While I’m not one to speak much of fate, picking my avatar slip and opening it to see that my avatar would be the child of Holocaust survivors from Poland felt very fateful to me, as if this was the person whose story I was meant to work through and understand. As the granddaughter of a Polish Holocaust survivor, it hit incredibly close to home. I know others have already mentioned the Ways of Going Home quote in their own reflections, but the line about how we always end up telling our own stories really is significant to this project.
With this avatar, I had to emotionally deal with the knowledge that there are people who escaped the horrors of the Holocaust only to end up in concentration camps on another continent, or who lost both their parents and their children to repressive regimes. I was glad to have Emiliano along for the journey with me to work through these things together.
Getting this slip and knowing that both of Emiliano’s parents were Jewish intellectuals (a professor and a psychiatrist) almost felt like a death sentence. I wanted Emiliano and his whole family to be okay, but I knew that unless they magically knew and were able to leave Argentina as soon as the coup happened, which wouldn’t have made any sense, that they fit the characteristics of people who would certainly have been affected.
It was really interesting feeling like I had complete control over the direction Emiliano’s life took, and at the same time, that I didn’t really have much control. I knew that someone in Emiliano’s family would have undergone torture, and it was hard to make the decision of who. Since his father was a psychiatrist, he seemed like the most likely target. That was hard to write, though. I have a very distinct memory of crying as I wrote that entry about Emiliano’s father telling him where he had been the past few weeks and what had happened to him. I talk about Emiliano seeing his father’s shaking hands, and that image sticking with him. When we watched the documentary in class the other day, there is a closeup of the uncle’s shaking hands when he is playing piano. I had the odd experience of flashing back to a memory that wasn’t my own, but that felt like something I had experienced.
There also were things that almost felt like they had to happen, that I didn’t decide beforehand but found myself writing. For example, I wasn’t planning that Emiliano’s father would commit suicide, but as I was writing that post I realized it made sense and was likely what would have happened. So much of his life hadn’t been on his own terms, from leaving Poland to being kidnapped and tortured in Argentina and living with that, to watching his wife die of cancer. I also didn’t want Rosa and Emiliano to have the less-than-happy ending they had once they reunited after their long-distance relationship (I myself am navigating a long-distance relationship while my partner is abroad, so it was a little close to home, but of course have far more access to communication than Emiliano and Rosa did), but as I thought realistically about what would happen to a relationship if two people were apart for three years with minimal communication and going through two completely different experiences, it made sense that things wouldn’t be the same when Rosa came back.
Something I really liked about (but also found challenging with) this project was getting to weave in history and also use bits and pieces of things important to me. For example, Emiliano is named after Emiliano Zapata, and Alma gets her name from The History of Love by Nicole Krauss, one of my very favorite books. With the historical aspect, in addition to using the sources from class, I found that it was helpful and fascinating to find newspaper articles online from the events we were writing entries on, because they had quotes from the people involved. Seeing how things were reported at the time was helpful because Emiliano obviously didn’t have any knowledge of what would happen in the future.
Having a male character was also interesting for me. I think I initially thought that would be more of a challenge than it actually ended up being. I think it was actually important for me to have a male character, because, as a GSFS major I think I almost would have focused too much on issues of what it was like to be a woman in that place at that time, which are interesting, but could have detracted from other things I got to explore.
Overall, this was a hard project for me because it’s not the kind of assignment I’m used to or comfortable with doing. I think it was very rewarding though, and I really grew to love the Sunday routine of writing my weekly entires. It was a good way to reflect and emotionally process. Some of my entries may have been a bit ramble-y, but I also don’t think anyone’s diaries are perfectly crafted pieces of writing, and I’m proud of the emotion I was able to access through my writings. I think I wish I had gotten some feedback on my entries along the way, but its also good that I created this arc as I went and that it all came from me, rather than from adapting things to comments.