this. Even when I’ve been
to Sweden and Finland, the laws that protect
the Swedish and the Finnish women do
not protect the illegal immigrant women. So the African women
or the Russian women or the Ukrainian women
are not protected and they are being trafficked. So I think the reason, one of the reasons the book has
been read in so many places is because it’s a terrible
thing of our time. And the other thing
that really shocked me when I wrote the book is the
time I spent in the jail. A few times I went to
the jail on visitor’s day and this particular women’s
jail is next to a men’s jail. And on visitor’s day there
would be tremendous lines to visit the men and
almost nobody would go to visit the women. So women have no status
and have no value. And in places like Mexico
and many places in the world, it’s much more grave to steal
a car than to steal a girl. It’s also true that all over the
world women prisoners are not visited the way that
men prisoners are. I mean it would be interesting
to do a study on that. But everywhere I’ve been
this apparently is the case. So that was another
thing that shocked me, to see just how women
have no status. All over the world it shows up. So I thought I’d start by
reading one of the scenes that has to do with the holes. “Run and hide in the hole. What did you say, mama? Run and hide in the
hole, right now. Hush. What? Hush, hush. My mother had been outside when she saw a tan-colored
SUV in the distance. More than actually
seeing it, she heard it. There had been a
silence in the jungle as the insects and
birds grew still. Quick, she said. Run, run. I ran out the front
door toward the small clearing at the side of the house
and under a small palm tree. The hole was covered
with dry palm fronds. I moved the fan-like leaves
to one side and scrambled in. From inside I reached
for the fronds and pulled them back
over the opening. The hole was too small. My father had dug it up
when I was six years old. I had to lie down on my side
with my knees at my chest like skeletal remains of ancient
burials I’d seen on television. I could see slivers
of light peer in on me through the thatch of leaves. I heard the sound
of a motor approach. The ground around me
trembled as the SUV drove up to our small house and
stopped in the clearing right above the hole and above me. My small space became
dark as I lay in the shadow of the vehicle. Through the leaves I could
see the SUV’s underbelly, a web of tubes and metal. Above me, the motor
was turned off. I could hear the
sound of the handbrake as it was cranked into place. The car door opened
on the driver’s side. One brown cowboy boot
with a high but square and manly heel stepped
out of the car. Those boots did not
belong to this land. No one wore boots like
that in this heat. As he stood with the car
door open he looked straight at my mother. From the hole I could
see his boots and her red plastic
flip-flops face each other. ‘Good day, mother,’ he said. The man’s voice did not
belong to this land. The boots and his voice were
from the north of Mexico. ‘Is it always this hot here?’ he asked. ‘How hot
do you think it is?’ My mother did not answer. ‘Ah, mother. Put down that gun.’ The other car door opened. I could not swivel in
my hole to try and look around so I just listened. From the passenger side of the
SUV another man stepped out. ‘Do you want me to
shoot her missing?’ the second man asked. He coughed and wheezed
after he spoke. He had an asthmatic
voice from the desert, a voice of rattlesnakes
and sandstorms. ‘Where’s your daughter, hmm?’ the first man asked. ‘I don’t have a daughter.’ ‘Yes, you do. Don’t lie to me, mother.’ I heard a bullet hit the SUV. The vehicle shook above me. I heard the blat-tat-tat
explosion of machine gun fire, along with the sound
of the bullets breaking up the adobe brick
walls of our home. Then it stopped. The jungle swelled
and contracted. Insects swept tiles
and birds stilled and nothing rubbed
against anything. The sky darkened. The machine gun had fired
the wind out of the mountain. ‘We were your best hope,
mother,’ the first man said. ‘I birthmarked the
place, didn’t I?’ I heard the second man say
through a shrill wheeze that became a whistle. The two men got back in the
car and slammed the doors shut. The driver turned the key
and started the motor. When he placed his boot on
the accelerator above me, my hole was filled with the
vehicle’s exhaust fumes. I opened my mouth and
breathed in the noxious smoke. The car backed up and
drove off down the path. I breathed deeply. I took in the poison
as if it were the smell of a flower or fruit. My mother made me spend the
next two hours in that hole. ‘You’re not coming out until
I hear a bird sing,’ she said. It was almost dark when
she pulled the fronds off of the hole and helped me out. My little house was sprayed
with dozens of bullets. Even the papaya tree had bullet
wounds and sweet sap oozed from the holes in the soft bark. ‘Just look at that,’
my mother said. I turned. She was pointing
at the hole with her finger. I peered in and saw four
albino-shell scorpions there, the deadliest kind. Those scorpions showed
you more mercy than any human being ever
will, my mother said. She took off one
of her flip-flops and killed all four
in beating blows. Mercy is not a two-way
street,’ she said.” Because we’re at a university,
there’s a theme that runs through the book that I never
get to talk about very much, but I’ll just bring it up now, is the idea of television
knowledge. So one of the things that
struck me so much going to these rural communities
is that these are people with no education, and yet
they all have small parabolic antennas, little white ones. I talk about it in the book of
how that must look from space. And they have televisions and sometimes fabulous
flat-screened big things. And so there’s no foundation for
what is coming into their lives. And so in the book I call
it television knowledge. And, you know, what
does that mean exactly? And it’s happening
all over the world. And so, for example,
this mother, Rita, she’s a absolute fanatic
from documentaries and history documentaries. But she doesn’t really
understand them. But she is able because of
that to talk about the pyramids in Egypt or to talk about
the River Styx or all kinds of things like that
in this quirky way. So I’m interested in that and also the way other
technologies enter these worlds. For example, one character, who’s a very unimportant
drug dealer, well, he does all his drug-dealing
on Facebook. And everything is set up
like with the spring-breakers that come from the
United States. It’s all set up way
ahead of time. And they get to Mexico and
they know that their dealer on Facebook is waiting
on such and such a pier. And that’s, you know, how the
modern world is doing these things nowadays. So there’s a discussion
of all those kinds of things in the book. In my research I never
met a girl that was stolen and that came back, so. But in my novel she does come
back because, as a novelist, I’m able to bring her back. And so she can then tell
her story of what she saw. So I’m going to read
a little bit of that. She comes back. She’s obviously very, very
traumatized as you will see, and so I’ll read
this little section. “That afternoon I found out
what had happened to Paula. I was walking down the path that
led to the schoolroom when I ran into Paula sitting under a tree. She was sitting on the
ground which we never did. On our mountain we
always placed something between our skin and the earth. She was wearing a long dress
that covered her like a tent. I knew that insects
were crawling up her bare legs
under the cloth. I felt the warm, black
earth under my feet. The ground had brought
us together. I wanted to hold her hand. Her face was bent over as she
looked at something in her lap. I walked slowly toward her
the way I had learned to walk when I wanted to catch a small
garter snake or baby iguana. As I approached, my body came
between her body and the sun, and I covered her with
the eclipse of my shadow. She looked up and I sat
next to her on the ground. I knew I’d be brushing black and red ants off my
skin within a minute. Paula’s dress was covered with
black ants swarming all over. A few had already
migrated up her clothes, crawled around her neck
and behind her ears. She did not flick them off. ‘Don’t you feel so sorry
for Brittany Spears?’ Paula said. The long sleeves of
Paula’s dress were folded over and pushed up. On her left arm, the inside
where the skin is pale and thin like guava skin, I could see a
row of cigarette burns, circles, polka dots, pink circles. ‘You know,’ Paula continued,
‘Brittany has many tattoos.’ ‘Yes, no, I didn’t know.’ ”Oh, yes. She has a fairy and a small
daisy circling her toe.’ ‘No, I didn’t know.’ ‘And she has a butterfly
and another flower and a small star
on her right hand.’ ‘Oh, really?’ ‘Yes, her body is like a garden. ‘Do you know who I am?’ I asked. ‘Oh, yes, of course. You’re Ladydi.’ I brushed a few ants
off her legs and arms. ‘Get up,’ I said. ‘The ants are going
to eat you alive if you sit here any longer.’ ‘The ants?’ ‘Does your mother
know where you are?’ I took hold of her wrists
and helped lift her up. ‘I will take you home,’ I said. ‘Let me be with you
for a little longer.’ ‘I like you,’ Paula said. ‘You’re nice to me.’ I held her hand and walked with her toward a
log a few steps away. ‘We can’t sit on
the ground,’ I said. We sat down side-by-side
looking forward as if we were on a bus heading down a highway. I took her hand in mine
and looked at the pattern of cigarette burns on the
inside belly skin of her arm. ‘I’ve seen tigers
and lions,’ she said. ‘Real ones. It wasn’t a zoo.’ ‘Tell me.’ ‘At that place there was
a garage for the cars and a garage for the animals. ‘You can tell me.’ Paula described the ranch. It was in the north of Mexico
in the state of Tamaulipas, right on the U.S. border. An important drug
trafficker who was known by the nickname McClane,
after Bruce Willis’s character in the movie, Die Hard, lived
with his wife and four children. McClane had been a policeman. ‘I was his slave
mistress,’ Paula said. ‘Slave mistress?’ ‘Yes. We call ourselves that. All of us do’ At one end of
the ranch there was a garage that housed McClane’s cars,
which included four BMWs, two Jaguars, and several
pickup trucks and SUVs. Next to the garage
there was cement rooms that contained a lion
and three tigers. Paula learned from
the caretakers that the animals had been bought
from zoos in the United States. The property also contained
its own small cemetery with four large mausoleums that
were the size of little houses. Each mausoleum even
had a bathroom. It wasn’t a zoo. Every day the lion and tiger
excrement was picked up and wrapped into drug shipments
bound for the United States. This practice kept the
drug-sniffing border dogs away from the shipments. Paula’s job on the ranch was
to sleep with McClane ever now and again and to help pack
the lion and tiger excrement around the drugs, or rub a
small film of the excrement on the outside of
plastic packages. ‘Someone told me they were
fed human meat,’ Paula said. The sky began to darken as we
sat on the log holding hands. In the dusk small clouds of
mosquitoes began to surround us. But since Paula continued to talk I sat there
and let them bite. She didn’t seem to
notice the feeling of insects crawling
or biting her skin. ‘I don’t need to tell you that along the way I was a
plastic water bottle, right?’ Paula said. ‘I was something you pick
up and take a swig of.’ I shook my head no, no. ‘Those guys who stole me
were from [foreign word]. They took me north
to that party.’ It was McClane’s
daughter’s birthday party. She was 15. A whole circus had been rented. Several large tents had
been set up in the fields to one side of the ranch house. A man walked around
giving away clouds of pink cotton candy
on long wood sticks. There was a band and
a large dance floor. Paula was taken to
one of the tents that had been placed very
far away from the party. She could hardly
hear the band play. Inside this tent there were
a few men and over 30 women. Rows of plastic chairs were
set up on one side of the tent. In the middle of the open space
there was a table with Cokes, beers, plastic glasses,
and paper plates piled high with peanuts covered
in red chili powder. The women in the
tent had been stolen. The drug traffickers who
killed Paula’s mother’s dogs and had stolen her wrapped naked in a white towel were
now going to sell her. McClane was in the tent. He looked at the women
and asked them to smile. He wanted to see their teeth. But he didn’t look
into Paula’s mouth. McClane picked Paula. He picked the most
beautiful girl in Mexico. She should have been a legend. Her face should have
covered magazines. Love songs should have
been written to her.” And then I’ll skip a little
to the end of this chapter. ” ‘Why do you have those
cigarette burns on your arm?’ ‘Oh, but we all have
them, Ladydi.’ She looked down at the inside
of her arm, stretching it out before her as if she were
showing me the page of a book. ‘If you’ve been stolen,
you burn the inside of your left arm
with cigarettes.’ ‘Why? I don’t understand.’ ‘Are you crazy?’ she asked. ‘Are you stupid?’ ‘I’m sorry.’ ‘A woman decided it
a long, long time ago and now we all do it,’ she said. ‘If we’re found dead
someplace everyone will know we were stolen. It’s our mark. My cigarette burns
are a message.’ I looked at the pattern
of circles on her arm as she continued to
hold her limb stretched out like an oar into
the jungle air. ‘You do want people
to know it’s you. Otherwise how will
our mothers find us?’ It was almost dark. ‘We have to go now,’ I said. ‘Come with me. I’ll take you.’ Her mother was standing
at the front door waiting. She held a baby bottle
filled with milk in one hand. ‘It’s time for my baby
to go bed,’ Concha said. ‘What on earth were you
doing out in the jungle?’ Paula didn’t answer and went
straight into the house. Her mother walked me to
the edge of their property. ‘Did she say anything to you?’ Concha asked. ‘Don’t say anything to
anyone,’ Concha said in a panic. ‘How did they know she was here? Who watched and knew a
beautiful girl lived up here? They came for her. They knew what they
were coming for. If they know she’s
back, if they find out, they’ll come back and get her. We have to leave. There’s no time. In a day or so. ‘I’ve been planning, Ladydi. We’re escaping. What did she tell you?’ ‘She told me about
the cigarette burns.’ ‘Did she tell you that
she did it to herself? Did she tell you
that all the women who have been robbed
do this to themselves?’ I nodded. ‘Do you believe her?’ Concha asked. ‘I don’t believe it at all. I can’t imagine burning myself. That’s impossible.’ ‘Yes, I believe it.’ At that moment Paula
appeared behind her mother. She was like a white
vaporous creature. She held the baby
bottle in one hand. She was naked. In the dark, under a
river of moonlight, I could see the nipples of
her breasts, the black hair between her legs,
and the constellation of cigarette burns
all over her body. I could see the cigarette
burns stars that made up Orion and Taurus. Even her feet were
covered in the round burns. Paul had walked through
the Milky Way and every star had
burned her body.’ So on to happier subjects. The protagonist is called
Ladydi after the princess. And I won’t give away why. But there are quite a few
Ladydi’s in the countryside in Mexico and also
in Central America, all named after Princess
Lady Diana who, for me, is the complete anti-Cinderella
figure. So everything went
wrong for her. We all thought she was
Cinderella but she sure wasn’t. So, there’s a sort of, in
a way, an homage to her, but she’s named that
for an unexpected reason that you would find out
when you read the book. So in all my books
everybody always falls in love at first sight. And in giving workshops I
sometimes said, “Well, you know, but that was too fast. They fell in love too
fast in your book.” And so I would say, “Well,
isn’t that how it happens?” So I think the world sometimes
might be divided in two — those who fall in love at first
sight and those who don’t. And, obviously, I do [laughter],
because my people do. So Ladydi goes to
work in Acapulco and she meets the
gardener, Julio, and this is the moment
of the meeting. So I’ll just finish with the
meeting and then a little end of their love story, a little
piece of their love story so that we can leave
here feeling good and not feeling sad [laughter]. “The very next morning
Julio the gardener walked through the front door
and I fell in love. He walked right into my body. He climbed up my
ribs and into me. I thought to myself, say
a prayer for ladders. I wanted to smell his neck and
place my mouth on his mouth and taste him and hold him. I wanted to smell the smell of
garden and grass and palm tree, smell of rose and
leaf and lemon flower. I fell in love with the
gardener his name was Julio. I spent the morning following
him around the garden. He trimmed, dug, and cut. He rubbed the leaves
of a lemon tree between his fingers
and smelled them. He took a few flat silver
seeds out of the back pocket of his jeans and pressed
them into the dirt. He used long shears
to cut the grass. After an hour he left and went
to get a ladder from the garage so that he could cut the
Mexican pink bougainvillea that grew along one wall and beside the life-sized
bronze horse. As he snipped at the
overgrown branches, yellow pollen was shaken
into the air and the flowers, like paper flowers,
covered the ground. Julio was in his early 20s. His skin was deeply tanned from
working in the sun all day. He had a short Afro that
stood like a black crown above him, and light brown eyes. Julio was kind to the
flowers and the leaves. He cut the roses with his hands as if he was honored
to hold them. He twirled vines
between his fingers as if they were locks of hair. He walked gently on the grass as if he did not want
the small blades to break or even bend under his weight. Plants in my life had always
been something to fight against. Trees were filled
with tarantulas. Vines strangled everything. Large red ants lived under roots and snakes hid near
the prettiest flowers. I also knew to stay away from
the unusual, dry, brown patches of jungle that were suffocating from the herbicide
dropped by the helicopters. That poison would
continue to burn through the land for decades. Everyone on my piece of mountain
always dreamed of the city and all that cement
where no insect survived. We could never imagine why
anyone would want a garden. Because I loved Julio the
cars and trucks outside on the street sounded
like rivers. The diesel smoke from passenger
busses smelled like flowers. And the rotten five-day-old
garbage by the front door smelled sweet. Cement walls became mirrors. My small ugly hands
turned into starfish. In those hours that
I followed Julio around the garden,
he never spoke to me. After Julio left each day I
sat in my room and prayed. I prayed that the beautiful
garden of bougainvillea trees, roses, flowers, lemon and
magnolia trees would dry up, and that the lawn would
become overgrown with weeds. I prayed that Julio would have
to come to the house every day to take care of his
sick garden.” And this is the last little
bit about that love story. “Since I was a person who had
never experienced cold weather, I loved to close the
door and windows and turn up the air conditioning
until the room was freezing. My teeth chattered. My teeth seemed almost to
break against each other. I had never felt that
kind of cold before. I loved it. I even loved the pain of it. ‘This room is the North
Pole,’ Julio said. He never asked me to turn
the air conditioning off. I would gather up all
the blankets I could find from around the house
and pile them on the bed. I had never slept in a
cold room under blankets. ‘This is because you grew up
in the jungle,’ Julio said. ‘I grew up close to the desert
where it can get very cold. At night, in our Acapulco igloo,
Julio told me his philosophy. ‘Life is a crazy,
out-of-order, inside-out, salt-mixed-with-sugar place
where the drowned can be walking on dry land,’ he said. ‘Like the best outlaws I
know I’m going to die young. I don’t even think
about old age. It’s not even in
my imagination.’ ‘You have tamed me,’ I answered. I picked up his hand
from the pillow and cuffed it around my wrist. Julio thought people
could be divided into day and night people. He said words could be
divided this way also. Ugly night words,
according to him, were words like rabies
and nausea. Pretty night words were words
like moon and milk and moth. When Julio and I moved around
under the blankets sparks of electricity crackled
and lit up our bed. Never had we seen anything like
this before — only in the sky. We would make love in the
wool blanket lightening.” Thank you. [ Applause ] Jennifer Clement, thank you
for coming and sharing with us. I just have a question. While reading your book I
started to sense a strong sense of community in order
for these mothers to protect their
young daughters. I want to ask you,
how did you feel or how important was the sense
of community and strong bond for the daughters to
survive in Mexico?>>I think that you’re right. I think there’s a strong
bond among the women. I think one of the things
that the book is telling, or one of the stories that
it’s telling is how the lack of protection from men
toward their women, and so this occurs
for many reasons. But it’s definitely
a generalized thing. And there are whole
communities now that only are made up of women.>>Okay. Thank you.>>Thank you.>>Thank you for coming
and for writing this. Could you talk about
if you had fears for your own safety
during the research and what you did about that?>>Mm-hmm.>>Please repeat the question.>>Whether I had fears for my
safety during the research. Yeah. I mean, when I was
interviewing the women in hiding, I used to
go in with protection with two cellular telephones. I had people that I had
to call when I went in and people I would
call when I got out. And then I stopped that work because it did get
just too dangerous. It was, you know, it was as though the anthill
had been stomped on. So nobody knew where
the ants were. And it was hard to try
and control that anymore. And then as President of PEN,
I had, you know, things happen like slashing of all my
tires on several occasions, the cutting of my phone line, the cutting of the Internet
cable, sort of vandalism-type of things, a couple
of funny phone calls. But with the coming out of the
book I haven’t had anything happen since. And the book has been, much
to my sort of amazement, has been so well-received
in Mexico, and people love the book there. And I didn’t know how
that was going to go down. But I haven’t had
any repercussions from the book itself, you know.>>There’s a lot about mothers and females are obviously
the main point of the story, but what about the fathers
of these girls and brothers? I read a little bit
online before coming, a little synopsis of the book. And it talks about how
you described them, disguising them as boys, also. But, yeah, what about
the fathers and brothers of these women?>>Well it’s a little bit what
the previous question was about. I think it’s complex. I mean, the men have
disappeared for many reasons. I mean, one is that they’ve
come to the United States and they create second
families here. That is becoming less and
less so because it’s harder and harder to come to
the United States now because the drug
cartels which, as I said, are not really drug
cartels anymore, have taken over the border. So it used to be your uncle
so and so of so and so that would help you cross. Now, I mean, they’re
killing tons of people on the border as
you’ve read about. So it’s not so easy. And also because of the fence. The fence was planned so that
the only way to cross would be through the Arizona desert. So the Arizona desert is
just a total graveyard of dead immigrants. And that was planned that
that would be that way. And so then there’s the men
that are looking for work in other states because
the unemployment is bad. Then there’s the men that are
victims of violence themselves. They’ve been killed. Or they’ve gotten caught up on
this, not maybe out of choice, but because they
don’t have a choice. And then I think it’s a problem
on a more, on a deeper level. I think it’s a universal
problem. I think that’s there’s
an absence — I mean, because this
book has taken me — I didn’t know that I had written
a protest novel when I wrote it. It wasn’t my intention,
but it — that’s what it is now
that it’s in the world. And so I’ve had to be on a
lot of human rights panels and panels about trafficking or
about violence against women. And it’s just every country. It’s women talking to women,
women talking to women, women talking to women. Everybody’s talking about
Nicholas Kristof who writes in the New York Times
because he seems to be the only man onboard. And even the huge
United Nations’ Campaign. The face of that
campaign is Emma Watson. Is that her name? Hermione. She’s the
face of that campaign. So even in these campaigns
where you would want, you know, very important, powerful
men to be advocating for women, it’s not happening. So I say to all of you men
in this room, we need you. Yes?>>I was in [ Inaudible Speaker ]>>Forty-three students
were kidnapped in Guerrero on the 26th of September
last year and disappeared and then found that they had
been burned in a dump on pyres of tires, and then the
ashes had been placed in jumbo-sized plastic garbage
bags and placed in a river. So only the remains of one
of the students was able to be tested using DNA, but
maternal DNA, the most — the last DNA that’s
left in anything — because that bag stayed closed. All the other bags were
thrown in the river open so that the remains dispersed. So for the parents, they don’t
accept this version of events. They don’t accept that
their children have died. They don’t accept that all — what the witnesses
are saying happened. But it’s caused a
huge commotion. And it probably has to do with
the fact that that whole area of Mexico is where the
poppies are grown and that where the heroin labs are. And the heroin coming
into the United States in the last four years
has increased fourfold. There’s no way that Mexico
can solve this problem without the United States. It’s a terrible marriage. So all the drugs are
coming to the United States and if American gun dealers,
both illegal and legal ones, were to stop sending
guns to Mexico, 47% of American gun dealers
would be out of business. So just imagine the
economics of all of this.>>I notice the way you
were reading your book. It’s really good. You sound like you’re grieving
on the way you’re reading it. Has something happened
during the time that — in your life in Mexico that
has triggered your inspiration in writing this book?>>Yeah. I consider
the book a requiem –>>Mm-hmm.>>– for sure. It’s –>>Is it too personal that
you can’t share it or –>>No, no, no.>>I mean, I can [inaudible].>>The sadness you
feel is a sadness that I feel toward
what has happened to the country that I love.>>So it’s coming from a country that has sold their
own daughter just for tonight’s food or dinner. I’m from the Philippines.>>Yeah, so you know. Yes.>>Yep. The way you have
mentioned the drug cartels is like vindictively being the
costs of this human trafficking. Like they are the
one handling it.>>Mm-hmm.>>My question is,
would it be different, on a different country
like I am?>>Well, the drugs aren’t being
produced in the Philippines but there’s terrible
trafficking of women in the Philippines,
and of children. The thing that’s
happened in Mexico — first of all, Mexico used to be
a transit country from Colombia. And the Mexicans smartly
realized they didn’t need Colombia. They didn’t have to be
the transit for anybody. And they took it over —
the drug cartel business. But they’ve also
expanded their business. They’re now trans-national
Mafia. So they not only deal in
drugs, they deal in arms; they deal in money
laundering schemes, tremendous money
laundering schemes. But they also have figured
out that the trafficking of people is where the
big money is because a bag of drugs you can sell one time. A girl, you can sell
many times a day. This is why human
trafficking and human slavery and debt bondage and all
these things are so huge in the whole world now. Because economically selling
people is the big business.>>Was that your resource
on writing this book? I mean, on how you –>>Well, I think
it’s important to –>>Sorry.>>– say that I’m
not a sociologist. I’m a writer. I’m a poet. So even when I do the
research I’m not doing it as a social worker or as a
lawyer or as a politician. I’m always doing it from
the point of view of poetry. I’m looking for the symbol. I’m looking for the metaphor. Of course I have to know
what I’m writing about. But that’s not my
primary concern.>>Got it. Thank you for being
honest tonight.>>Thank you.>>So, one of, I think,
my favorite characters in the book is Ladydi’s mother. She’s magnificent. Did you — could you
speak a little bit about where you drew
inspiration for her character, and specifically like
she seems to be — I don’t know if you’d use
this word, but superstitious? Where you drew inspiration
for that.>>It’s mysterious. I don’t know. I mean, I sort of fall in love
with my characters as I go, too. So — and they sort of
go revealing themselves. But, yeah, I mean, I’m
interested in superstition. And in Mexico we can
be very superstitious. The entomology of that word
is great fear of the gods. So I definitely have that. So, yeah. I just really
related to her anger of not having her man and
loving him and not being able to protect her family and
not being able to keep it — I mean, there’s so
much pain in her. She can’t even listen to
love songs anymore, you know? So, yes, she’s angry, but she’s
also, for me, sort of symbolic of a lot of — the expression
of a lot of the feelings.>>I know it’s not
only in Mexico that, you know, there’s a traffic. It’s all over the world.>>Mm-hmm.>>And the problem is most
of the time those girls from poor family and educate. The men, too. And sometimes your
men are not there. And I would like to know,
since you wrote this book, did you went back
there, you know? Because you say people like
it, like the book over there. And I would like to
know, what do you think with social media today,
communication, how can we do to fight, you know, or to do
something to help those people who live in that fear? That mother, she was so afraid that they would take
her daughter away. You know, she has to find a
place to hide her, you know. Even that — those
insect was pity. They didn’t do anything to her. It’s so sad to see that
people are living in the world like that in such pain. What can we do to help them? Do you think we can
do — like us, we — in the United States,
yes, it’s like okay. We are far from what
is going back there.>>Mm-hmm.>>But since we are
here, what can we do to help those who
are still there? And for the men. It’s good for them to be here. What I want — I want to say to
— is for them to get involved. It’s not only the woman fight. They need to help us to do that. So –>>Yes.>>– I would like to know.>>Okay. There’s sort of a
more, sort of global answer and a particular answer. I mean, if anybody’s
interested in donating money to an organization in Mexico
that’s helping trafficked women, I knew of one. I’d be happy to give you
the website of that place which is a very honorable place. In terms of what’s going on in
the world, I don’t know if I — I don’t think I have the answer. But somehow or other women
have to have more status. They have to have more value. And the other thing is that we
have to very aware that women — we ourselves learn patrimony. We learn it. We live it. We practice it. So when you have, you know, mothers in India aborting
all their girl fetuses, it’s the mothers
that are aborting. It’s the mothers that
are making that decision because they aren’t in a patriarchal society. And so they are also
making that happen. So we have to change
our way of thinking and what I said earlier, I
think it’s really important to have men care and
men voice their outrage. Not just women.>>I just had a quick question. If you look at the circumstances
that render women in Mexico so vulnerable to trafficking,
what’s the implication of those circumstances
on Mexican machismo?>>Well, I just think it’s —
one of the reason it happens so easily is because
of the machismo. But in Mexico we
don’t have any figures because we don’t keep them to know how many girls
are being stolen. There’s no way to know. But in the United States, which
has a very imperfect numbers, but within their
imperfect numbers, just a city like
Atlanta, they estimate that 300 girls are
vulnerable every month. So it’s happening here. It’s happening outside the door. It’s everyplace.>>You said that the
women’s in jail were — like they didn’t
have any visitors. And what do you think — like
why the woman who give her life to like — I guess
they have kids. I guess they have a family. Why they don’t have visitors
like the man who maybe worked for the family but didn’t give a
life that ’til like they have a like long line of
visitors, you know? How can the people be
so — how I would say? Like how can it be
that the woman is — doesn’t have any value, any
like care, any help or support from the family when they’re
— while they’re in jail? Maybe they’re in jail
because of the — like because they wanted
to help their family.>>They are sometimes, yeah. I think it’s the same answer. Women also learn patriarchy. So the mothers and the
sisters and the wives are going to visit the men in prison. They’re not going to visit
the daughters and the sisters and the mothers in
prison because the lines to visit the men
are full of women. It’s not — it’s
what’s men visiting men. It’s tons of women
visiting the men.>>Yeah. This is [inaudible].>>So women themselves
perpetrate it.>>Yeah.>>Mm-hmm.>>There is very,
yeah, I don’t know.>>So you were talking
about the comparison between the drug trafficking
and human trafficking. And I was wondering — you said
there’s large multi-national corporations for
drug trafficking. Is human trafficking like the
multi-national corporations or is it on the individual level
where they’re taking young women or are they transporting
— [Multiple Speakers]>>All of the above. It’s happening in
all those ways. Yeah. They’re not
trans-national corporations. They’re Mafia’s, yeah. Trans-national crime
organizations.>>Yeah.>>What’s happening in Mexico
and in the United States in terms of public policy in laws dealing with
this situation?>>Well, not very much. But I’m not an expert. If there’s things going
on that aren’t sort of in the public
eye, I don’t know. But definitely when you think
of how many guns are going to Mexico, nobody seems to care.>>Thank you very much for
bringing this to our attention. Can you address the gun
situation because, you know, we have this habit
of saying, “Oh, we’re going to change things because this terrible
thing happened.” And then we don’t because
obviously people learn power that don’t want things changed. The statistic of 47%
of gun dealers legal and illegal would close down
if we stopped the trafficking in guns to Mexico. How do we use this to
really effect some change, recognizing that power’s
power and K Street is K Street and what can we do about it?>>Well, I, you know, I think in the United States we’re
not doing anything about it, so to ask that something
happen about doing something that would benefit
another country seems to be a zillion miles
away from the discourse. It’s a mystery, the
Second Amendment, and how it’s interpreted. I don’t understand it. I’ve written, actually,
a lot about guns. It’s a theme for me. So I don’t know. I mean, I really wish the
Mexican Government would say no more. And just as there’s a wall
that stops illegal immigration to the United States,
there should be a wall that stops guns going to Mexico. I mean that would interest me. I don’t see that happening,
which makes you think it has to be for economic
reasons, the lobby, and this completely
amoral capitalism that we’re all living around,>>Thank you. [ Applause and Music ]>>Thank you very much. [ Music ]

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