Carne viva are two words in Spanish that together can be translated various ways. Taken literally, they refer to live flesh, like an open wound. In this way they can allude to the slow process of recovery after a traumatic event. The words draw up images of enduring pain. In addition, they can be read to refer to fresh meat and in the context of human relations, to the image of a new conquest. They can also draw our thoughts to the context of a slaughterhouse, where working conditions involve constant contact with carcasses and blood, and the value of human life is not superior to the lives of the animals processed on the line; both cattle and humans are vehicles for profit. Finally, the words refer to human beings with vibrant lives whose stories will be told as this performance unfolds.
On May 12, 2008, approximately 900 police agents (federal, state and local authorities, helicopter pilots, and others) were on the ground in Postville, Iowa to stage what was at the time the largest workplace immigration raid in U.S. history. Given that the total population of Postville was just over 2,000, there was nearly one agent for every two Postville residents. By the end of the day, 389 workers had been detained at the Agriprocessors kosher meatpacking plant. Most detainees were herded into buses and transported to the National Cattle Congress in Waterloo, where they were caged in the very stalls that were typically reserved for cattle and hogs, and then “fast-tracked” in legal proceedings that, like the raid itself, were unique to U.S. history. Such legal proceedings have since been declared unconstitutional. Some of the detained workers, primarily women, were released by the evening of May 12. They were tagged with GPS tracking devices, given a 5-mile radius as a limit to their mobility, and told that they could not work and could not leave the delimited area, but were “free” to care for their children.
The events represented in Carne viva occur over the course of 5 months, from May 12, 2008 to Oct. 12, 2008. These months correspond to the sentences laid out for the majority of detained workers at Agriprocessors. These were traumatic days both in Postville and in Guatemala, in villages dotted across the Western Highlands that sent workers to the plant. The detained spouses and significant others of many Guatemalan women in Postville were the process of being deported, but the women often had no idea in what jail or even in what state prisoners were housed. During those five months family members in Guatemala would have no source of income from remittances and little or no word about the status of their loved ones and their possible return.
Department of Languages and Literatures
Department of Communication Studies
Original Publication Date
UNI ScholarWorks, Rod Library, University of Northern Iowa
©2011 Jennifer Cooley and Karen Mitchell
Cooley, Jennifer and Mitchell, Karen, "Carne viva in Postville: Stories of Madres and Monarchs" (2011). Faculty Publications. 3.
Additional FilesLiner Notes - Carne viva in Postville.pdf (73 kB)
Poster - Carne viva in Postville.pdf (314 kB)