April 18, 2013. Life and Death

18 May 2013

I had a funny realization the other day: I’ve lived more years of my life now after the “Dirty War” than before it. As often as I wish the whole Proceso never occurred, I can’t imagine my existence without it. Just as I felt ready start my adult life, the coup in 1976 swept the rug out from under my 26 year-old feet, from under all of us. Looking back on my first entries in this journal, on my naive teenage words, I wonder what would have happened if I had been allowed to pursue those youthful dreams. Maybe I would have kept playing music, maybe I would have achieved my dream job as a psychologist, maybe I’d be writing this from a comfortable flat overlooking Plaza Guemes in “Villa Freud.”

But then again, all these years later, maybe I have reason to be grateful from what I learned from the military years. I need to be grateful that I’m even here to continue learning and telling my story, and that the audiences I love the most – my husband, my brother, my family, my students – are still around to listen, not reduced to sad brave polaroid faces in a collage of desaparecidos. Yes, it took me a while to regain my footing: it wasn’t until I 1982 that I took a job at an escuela inicial and found the calling I still answer today, teaching five and six year-olds. And though I married late, at age 39 (goodness, how my mother was relieved, feminist streak though she may have) I finally met a lifelong love. Carlos, my husband of now 24 years, started working at the same school three years after I did. I think that seeing my own Mamá and Papá argue so much, especially between 1976-1983, convinced me that I would only be able to marry a man who refused to subscribe to Argentina’s toxic masculinity, who could see that relinquishing power could be beautiful not just as feminine but as human. It took me a while to find him, but Carlos was exactly what I had imagined in that regard and all kinds of wonderful things I couldn’t have imagined in others. When we decided to weave our lives together, we also each delved deeper into the challenge and joy of teaching our young students. It’s never easy, but we see our classrooms as some of the first ideological terrain in which the memory of the past will play out in our students’ lives. And while reading aloud Nunca Más to them would obviously be inappropriate, we try to instill the values that Argentina’s authoritarian side has tried to oppress, striving towards a unity of language, truth, conscience, and compassion. Or to put it more simply, we sing Mercedes Sosa songs for them in class:



While La Negra’s full symbolic message may be out of reach of their five year-old ears, I know that many of the lines resonate in their simple beauty: “Sólo le pido a Dios, que el dolor/que lo injusto/que la guerra/que el engaño/que el futuro, no me sea indiferente.” And not only do these lines resonate now – it is my hope that years down the roads of their lives, hearing Sosa’s voice will bring them back to the warm space of my classroom and further reinforce her music’s resonance.

I’d also be lying if my motives for playing La Negra were entirely altruistic. Ever since I witnessed her arrest in 1979, the cruel police seizure and halt of her concert that forced to emigrate to Europe later that very week, she has held the innermost place in my musical heart. She means so much to me that Carlos and I named our daughter Mercedes (born 1990) in her honor. For her 18th birthday, the three of us were lucky to get tickets and see the aging but still inspiring Sosa perform in 2008, just a year before she died. I remember feeling so overwhelmed with happiness, with how cyclical life can be: me returning to hear my hero in concert; my daughter alongside me at the same age that I was when I first wrote in this journal.

But some cycles of the past must not be repeated. Yesterday, Videla died while serving his sentence in a Marcos Paz prison outside of Buenos Aires. His final exit from this world must not fool us into the illusion that the problems he embodied, he brought about, are over. No, that dark side of Argentina and of humanity, the injustice, the pain, the torture and disappearance, must be held out in the sunlight until it withers and dries. The task of holding it out, of not letting it slip into shadow, falls to my daughter, to my students, to those who have no memories of the Proceso itself. But while my life is much nearer to ending than beginning, I can take hope from La Negra’s words

Sólo le pido a Dios

que el dolor no me sea indiferente,

que la reseca muerte no me encuentre

vacío y solo, sin haber hecho lo suficiente.
Only time will tell whether I’ve done lo suficiente, but I can go in peace knowing that I’ve done my part.

1 thought on “April 18, 2013. Life and Death

  1. ssvolk says:

    Gracias, Lénica, for sharing your life with me. Your journey has been an important one. Sosa’s words, as a final summation, are so very moving.

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