Wednesday, January 4, 2012

One of Us

Image of Esme taken from

On New Years morning twenty-nine year old Esmeralda ‘Esme’ Barrera was killed after returning home from a New Years Eve party. Esme was a counselor at the Austin Rock Girls Camp, a special needs teaching assistant at a local Austin elementary school, and record store employee at Waterloo Records, a popular Austin record store. Police found her body at 3 am on the 3100 block of King Street, not far from the party she had just attended. In the same small block radius that evening two other women were attacked. According to reports a friend discovered Esme’s body at 2:45 badly injured, she phoned 911 but Esme died shortly after of her injuries. New details are still being released.

On the afternoon of January 2nd I signed into Facebook and saw the news of Esme's death in fellow journalist and friend Jessica Hopper's newsfeed, I looked below her status update and saw that my best friend from college, social worker, music lover and San Antonio native Heather Mockeridge had posted the same link. I opened the story and my heart sank. I knew that at that exact moment another good friend, feminist filmmaker and first wave riot grrl Cathy De La Cruz was on an airplane toward LAX, returning from visiting her family for the Holidays in Texas. I knew that Cathy most certainly was at the very least an acquaintance of Barrera. I also knew from looking at her last Facebook update since leaving Texas that she had not yet heard about the murder.

There is no making sense of Esme’s death. Her tragic passing is, in the words of Hopper, an ‘unfathomable’ loss to her close friends and family, it is a loss as well to the feminist, music community. I did not know Esme, in fact we had never met, but she was as important to my spiritual life as De La Cruz or Mockeridge. Across the country a network of women is mourning Esme, not just for themselves but for the women and girls she inspired, for the work she had yet to do that will not get done and most of all, as a soldier in a small yet growing network of women whose main objective is to elevate girls and women to a position of self empowerment. Women like Ann Powers, Daphne Carr, Erika ‘EMA’ Anderson, Erica Flores, Cathy De La Cruz, Sara Marcus, Tobi Vail, Christene Kings, Margaret Wappler. I mention their names because their names are important. They are just a handful of the hundreds of women who undoubtedly felt an unspoken connection to Esme’s purpose and life. Writer and queer activist Raquel Gutierrez posted that Esme’s senseless death reminded her of another tragic loss almost twenty years earlier; Mia Zapata of the punk band The Gits, who was also killed walking home. The get home safe project, Home Alive, which advocated women learning self-defense was created in the aftermath of her death. Gutierrez noted that ‘Rad women shouldn’t die before their time. Period.’ Someone else made an insightful comment underneath speaking to the self-defense classes Home Alive encouraged, “This is tragic. Self-defense classes yes, but another kind of self-defense: making sure children are raised to respect women on all levels.”

The fact that Esme died in a manner which she was working to eradicate, and almost twenty years after the death of Zapata, in an almost identical scenario is a chilling reminder of exactly how important the work that Esme and the community she belonged to is doing. If only her life could have been spared. Her death was useless. Her life was necessary. My heart goes out to her family and friends.
To make a contribution to help pay for funeral expenses for Esme’s family click here.