Writing this blog played a significant role in this course for me. Imagining myself in the person of Isabel Juarez Morell living in Argentina as these horrific events unfolded and then writing her journal had a profound effect on my understanding of this time. It made me think about the impact of historical events on individual lives, which, in turn, provided insights into the extremes a regime is willing to go to in order to achieve its goals. Of course, I knew about Pinochet, Argentina’s disappeared, people thrown out of airplanes and the Madres, but writing in Isa’s voice brought me to the microcosm of one person and her family rather than the macrocosm of numbers. The entire course filled in a lot of detail about the Dirty Wars that enhanced my understating of those regimes, but the journaling added a nuance that one rarely finds in a structured classroom setting.
During the course of the semester I felt compelled to do some individual research to provide more context for Isa, such as the state of the economy at the time or more details of the Malvinas war (I did not remember the term Malvinas – I’m pretty sure I only heard of the Falklands war, reflecting the media in this country focusing on the northern hemisphere’s view). If it was your intention to get students to do this independent research, it worked on me!
I set Isa up for family conflict at the very beginning by deciding her brother, José, would be a poet. As these family conflicts unfolded I found myself writing some painful entries. My husband and I have a ritual of reading our writing out loud to each other – it helps found typos, for one thing, but it also helps us make sure the work flows properly. There were times during this semester when it was hard for me to read without tears welling up.
I think that it was perhaps more natural for me than for the other students to build a forty year personal history, as I lived as an adult through the entire time period we studied. I hated history in high school and carried that into college so did not take many history classes at Brandeis. I began studying history seriously when I became involved in the civil rights and anti-war movements of the 1960s. What I have learned over the last fifty years or so has led me to understand the sordid nature of our past and how the sanitized history we teach to our children leads to the troubles we face today both domestically and internationally. The role the United States played in both Chile and Argentina was no surprise to me – I knew some of those details, but furthermore, I have come to expect U.S. intervention wherever our capital interests take us (see Overthrow by Stephen Kinzer).
Our country has not reconciled with its own history of slavery and genocide. That past haunts us to this day in the form of mass incarceration and the disparate use of police violence against people of color. Our exploits around the world overturning legitimate regimes and supporting dictators lead to attacks like 9-11 and groups like ISIS. I fell into the trap of excitement over Obama and now he sends drones to assassinate supposed terrorists and anyone who is nearby. Studying history depresses me but writing this journal in Isa’s voice has helped me more deeply appreciate the value of that study. So I continue on.