“Independence,” July 9, 1976.

My last post celebrated my eighteenth birthday, my coming of age. Today was another birthday: Argentina turns 160. But in spite of the national pomp on display in the parades and ceremonies, this anniversary is not one that I feel I can celebrate. To call it “independence day” after the events of the last three months seems to be a terrible paradox. Never before in my life have I seen my family and friends so frightened and divided, or felt so confused and conflicted myself. Suspicion has weakened our collective binds, and we are only independent in that we no longer know who we can depend on.

General Videla and the Junta Salutes the Independence Day Parade

General Videla and the Junta Salutes the Independence Day Parade. Their stiff salutes, seemingly ready to strike, could hardly contrast more with peacefully clasped hands of the emblem below them.

But I should should narrate at least something of the last some eight years before trying to express how I feel in the present. Though my father wasn’t thrilled with my choice, he allowed me to enroll in the Facultad de Psicología at the Universidad de Buenos Aires. I started in 1971 and am just finishing my degree this year. The months since the junta’s takeover, however, have cast a shadow over my future prospects (all discourse and classical psychoanalysis in “Villa Freud,” the neighborhood where I had hoped to set up a practice, is stifled by the censors of the junta. And I don’t much like the idea of dry research into Lacanian psychology). Massera and Videla and the other military talking heads stigmatize universities, students, intellectuals: we find ourselves branded as a subversive marxists and delinquent anarchists supposedly opposed to the state. Their usage of these words, no matter how devoid of meaning, saddles us with guilt and fear that we cannot escape.

Plaza Guemes in the "Villa Freud" barrio (Argentina has the most psychologists per capita in the world!). I hoped to work in this area, but it looks unlikely now...

Plaza Guemes in the “Villa Freud” barrio (Argentina has the most psychologists per capita in the world!). I hoped to work in this area, but it looks unlikely now…

I also don’t know how to navigate the dissonance between the rumors I hear of “desaparecidos” and the official government proclamations of absolute truth and objective justice in their denials. It seems obvious that the junta obscures its true actions and intentions, but I am too scared to raise these doubts with anyone apart from my younger brother Pablo. He is also enrolled at the Universidad de Buenos Aires, but in a department much more pleasing to my father: the Facultad de Ciencias Económicas. I doubt that papa would be happy, though, if he knew the secret Pablo confided in me: though he is completing his work, he has rejected the Chicago school curriculum favored by his professors and now meets weekly with a Marxist study group. They are careful not to reveal their conferences and have escaped any unwanted attention, but I fear that the nature of their association puts them in jeopardy. I pray that nothing happens to Pablo!

Even without knowledge of Pablo’s secret meetings, papa has not been happy. As Isabel Peron’s government wore on, he and my mother argued more and more. During dinner table conversations (and some angrier exchanges later into the night that I would overhear from my room), my parents would disagree over the causes of the turmoil. They both could acknowledge that “Isabelita” and the astrologist Rega were politically inept, but mama couldn’t stand how papi wanted the military to step in, or tolerate his enthusiasm after they did take over in March. He made things worse by trying to surprise her a subscription to Para Tí: after reading the first issue she threw it out the window, and she now makes a show of using new issues for scrap paper in the kitchen. A new tension hangs in the air between them and pervades our entire house, and I hope that papa doesn’t snap towards her.

Even my beloved tango no longer can offer what it used to for me. As a shy eighteen year old I imagined myself playing bandoneon, but in the years since I learned the thrill, the flush, of really dancing, and grew to prefer the floor to the bandstand. I practiced and got pretty good, and over the last few years felt confident dancing with almost anyone (I met my last boyfriend at a milonga one night around a year ago! We’ve drifted in the chaos and uncertainty of these recent months, though). Now, however, imaging myself on display in the dance floor fills me with shame. I can only think of people judging me, of forming their secret opinions behind my back. I wonder what they whisper about me, but don’t know if I want to hear it.

1 thought on ““Independence,” July 9, 1976.

  1. ssvolk says:

    Hola, Lénica. How good to hear from you after all these years, and such interesting news you report! A psychologist, huh! I think you’ll be terrific. I’ll keep it in mind if my friends are asking for a good shrink. And, sólo Díos sabe, we could use a lot of therapy these days, things are so crazy. I do hope Pablo takes care with his study group; that could be dangerous. Tell me more about how your career is going, and your tango, which sounds wonderful.

    [One of my former students, Jonathan Ablard, has written a history of psychiatry in Buenos Aires: Madness in Buenos Aires: Patients, Psychiatrists and the Argentine State, 1880-1983. Also it would be López Rega, not just Rega.]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *