It took decades for award-winning author Cristina Rivera Garza to tell the story of her sister Liliana, who was strangled on July 16, 1990 in Mexico City.
For years, Liliana had tried to end a relationship with her boyfriend, who was possessive and abusive, according to notes and writings she left and subsequent interviews with Liliana’s friends, Rivera Garza writes in her new book, “El invencible verano de Liliana”, which translates to “Liliana’s invincible summer”.
“A few weeks before the tragedy, Liliana finally made a final decision. …She would leave him behind. She was about to start a new life. She would do a master’s degree and then a doctorate; she would go to London. Her decision was that she wouldn’t have a life without him,” writes Rivera Garza, who is a professor at the University of Houston.
Liliana’s case has not been solved, although research and Rivera Garza’s book have led to important information about the case.
In a country like Mexico, where around 10 women are murdered daily, the book has managed to transcend the literary sphere to join the intense social debate on the uncontrollable increase in feminicides and abuse against women. According to the World Health Organization, “Femicide is generally understood to involve the intentional killing of women because they are women, but broader definitions include any killing of women or girls.”
In 2021, 1,004 femicides were recorded in Mexico, a number that has increased every year since 2015, when authorities began recording such cases.
Rivera Garza’s work has been widely translated and praised by critics and the public in novels such as “No One Will See Me Cry” and “The Iliac Crest”. Her talent for creating stories with neat atmospheres and a masterful mastery of rawness have earned her multiple awards, such as the Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz prize, the Anna Seghers international prize and the Roger Caillois prize, among others.
Boxes containing notes and other papers written by her sister Liliana – an architecture student who also loved to write – sat silent for years, waiting for someone to revive her words and thoughts.
After intense archival work, interviews with family, friends and authorities, in addition to undertaking an honest memory exercise, Rivera Garza has published a volume that takes readers into the life of the young student as well as in his desires and dreams.
“While she was in this world, she took the trouble to put together her own file and I took it very seriously, as if it were her instructions to tell her life story, and I respected what she said a lot. ‘she said, without trying to interpret from the present but leave her voice, ”said Rivera Garza in an interview with Noticias Telemundo.
The book also provokes a deep reflection on bereavement. “Although this is a wound that will not heal, what we are going through now as a family is a grief full of hugs and connection through sympathy from readers,” the author said.
Although Liliana’s case has not been resolved, there has been recent progress.
“We have made an email available to the public so that they can send us information about the case. Readers have been very generous and we’ve received all kinds of advice, but one piece of information has led us to a clue that investigative teams, both in Mexico and the United States, are following right now,” said Rivera Garza. .
Below is an edited and condensed version of Rivera Garza’s interview.
What was the clue about Liliana’s case that readers emailed?
The case got bogged down, we hadn’t paid attention to it for a long time and we discovered that there was a valid arrest warrant. It made me think that the book could summon other forces, bottom up, with readers, and we were very lucky.
The data we received indicates that my sister’s alleged murderer, who in Mexico was known as Ángel González Ramos, could have changed his name to Mitchell Angelo Giovanni in the United States, in southern California, and who passed away on May 2, 2020.
One of the successes of the book is the use of language as a tool to introduce us to Liliana. … Was it difficult to achieve this tone?
This story needed to be told from the perspective of the victim, with new language. In cases of extreme violence, the stories boil down to numbers, a lost file or a crime.
That’s why I wanted to use Liliana’s language in the most authentic way possible to take stock of her life, and without her archives I couldn’t have done it.
The rise of feminicides in Mexico seems unchecked. How can culture and the media help combat this tragic trend?
I think it’s important to keep our eyes wide open and be very alert to these stories that translate acts of violence against women into the language of crimes of passion. Patriarchy says women are always to blame; that is why we have to fight it, because it is the dominant language of the society in which we live.
Every day, we must remind the authorities of their responsibilities. These crimes continue to happen because there is impunity, because a perpetrator of femicide knows they can get away with very little chance of facing justice.
What are the changes, at the societal level, that could help eradicate this epidemic?
In addition to demanding that the state fulfill its functions, in our daily lives we must criticize ourselves and reflect on when silence can make us complicit… in this violence.
Those who commit feminicides do not act in isolation, they are not monsters that we will be able to recognize because they have particular characteristics. They are men who seem normal, but they are part of a system that favors them and turns a blind eye to cases of violence, so I think we all have a great social responsibility.
After the process of writing this book, do you feel like you know Liliana better?
I’ve always had my doubts about the healing power of literature…but in the book I wrote that you’re never more defenseless than when you don’t have language, and that process m made it possible to develop one to identify, describe and position myself in the face of acts of extreme violence. … I think all the Lilianas are still there with us, because when we discover that through language we have the ability to invoke our loved ones, we can talk to them and keep them present.
When is the English edition of this book coming out?
It will be released in early 2023 by Hogarth Press, but I also wrote it in English because I wanted to be responsible for all decisions in both languages. It will be a different version, it’s not just a literal translation. There are things that English allows me to do that Spanish doesn’t and vice versa, so I wanted to explore that.
Were there any particular memories that you relived during your investigation?
I knew Liliana had a really good sense of humor because she and I would do entire sessions to poke fun at anything, but when I talked to her friends I found they liked also his irony, sarcasm and critical ability.
One of the things that broke my heart was that at the recent International Women’s Day march, someone passed me a picture of a jewelry store in Mexico City called Liliana and someone one came by and added the words “Rivera Garza”. At that moment, I realized that the book functions as an artifact and is on the street. It is no longer just me who remembers my sister’s name, but many other women who also celebrate her life.
An earlier version of this story was first published in Noticias Telemundo.
To follow Latin NBC to Facebook, Twitter and instagram.