Re-membering Vanessa Guillén and Coyolxāuhqui

Today on my morning walk, I stopped by the Federación de Clubes Zacatecanos del Sur de California where for the past month artist Juan Solis has been working on a two-story tall mural memorializing Vanessa Guillén. The recently completed mural was covered in gauzy fabric in preparation for the dedication ceremony scheduled for later in the morning. Back at home, over a cup of coffee, I began to cry. I felt devastated by the injustice of her death and thought about how scared she must have been during the last moments of her life. And I thought about how her grandmother, Lorenza Almanza, must have felt during the almost eight hundred mile bus ride from Río Grande, Zacatecas, Mexico to Houston, Texas – crossing a border that separates so many families – to attend her granddaughter’s funeral.

I returned to the site a few hours later to find community members, politicians and television crews gathered to witness the unveiling of Solis’s mural, “Justicia para Vanessa Guillén y todas las Mujeres.” Guillén was a twenty year old U.S. Army soldier murdered on April 22 by a fellow soldier inside Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas. Her dismembered body was found two months later, buried along the Leon River. In this monumental public artwork, Solis lovingly renders Guillén as her iconic image in uniform, emerging from vividly colored flowers. On the left side of her chest where her heart is, Solis superimposes an image of La Virgen de Guadalupe. Above her image on opposite sides are the stars of the U.S. flag and a partial image of the Mexican coat of arms. In this mural we can see the intersecting traces of the social historical forces that shaped Guillén’s life, circumscribed her death and affect how she is remembered.

About a hundred feet away from Solis’s “Justicia para Vanessa Guillén y todas las Mujeres” is a replica of the Coyolxāuhqui Stone, unearthed in 1978 at the Templo Mayor of Tenochtitlan, in present day Mexico City. Separated by millennia of mythic time, it is perhaps by cosmic design that Vanessa Guillén and Coyolxāuhqui find themselves in such proximity. Much of the conventional interpretation of the Coyolxāuhqui Stone comes from the Florentine Codex, a 16th-century ethnography by Spanish Franciscan friar Bernardino de Sahagún. This has led to interpretations of the Coyolxāuhqui Stone as a literal representation of Mexica’s “frightening” and “savage” cultural practices rather than as metaphor for “cosmological relationships” (Luna and Galeana 12). The Coyolxāuhqui Stone has thus been interpreted as a carving depicting her body dismembered by her brother Huitzilopochtli to prevent her from murdering their mother.

In their attempts to reclaim Coyolxāuhqui from colonialist interpretations of her as merely a victim of patriarchal violence, Xicana feminist scholars such as Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa “found her to be a metaphor for piecing back together and re-membering their own lives, stories, and connection to a powerful ancestral past” (Luna and Galeana 17). And yet, this oppositional interpretation still relied on colonial epistemology, consigning her to being just a “broken woman” (Luna and Galeana 17). Privileging the work of indigenous scholars and the oral traditions, spiritual practices and scientific knowledges of Mexica civilization, Jennie Luna and Martha Galeana reinterpret Coyolxāuhqui’s image as a “birthing text,” a metaphor for the connection between women’s reproductive cycles and the phases of the moon – a text that teaches later generations of young women about the “tremendous work a woman warrior has to endure in order to birth her human creation” (27).

This brings me to the question of how Vanessa Guillén will be re-membered. Will she be re-membered as merely a victim of state sanctioned patriarchal violence, her body torn asunder? Or will she be re-membered and celebrated as a catalyst for a movement to dismantle patriarchal militarism? In some sense, Guillén has been symbolically made whole again, beautifully rendered on a wall of a community organization which works to support and bring together people from her cultural homeland of Zacatecas. — Work Cited: Luna, Jennie, and Martha Galeana. “Remembering Coyolxauhqui as a birthing text.” Regeneración Tlacuilolli: UCLA Raza Studies Journal 2.1, 2016, pp. 7-32.

Juan Solis: juansolisarte.com

Federación de Clubes Zacatecanos del Sur de California: federacionzacatecana.org

1
Using Format