How We Talk About Women’s Bodies

An Interview with Deborah Esquenazi on Directing Southwest of Salem

Southwest of Salem is a 2016 documentary about the San Antonio Four—four Latina lesbian women convicted of gang raping two young girls, a crime of which they were innocent and which never even took place. The allegations of child rape against Elizabeth Ramirez, Kristie Mayhugh, Cassandra Rivera, and Anna Vasquez surfaced in 1994 in the midst of the Satanic Panic in the U.S., a fear of widespread satanic ritual practice that was deeply rooted in homophobia and which perpetuated the myth that LGBTQ individuals are more likely to target children for sexual abuse. The women spent 13-16 years in prison. With the help of The Innocence Project of Texas and Esquenazi’s documentary, the Four were fully exonerated in November 2016.

Clare Callahan of the Humanities Institute and Andrew Murphy of the Austin Public Library sat down with Director Deborah Esquenazi to discuss Southwest of Salem. Ms. Esquenazi discusses how women’s bodies are talked about and how this language to women’s bodies, animated by misogyny and homophobia, led to the false convictions of four women for a crime that never happened. Ms. Esquenazi also reflects on the film’s representation of the nature of freedom and imprisonment. She briefly discusses her current project Certain Perversions, which takes a deeper look at Elizabeth Ramirez’s trial as an example of the way a woman’s body is adjudicated in our system.

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Excerpts from O N E E V E R Y O N E: A Conversation with Ann Hamilton

The light increasing  the sun must be rising. It reveals the window as frosted over. Wood muntined, with four small panes, it resembles a house window more than a hospital window. What is it doing in this hall where he lies on a stretcher outside the fulltocapacity ward? He thinks this unfolding in time of the window growing lighter is beautiful, is beauty itself. Yet no one notices. Who can afford the patience? The doctors circulate on appointed rounds, stopping only for the sick and wounded. Is attention to something like this window the work of artists? He does not know the answer to that yet, but he thinks that only artists and sick people stop, out of inclination or necessity, to study beauty that takes so long. The hospital staff has materialized this moment for him, all its factors of time, place, and breath.

Excerpt from “Patience” by Matthew Goulish, Dramaturge. His full length essay will be delivered on January 26 at 7pm in the LBJ Auditorium at our upcoming event, co-sponsored with Landmarks, “O N E E V E R Y O N E: A Conversation with Ann Hamilton.” See our calendar on the left sidebar for more information.

Photo: Robert Westminster by Ann Hamilton from  O N E E V E R Y O N E

Excerpts from O N E E V E R Y O N E: A Conversation with Ann Hamilton

In medicine, guidelines as to best practices often emerge from the lessons of history. To take in what has happened. To prevent what has happened from happening again. Teaching a student about the transmission of infection from one body to another, the instructor asks the student to press one unwashed hand onto the agar plate and lift it up again, then wait. Days pass. What appears is tiny marks on the surface of the agar, formed into the silhouette of a hand.

Excerpt from “Five Variations on the Opposite of Any Handprint” by Natalie Shapero, Professor of the Practice of Poetry at Tufts University. Her full length essay will be delivered on January 26 at 7pm in the LBJ Auditorium at our upcoming event, co-sponsored with Landmarks, O N E E V E R Y O N E: A Conversation with Ann Hamilton.” See our calendar on the left sidebar for more information.

Photo: Diana by Ann Hamilton from O N E E V E R Y O N E.

Why I Advocate for Aid in Dying

By Cindy Merrill

Many years ago, during a trip to San Antonio to visit with my elderly ailing parents, my father took me aside and said to me, “Cindy, please get me a gun; I can’t go on like this.”  I recoiled with a gasp.  Hearing my reaction, he quickly said he didn’t mean it.  However, we both knew that he did.  Eighty-seven years old, blind, enfeebled and exhausted from lung problems and advanced Parkinson’s disease, no longer capable of walking but a few steps and never without a walker, my father yearned for death.

In his earlier life he had been a respected builder, a decorated Lieutenant Colonel in the Army during WWII, an active member of his church and community, loving husband and beloved father of two. He had had a very active, volunteer-filled retirement. He now was incapable of reading, volunteering, gardening, traveling, driving a car, watching TV, walking for any great length or caring for himself.  With most of his family and friends long dead, my father endured this diminished life hour after hour, day after day, and year after year.  He was now broken from this endless cycle of misery and suffering.

I was a daddy’s girl completely incapable of imagining him gone and totally helpless to improve the quality of his life. His situation eventually lead me to think seriously about our responsibility to those in the throes of intractable pain and suffering, terminal illness or end stage half-lives.  A collection of essays entitled Must We Suffer Our Way to Death? addresses this issue from cultural, theological, and ethical perspectives. I believe that, in this day and age, the answer to that question should be a resounding no.

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