Things That Matter

Vanessa Guillen’s Family To Meet With Trump And Introduce Bill To Protect Military Personnel Reporting Sexual Harassment

Vanessa Guillen’s family participated in a live video with mitú. You can check it out below.

Update July 14, 2020: Pfc Vanessa Guillen’s disappearance and death have shocked the American people. The young woman was a soldier at Fort Hood when she tried to report sexual harassment attacks against her. The Guillen family attorney Natalie Khawam is now pushing for a new bill to be passed to help other women in the military.

Vanessa Guillen’s family are preparing to meet with President Donald Trump, file the #IAMVANESSAGUILLEN bill, and protest at the same time.

After Guillen’s remains were found following a search for the missing woman, the family got to work fighting to protect her legacy. Part of that is with the #IAMVANESSAGUILLEN bill.

The bill, which the Guillen family attorney is hopeful about, will empower people in the military to seek justice for sexual harassment and assault. As it stands now, the way people report sexual harassment and assault starts with reporting it to the command chain. Advocates against sexual assault criticize this policy because it allows for the military to hide the allegations.

The #IAMVANESSAGUILLEN bill would allow military personnel to report these attacks to third parties. People, like Guillen, would no longer need to fear speaking up and facing retaliation. Instead, they would be free to contact law enforcement and have an investigation led by non-military personnel.

The family will be meeting President Trump, introducing the bill, and protesting in honor of Guillen from July 29-30.

Update: Human remains were found near Fort Hood Tuesday, according to several reports. The remains were found near Leon River in Bell County, Texas, and are likely Vanessa Guillen, according to family. Guillen was last seen on April 22 on the base and people have been searching for the missing soldier since.

Human remains have been found near Leon River during the search for Vanessa Guillen.

Human remains have been discovered in a shallow grave near Fort Hood, where Guillen was last seen. In response, Tim Miller, the founder and director of Texas EquuSearch, called off the search. The remains haven’t been positively identified as Vaness Guillen.

“If this can happen to my sister, it can happen to anyone else,” Vanessa’s sister Lupe said at a press conference. “My sister’s no joke. My sister’s a human being. I want justice and I want answers because my sister did not do this to herself.”

The remains were found 26 miles away from the location where the body of Gregory Wedel-Morales’s body was found. Morales went missing in August 2019 and the Army deemed him a deserter. However, the family is fighting for Morales to have a full military burial because he was not a deserter.

Update: Vanessa Guillen’s disappeared in April and there are still no answers. Investigations into her disappearance have not turned up anything but foul-play is suspected. Here is what we know so far about the case.

Vanessa Guillen has been missing since April 22.

The soldier was last seen on April 22 in a parking lot of her Regimental Engineer Squadron Headquarters, 3rd Cavalry Regiment, at the Fort Hood military base. Guillen was wearing a black shirt, light purple leggings, and black Nike shoes. The personnel of Fort Hood have conducted several detailed searches on the base but have not found Guillen. It has been two months and there is still no answer.

Before going missing, Guillen did confide in her family about the sexual harassment she was experiencing.

Natalie Khawam, the Guillen family’s attorney, said that Guillen was afraid to report the sexual harassment she was dealing with on the base. According to Khawam, Guillen experienced two moments of sexual harassment from a superior. Once when she was showering and he walked in and the other time was a verbal attack with inappropriate language. These allegations are being investigated now.

Guillen’s case is gaining more publicity and the public demands justice for the young woman.

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CBS News has reported that Guillen’s mother has demanded an investigation from the beginning but nothing happened. According to the mother, she asked Fort Hood officials to begin an intense search for her daughter when she went missing.

“They took too long to look for my daughter because I begged from the start for them to close the base and put their over 30,000 soldiers to look for my daughter and they didn’t do it,” she said in Spanish, according to CBS News. “Why put on a show now to say you’ve looked for a my daughter? Why now? I demand justice and I demand their respect and for my daughter as a a soldier.” 

Public pressure keeps growing with calls for justice for Vanessa Guillen.

The allegations of sexual harassment in the military are bringing up a past sentiment. The military first faced scrutiny for rampant sexual assault and harassment that came to light in the early 2010s. Women came forward sharing their stories and the nation paid attention.

Guillen’s case is putting the spotlight back on the military and sexual misconduct on bases. The lack of information after two months of pleas from the family to investigate hasn’t turned up any leads. People are demanding answers and justice.

Fort Hood officials are asking for anyone with information about Guillen to call (254) 495-7767. A $50,000 reward is being offered for information as well.

READ: NBC Says It Will Release The NDAs That Sexual Harassment Survivors Were Forced To Sign

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With “Florecer,” LA Cumbia-Salsa Band La Mera Candelaria Celebrates Survivors Of Sexual Violence

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With “Florecer,” LA Cumbia-Salsa Band La Mera Candelaria Celebrates Survivors Of Sexual Violence

In the United States, someone is sexually violated every 73 seconds. With each passing year,  more than 433,600 people, mostly women and girls, experience some form of this brutality, including rape, molestation, sexual harassment, sex trafficking and reproductive coercion. For many survivors, art is used as a tool to promote healing, providing them with a creative outlet to externalize their trauma and express themselves. With the upcoming album Florecer, Stephani Candelaria, of the woman-fronted cumbia-salsa band La Mera Candelaria, uses art, and music in particular, to work through her own history with sexual abuse and inspire holistic healing among her listeners.

The EP, which melds Caribbean salsa and cumbia with old musical stylings like cha-cha-chá and popular reggaetón rhythms, is a celebration of survivors of sexual violence. It includes songs like “Sonrisa,” which speaks to the fear and threat women experience daily by choosing to frequent public spaces, as well as powerful paeans like “Florecer,” a sonic love letter that praises women’s resilience while also encouraging them to flourish and lead the full, purpose-driven lives they deserve. 

We spoke with the Los Angeles-based Candelaria about the album (which drops on April 28), the curative power of art, holistic healing and the band’s partnership with LA’s Violence Intervention Program to raise awareness about sexual violence among the Latinx community and the services available to them. 

You’re no stranger to writing feminist songs, but I don’t think you’ve had a project as explicitly about and for women’s empowerment as this one. Why did you want to release an EP that celebrates survivors?

Honestly, I’m planning to do a lot more talking about this. This album was inspired by one of my therapy sessions. I’ve been seeing a therapist twice a month for several years. As a survivor of sexual abuse, a lot of our sessions focus on working through this. The message of La Mera has come up in my sessions, and she encouraged me to make music about this. I’m at a point in my healing path where I’m opening up about what I’ve gone through, and she suggested that music could be an effective avenue for me to talk about this with other musicians and my fan base, which is majority Latina. I know this is a prevalent issue that impacts all of us, whether we’ve personally experienced it or not. Everyone knows someone who has survived an abusive situation. I have never shied away from making feminist and LGBTQ-friendly music. I’ve touched on these topics in my music in the past, but this time – living through a global pandemic, thinking about the pandemic within the pandemic and how many domestic violence survivors have been forced to quarantine with their abusers, and not being able to perform for a whole year – I feel like it’s a good and natural time for this; to  open up and be more public about being a survivor and creating a more explicitly supportive space for women in all our wholeness. Yes, survivors have scars, but we are also resilient and can live whole lives again. 

One of the songs off the album, “Florecer,” speaks to the yearning of survivors to not just survive but also flourish and thrive. This is so important. Oftentimes, people don’t realize the hurdles women face upon leaving abusive relationships, from the difficulty of finding jobs, housing or even obtaining parental rights to children. How can art, music and dance help women flourish on their healing journeys?

Great question! I think that music and art can serve to help women from many different avenues, including being a creator, like myself, who is channeling my healing process through my art specifically. I’ve been growing leaps and bounds while working on songs and talking with my group. But my community, my fan base and my new fans can grow, too. It can be healing to see someone open up about their truth. It doesn’t necessarily feel good but it does help to hear these stories reflected in the music you listen to. Unfortunately for Latinas, how we hear women framed in our popular music does not reflect the complexity of our lives and the things we live through. Instead, it’s a very one-dimensional and sexualized portrayal. Through this EP, I hope to create a platform for dialogue, action, thorough reflection and hearing other people’s stories on how they navigate this healing journey. “Florecer” is less about the specific examples of abuse and more about saying, “yes,  abuse has happened. I will have scars. It may take time to navigate through this journey, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. There is more for me than just getting by day to day. It is possible for survivors to flourish, not in spite but rather because of the pain and trauma they lived through.

I know Florecer is being released in partnership with LA’s Violence Intervention Program to raise awareness about sexual violence and the services that exist for survivors. Talk to me about this partnership. How did this come about? What will it look like?

Again, my therapist has a role in this. She is amazing! She recommended this program to me because I had been considering joining a support group. When I saw the website, I knew it was a perfect fit. They work with young people and adult survivors, but more than that they work with the entire family to create a holistic healing journey for survivors of abuse. A lot of the time, when people come out to their families about what happened, the family members don’t know how to be supportive. The program believes that abuse doesn’t just impact the person being abused but also the entire community they are a part of and, because of this, they believe the community must be a part of the healing process as well. Knowing this, I really wanted to partner with them. We shot one of the music videos at their center, where we followed a young woman attending the facility for the first time. The video really highlights the space and the services it offers with the hopes of inspiring local viewers to visit and start or continue their healing journey. We’re also doing a live virtual fundraising event on April 30 via Twitch, where all proceeds will be donated to the Violence Intervention Program to help fund their crucial services. 

Another song I had the pleasure of listening to is “Sonrisa,” which is truly a sonic treat. But more than that it’s powerful, especially because the lyrics speak to the darker experience of street harassment that women encounter. Catcalling can seem harmless to some, but women understand the real fear and danger that comes with this. What message are you hoping to spread with this song?

It’s toxic behavior. This song is about an experience I had. I was walking my dog down a street, really having a beautiful moment, when a car of dudes rolled past me and yelled things at me. Now, I’m a feisty person, so naturally I yelled back. But then they stopped the car. At that moment, I realized that I could die. Thankfully, nothing happened. They ended up driving off. But this isn’t the case for all women. Just last month in New York, a woman was groped on the street. When she confronted the man, he killed her. A few years ago, a man killed a woman who refused to give him her phone number. These moments of street harassment seem so innocuous to men but yet are so impactful and traumatizing to the women experiencing it, especially at the rate that we experience it: daily. As you said, any time we step out of our homes or cars, there’s a potential for this harassment. And I wanted the song to feel true to this experience. You’ll notice that in the song, there’s no resolution. I keep walking, feeling icky, violated and traumatized, while the men in the car drive off and probably tell themselves something like, “she was ugly anyway.” Ending the song without a happy ending felt honest and like a good way for listeners to reflect and consider how we can denormalize this form of harassment.

How can bilingual art, like this album, raise awareness about violence in our communities? 

The Latinx community is a musical community. Music plays a huge role in our daily life. As kids, we grow up watching our families sing and dance cumbia and salsa while they’re in the kitchen. And I thought, how can I use these catalogs that are a part of our DNA to talk about issues, create visibility and spark dialogue. In the past, we’ve released songs about LGBTQ issues. While performing these lesbian love songs, I see my audience listening and dancing to these songs and how their faces change when they realize it’s non-heteronormative. I’m having the songs speak to you. With cumbia, and now reggaetón, the body responds to these sounds. You want to move. But as you move, you also begin to mentally reflect on the lyrics, and this is vital, especially for our community. 

While things are getting better, many Latinx families still don’t believe in airing so-called dirty laundry, which forces many survivors to suffer in silence. What do you hope this project provides to survivors?

That’s exactly one of the larger goals of this project: to provide the language to survivors about how to speak to family members about lived trauma and advocate for yourself. It’s also about providing points of reflection for the community, people who don’t understand and abusers, including the men who might not consider themselves abusers. The focus is on survivors, but it’s for everyone because we are all either complicit or impacted by abuse, where we realize it or not.  

This is the band’s fourth EP. How do you think you have grown, or flourished, to keep in the theme of the album, since then?

So many ways! I’ve been doing a lot of reflection on this through my process of recording, where I’ve been listening back to older releases and songs I love. I used humor a lot to talk about feminist issues. You can’t just jump from A to Z without going through the alphabet, and humor is a great way to make points that are digestible and palatable, especially as a Latina in a male-dominated industry. This album doesn’t incorporate humor, though. That side of La Mera isn’t present in this release. It’s more serious in tone. 

Musically, I think we’ve also grown so much. We’ve really spent these last releases and performances we’ve done honing our musical style. Previously, we stuck to the cumbias and salsas we were comfortable with. But now, with “Florecer,” for example, we are doing reggaetón, and it’s intentional. We’re talking about sexual abuse survivors through a genre that has been one of the biggest enforcers of the sexualization, and sometimes even violence, women experience. The same is true with “Sonrisa.” A lot of the older cha-cha-chás of the ‘50s and ‘60s were songs about catcalling women that had coros that were catcalls. This song about street harassment had to be a cha-cha-chá. It’s another way of sharing our message. By using these genres, we’re also calling them out for the harmful ways they’ve taught our community what is an acceptable way to treat women and girls.

Follow La Mera Candelaria on Instagram for more information about the album’s release and their virtual fundraising event for LA’s Violence Intervention Program on April 30.

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Mexican Army Wants To Pay Off Murder Victim’s Family With One Million Pesos In Cash

Things That Matter

Mexican Army Wants To Pay Off Murder Victim’s Family With One Million Pesos In Cash

ALFREDO ESTRELLA/AFP via Getty Images

The family of a man who was shot in the back and killed by a Mexican soldier is demanding better support from the Mexican military after officials offer them one million pesos, or about $49,000 USD.

Officials say that the Guatemalan man was in retreat from a military checkpoint near the southern border, when they admit that a soldier wrongfully shot at the man killing him.

Military officials are offering $1 million pesos to family of the Guatemalan man the army murdered.

The Mexican Army is offering 1 million pesos (about $49,000 USD) in compensation to the family of a Guatemalan man who was shot and killed by a Mexican soldier along a stretch of Mexico’s southern border.

The man, Elvin Mazariegos, 30, was killed by the army in the state of Chiapas by a soldier who opened fire on a car in which he was traveling with two other people.

According to Defense Minister Luis Cresencio Sandoval, the soldier shot at the vehicle as it tried to escape in reverse from a military checkpoint. He said the decision to shoot was an “erroneous reaction” because the military personnel hadn’t come under attack. The solider who shot Elvin Mazariegos was turned over to the federal Attorney General’s Office.

The family is asking for more support since Mazariegos was the family’s sole income earner.

Olga Mazariegos told the newspaper Reforma that the Mexican army had offered a single 1-million-peso payment to her brother’s family. But the family is also demanding monthly maintenance payments for Mazariego’s daughters, aged 9 and 5, and 2-year-old son, she said. She said their father was the sole income earner in his family.

“What we want is monthly maintenance, but they say that they’ll only give [a single payment of] approximately half a million quetzales,” Mazariegos said. At today’s exchange rate, 1 million pesos is in fact 377,300 quetzales.

The slain man’s sister said the army’s proposed payment will be insufficient for the man’s widow to maintain her family. “She’s left alone with her three children; what happened to my brother is not fair,” she said, adding that it was insulting for the army to say that his life was worth 1 million pesos.

Mazariegos murder comes as police brutality gains greater attention across Mexico.

Credit: PEDRO PARDO/AFP via Getty Images

Residents near the border (including Guatemalans) have demanded justice. About 300 angry residents detained 15 other soldiers also deployed near the border. Nine soldiers were released about three hours after they were detained, while the others were set free in the early hours of Tuesday morning after Mexican officials reached a deal with the civilians to provide them with “economic reparation” for the killing. The army chief didn’t reveal how much money was paid to the angry residents.

The killing of Mazariegos came just two days after the death of a Salvadoran woman who was violently pinned to the ground while she was being arrested by municipal police in Tulum, Quintana Roo.

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