Coming into this internship, I wanted to gain experience in a field I am passionate about while being immersed in the culture of another country. Thus far, my time in Argentina has blown these expectations out of the water.
Following a whirlwind of two full days of travel, my first week has consisted of learning about the complex history behind the Provincial Commission for Memory (CPM) and how the building where I work is both a site of memory and a space for memory. This concept “of” and “for” memory permeates the entire city of La Plata, the capital of the Buenos Aires Province. No matter where I walk, I am presented with memories from the prior dictatorship in a tangible way. On the sidewalk, white tiles mark the Desaparecidos – individuals taken between 1976 and 1983 during the past dictatorship. An important distinction I learned this week is that the disappeared people are not presumed dead; instead, they are considered alive until proven otherwise. However, the most poignant and omnipresent symbol throughout the city is the white handkerchief; memorialized in various art forms, it symbolizes the mothers and grandmothers who tirelessly searched for their missing children. Originally the handkerchief was constructed from a diaper; it later evolved into the white handkerchief known today. This symbol of courage and perseverance in the face of tremendous anguish and adversity is commemorated across the city and will never be forgotten. In the coming weeks, I hope to visit Buenos Aires to gain a first-hand account of Plaza de Mayo, where the women first began their protest.
I feel incredibly fortunate to have the homestay family that I do. Fatima and Luciano are both lawyers at the CPM within the Mecanismo Unit -otherwise known as the Local Committee Against Torture. Fati works within the Investigations Unit, which monitors the prisons in the Buenos Aires Province and advocates for those incarcerated that are experiencing forms of torture. Lucho works within the Police Violence unit, which is responsible for monitoring instances of police brutality and advocating for its victims. Before receiving his law degree, Lucho was a chef -suffice to say, I am eating very well.
What excited me most about this internship -speaking Spanish in a professional capacity- was also a source of anxiety prior to beginning my work. As someone who has learned the Spanish language solely in an academic setting, I really wanted to gain outside experience. This internship offered both a professional and personal capacity for growth not only within the language, but in the field I aspire to enter. I am double majoring in Sociology and Hispanic Studies and plan to attend law school after graduation; for this reason, I was interested in working within the Mecanismo. However, I would be remiss if I did not mention the internship choice that was a very close second, and had I been in the semester-long program, I definitely would have done also: Jóvenes y Memoria. This section of the CPM focuses on including the next generation in the preservation of memory. I loved the idea of helping young people navigate the creation of their chosen memory project whilst learning their account of the past dictatorship, formed gradually from the influences of parents, grandparents, and their surroundings. For me, inspiring passion in the next generation is second only to ensuring that no human, regardless of circumstance, feels voiceless.
So far, my time in Argentina has been nothing short of remarkable. I cannot wait to see what is to come.
Other pañuelos around La Plata. These were found in Plaza San Martín; the 30,000 represents those who were disappeared during the dictatorship.