Just across the border from El Paso, Tex., one of the U.S.’ safest cities, is Ciudad Juarez—a city that, until very recently, was ranked as having one of the highest murder rates in the world. It is in the space between these two disparate worlds that La Lucha: The Story of Lucha Castro and Human Rights in Mexico, the first graphic novel in the Front Line Defenders series on human rights activists at risk, begins.
The series illustrates the true stories of Chihuahua lawyer and activist Lucha Castro and other human-rights defenders in Mexico. In the opening scene of La Lucha, author Jon Sack accompanies Castro across the border between Cd. Juarez and El Paso and is questioned by border patrol. When the group explains that they are traveling on business involving human rights, the guard acts confused, asking “What—there are human rights violations going on in Mexico?”
The impact of this unassuming opening scene does not set in until the end of the novel. However, the policeman’s trivializing comment sets the stage for narratives that unfold in the face of systemic ignorance and disinterest in human rights atrocities.
Amidst death threats, targeted disappearances of outspoken activists and the infamous reputation of violence in Chihuahua—where more murders occur annually than in Afghanistan—Lucha and her allies struggle tirelessly against gender-based violence, calling for justice in a culture of impunity where 97 percent of killings go unsolved. To think that even border patrol knows nothing of the violence and corruption sweeping Mexico, obliterating entire families and leaving a relentless sense of fear in its wake, makes the stories of these ordinary women and men with extraordinary courage even more awe-inspiring and necessary.
Sack offers tales of personal loss, mingled with empathetic portrayals of the activists’ lives behind their fight for justice, to paint a holistic picture of bravery, tragedy and hope. The illustrations are a stylistic clash of realism and noir, giving the narration a serious undertone. Appropriately, the art also lacks distracting frills and embellishments, allowing a greater focus on the activists themselves. The combination of art and dialogue, sourced from personal interviews, successfully renders a complex political situation into an easy-to-follow narrative without simplifying or overshadowing the conflict.
From humble to shocking, this engrossing graphic novel takes what many may perceive as scattered or exceptional incidents and links them to a greater picture of corruption and violence. All the time, the first-hand reported narratives humanize the effects of the army’s so-called war on drugs for families, and especially women, throughout Mexico.