aerial view of the Amazon river

Memory

Fall 2013 | Volume XIII, Number 1

Table of Contents

Editor’s Letter →

by June Carolyn Erlick

First Take

First Take: Memories and Their Consequences

First Take: Memories and Their Consequences

I visited the Museo de la Memoria y los Derechos Humanos in Santiago, Chile, two years ago. It was a heart-rending experience. To enter the museum, I moved through a stark and subterranean passage and found myself in a somber space of transition. There, a wall of photographs transported me back in time—long ago in a messy graduate student lounge in Cambridge, Massachusetts, four of us stood in shock …

The Disappeared

Because They Were Taken Alive: Forced Disappearance in Latin America

Because They Were Taken Alive: Forced Disappearance in Latin America

In Guatemala City, a single garage light has been burning continuously for almost thirty years. The garage’s owner, a woman now in her nineties, cannot bring herself to turn it off. On May 15, 1984, her son, Rubén Amílcar Farfán, left the house early as he usually did, headed for the university. But later that afternoon, friends of his rang the doorbell of the family’s house, anguished, to report the worst …

Our Disappeared/Nuestros Desaparecidos:  The Act of Memory

Our Disappeared/Nuestros Desaparecidos: The Act of Memory

Memory has a way of finding its way into the present through small cracks. Ruins of an ancient city, a sign on a street or a poem can keep the past in the present. One evening about eight years ago I was wondering what had become of Patricia Dixon, a girlfriend of mine in 1973. We had met at the Sociology Department at the Universidad de Buenos Aires, …

Patchwork Memories: Arpilleras and Reflections on Disappearance

Patchwork Memories: Arpilleras and Reflections on Disappearance

In every season of the year, Violeta Morales would dress exactly the same: a jacket, black skirt and a pair of worn-down shoes. A leader of an artisans’ group engaged in making intricate patchwork memory tapestries, Morales talked and created when others dared not. Practically the moment I arrived back in Chile, she became my safe haven, my refuge, my anchor in a country …

Colombia

A Search for Justice

A Search for Justice

In 2004, when I left Harvard and last saw you, I thought I would never learn the truth of what exactly happened to Carlos Horacio in the horrendous holocaust of the Palace of Justice in Bogotá. Yet fate was holding a tremendous surprise for my daughters and me, filled with…

Democracy, Citizenship and Commemoration in Colombia

Democracy, Citizenship and Commemoration in Colombia

Military detachments costumed in the historical uniforms of the patriotic army journeyed on foot, by mule and on horseback on a long journey promoted as the Liberty Route to celebrate Colombia’s bicentennial. The media showed the inhabitants of different towns of the country celebrating the arrival of the marchers, fulfilling their own role in this polemic recreation of the official stories about national independence. …

Memory: The Alchemy of Narrative

Memory: The Alchemy of Narrative

Six-year-old Ana peeks out of a keyhole onto her middle-class Bogotá street even though her parents had forbidden her to do so. It is Friday, April 9, 1948, and popular presidential candidate Jorge Eliécer Gaitán has been assassinated, an event that triggered an era of unprecedented collective fury and intense social violence in Colombia known as La Violencia (1948-66). …

Prospects of Peace: Sharing Historical Memory in Colombia

Prospects of Peace: Sharing Historical Memory in Colombia

It certainly sounded glamorous at the time—and even might sound so today. In October 1981, I flew from Berkeley, California, where I had been visiting, to attend an academic conference at Yale University on political scenarios under the Chilean dictatorship. I had an airline ticket in my pocket to take me, after the conference, to Lund, Sweden. So far so good, except that the student visa I had received …

Liquid Tombs for Colombia’s Disappeared: Sounds and Images

Liquid Tombs for Colombia’s Disappeared: Sounds and Images

Colombia has been a country with amnesia for a long time. The country has been at war—a social catastrophe since 1948, sparked by the murder of the revered liberal leader Jorge Eliécer Gaitán. Although his death took place in Bogotá, during the following 16 years Liberals and Conservatives waged a war mostly in the countryside that took 250,000 lives. …

The Language of Public Memory: La Asociación Minga and the Authentic Image of the Victim

The Language of Public Memory: La Asociación Minga and the Authentic Image of the Victim

A green midsized Renault sedan sits on a ramp lifting the car´s open hood and revealing an engine stuffed with palm seeds. Entitled Renault 12, the piece is part of an exhibit Somos Tierra developed as a result of a large group dialogue. In a series of workshops that discussed the death of young taxi drivers, the arrival of the palm cultivation in the region, and massacres, the exhibit came into being …

Journalism

Covering Central America in the 1980s: A Memoir in Words and Photos

Covering Central America in the 1980s: A Memoir in Words and Photos

The wipers slapped across the rain-smeared windshield as we sped through downtown San Salvador. Nelson Ayala clutched the steering wheel to keep us on the road through the torrential downpour. It was already two hours past dark, and it felt way too late to be out on the streets in this part of town. Suddenly, a body appeared in the headlights just ahead of us, sprawled on the pavement. …

Memoryscape: A Documentary Film Explores Memory

Memoryscape: A Documentary Film Explores Memory

Walking up to 12,000 feet in the Peruvian Andes took two entire days. With Ramiro Niño de Guzmán, a Quechua-speaking human rights leader, I set out for his childhood home in Checcasa, along the same path that the army had taken when it attacked his village in 1988, accusing his family of being Shining Path insurgents. His brothers were tortured and killed, his sisters raped and dismembered….

Keeping the Silence, Breaking the Silence: The Role of the Published Word

Keeping the Silence, Breaking the Silence: The Role of the Published Word

As editor of the English-language Buenos Aires Herald, I lived through the worst years (1976 to the end of 1979) of the dictatorship in Argentina, and I was constantly astonished by the way the general population accepted military rule. It is true that the media silenced themselves in complicity with, or out of fear of, the special task forces that resembled the Nazi Einsatzgruppen. …

The First Draft of History: The Best and the Worst

The First Draft of History: The Best and the Worst

When an assassin’s bomb tore through the La Penca guerrilla base in southern Nicaragua three decades ago, it cast a spotlight on some of the worst and some of the best of journalism. The blast was meant to kill Eden Pastora, who had broken with the Marxist Sandinista government and launched a war against it along the southern border with Costa Rica while other “contras” pushed in along the northern border with Honduras….

Creating Citizenship

Educating the “Good Citizen”: Memory in postwar Guatemala

Educating the “Good Citizen”: Memory in postwar Guatemala

On my many field trips, I tell Guatemalan teens I’m interested in how they learn about the 36-year conflicto armado (armed conflict). I then study their faces. If not baffled, they avert their eyes and share refrains passed on by many adults in their lives: “We have no historical memory,” or “In Guatemala, there is no historical consciousness.” School teachers say, occasionally with concern, “We don’t talk about that here,” …

The Rub: Against the Proud Grain of Chile’s History

The Rub: Against the Proud Grain of Chile’s History

Brace yourself as you enter the Museum of Memory and Human Rights in Santiago de Chile. Galleries of missing people will glare back at your glance, from a wall so enormous the collective calamity exceeds the span of your vision. The photographed faces float over funerary candles in the above ground altar, and another subterranean crypt designed by Alfredo Jaar shows an eerie nothing at first. …

Historical Footprints: Changing How We Teach Colombia’s Violent Past

Historical Footprints: Changing How We Teach Colombia’s Violent Past

George Santayana’s well-known dictum, “Those who don’t remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” reminds us why it is important to learn history. But what does this really mean? What aspects of the past must we remember? Who chooses them? How do we remember them? Can this understanding really change our attitudes and behaviors? Are we truly capable of avoiding the mistakes of the past? …

A New Museum for Independence: Renovating Memories

A New Museum for Independence: Renovating Memories

This is a very short story of how a small museum in Colombia underwent a profound process of change and renovation, tackling sensitive and controversial issues of memory in recent Colombian history. The independence of Colombia is celebrated every July 20, because on that day in 1810, a group of creoles (children of Spaniards born in America) started a fight with a Spaniard who refused to lend them a flower vase. …

Unearthing The Past

Urban Mining

Urban Mining

Consider two seemingly unrelated issues: rising urban poverty and electronic waste. The Cities Alliance estimates that urban slums in developing countries are growing by…

Discovering Dominga: Adoptions and Tangled Truths

Discovering Dominga: Adoptions and Tangled Truths

In the open central market one morning in Rabinal, Guatemala, 28-year-old Denese Becker picked up a bolt of corte cloth, woven fabric used by Achi Maya women to make their skirts, and brought it to her face. She closed her eyes. “My mother,” she said. “This smells like my mother.” I knew which one she was talking about….

Neruda and the Chilean Open Graves: Windows of Hope

Neruda and the Chilean Open Graves: Windows of Hope

Chilean graves have been opening during the last years. Remains of poet Pablo Neruda were removed last May from his tomb facing the Pacific in the small Chilean coastal town of Isla Negra. Before Neruda, in May 2011, remains of former President Salvador Allende were also unburied, to fully determine if he in fact committed suicide while military forces bombarded the presidential palace. …

Notes from Exile: Horizons of Democracy

Notes from Exile: Horizons of Democracy

It certainly sounded glamorous at the time—and even might sound so today. In October 1981, I flew from Berkeley, California, where I had been visiting, to attend an academic conference at Yale University on political scenarios under the Chilean dictatorship. I had an airline ticket in my pocket to take me, after the conference, to Lund, Sweden. So far so good, except that the student visa I had received …

Book Talk

El Salvador Could Be Like That: A Memoir of War, Politics, and Journalism from the Front Row of the Last Bloody Conflict of the U.S.-Soviet Cold War

El Salvador Could Be Like That: A Memoir of War, Politics, and Journalism from the Front Row of the Last Bloody Conflict of the U.S.-Soviet Cold War

“There are no just wars. There are only just causes.” I was sitting in the modest home of a former FMLN guerrilla woman in a rural village in the northeastern corner of El Salvador. It was 2001, and I was nearing the end of my second year-long stint in this small Central American nation, interviewing more than 200 Salvadorans, mostly from rural areas, about their experiences during the civil conflict of the 1980s. …

Two Nations Indivisible: Mexico, the United States, and the Road Ahead

Two Nations Indivisible: Mexico, the United States, and the Road Ahead

As graduate students in Harvard’s Department of Government, Shannon O’Neil and I read from the same interminable Mexico reading list handed to us by our mentor, Professor Jorge Domínguez. A few years later, in 2002, we became good friends in Mexico City. Alejandro Poiré, a fellow Domínguez student, was then Chair of the Political Science Department at the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico (ITAM), where I was a faculty member. He provided Shannon with an office during her Fulbright stint, and so ITAM fast became an ongoing seminar for a gringa and this Mexican-American pocho to learn about …

Colombia: A Concise Contemporary History

In 2008, as a Harvard college sophomore, I was getting ready to go back to Colombia, my birthplace, for the first time since I left with my family as a 13-year-old. I read everything I could find, looking for a better understanding of the country than my vague adolescent memories. I was disappointed to find only opinions at two extremes….

Unsettled/Desasosiego, Children in a World of Gangs

Unsettled/Desasosiego, Children in a World of Gangs

Unsettled/Desasosiego is an honest book that recounts Donna DeCesare’s long relationship with Central America and its people in an intimate, personal fashion. The photograph on page 19 is highly revealing. It captures the movement of people, the chaotic hubbub, the ongoing life of the town and—finally—some armed men who seem entirely out of place. On the left, a little girl embraces a wooden pole. …

Beyond the Lettered City: Indigenous Literacies in the Andes

Beyond the Lettered City: Indigenous Literacies in the Andes

In the spirit of full disclosure, I begin by stating that the co-authors of this award-winning book* are both close, long-time friends of the author of this review. I attended graduate school in anthropology at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, with Joanne Rappaport in the 1970s, and I have been in close contact with Tom Cummins ever since we coincided on some of our earliest respective field research in Cusco, Peru, in 1981…

Making A Difference

Making a Difference: Recupera Chile

Making a Difference: Recupera Chile

In February 2010, an 8.8 magnitude earthquake and tsunami devastated coastal towns in Chile. Not much later, Harvard Kennedy School Professor Doug Ahlers traveled to Chile to explore how his university could assist in community recovery. DRCLAS Regional Office staff member Marcela Renteria and I accompanied Ahlers on a trip to the Bio Bio Region to meet with authorities and disaster victims …