“Look,” he said, half-turning towards to the trees, “a metal forest, cold and denuded as Argentina, yet life remains among the leafless branches, voices, names…
“Think of it. Names tell us about a life and the memory of that life. But in Argentina names are not like they are elsewhere. Here, now, they are as easily erased as markings on tissue paper. Now the page of Argentina is clean of names that belong there, that have a right to be there. So this is also a play about history, how that happened.
“Argentina is full of names. Our memories are full of names. Names are as natural as trees, birds, breathing. They are the right of a person, but there are those who believe they can take the people and their names away, and this must not happen. Names must never, never be stolen again.” (Imagining Argentina, 121)
“Memoria. Justicia. Libertad.”
These three words appear all over Argentina, but the word memory sticks out, grounding the words, a simple promise, in historical tragedy. Memory becomes important when 30,000 people were disappeared off the streets, when newborns were taken from their tortured mothers and handed to the torturers, when the fate of many is still unknown. People were killed: students, teachers, artists, shopkeepers. Some were dissidents of the military junta, many were just caught in the crossfire. Besides the physical violence, there was a war waged on the psychological level: fear of the green Falcon, ‘where are your children?’, and the oppressive silence.
In memorial museums around the world, names of the dead are remembered. It is hoped that the recording of their names will insure that history is not forgotten and future tragedy will be prevented. But in Argentina, history is not a shameful and barely remembered past, a dead thing to be studied with a skeptic’s eye or superior dispassion—the remains of the dictadura
is a living beast that haunts many Argentines to this day.
The Mothers still march on Thursdays for their missing sons. Because this tragedy has great impact on the lives of Argentines today, how the dictatorship and violence is remembered is of great importance. And though he is not Argentine, Lawrence Thornton captures the a glimpse of Argentina in the pages of Imagining Argentina
, using fiction to remember and reexamine the past.
At one point, the main character returns to his home after his daughter has been “disappeared”, only to find it cleaned up by his friends. After expecting to see wreckage, the clean and perfect rooms seem like a different sort of violence. “No one could guess what had happened there only days earlier. It was as if the slate had been wiped clean…His house was now an image of the generals’ desire to annihilate, sweep away, and its cleanliness and order were goads to him…” (pg. 131)
Because of how the military government kept their records, many names were lost. Some victims will never be remembered, some mothers will never know the fate of their children. Babies, raised in secret by military families, will never grow up knowing their blood family. People were robbed of their names, their identity. But even without their names, we can remember their senseless deaths and the violence committed against the heart of Argentina herself. Through art, whether it be graffiti murals that color the abandoned bus station or giant faces that surround a detention center, we can remember the past, and therefore move towards the future.
Whenever I enter museums that remember tragedy, such as Holocaust museums or the museum at Hiroshima, and now the Museums of Memory, I feel that the worst offense against the victims would be to forget the past. Without memory, there can be no justice, nor freedom. And Argentina is working towards a future that is bright, but not at the cost of forgetting her past.
(Image is of the Museo de la Memoria in Rosario, Argentina, where the names of disappeared children are connected with their parents, like a puzzle of identity)