Personal Narratives of Violence in Colombia

Rojas - Research in Colombia - CLACS at NYUI have spent almost two weeks in Colombia. Although I have encountered some obstacles—my luggage did not arrive with me and there was an episode of food poisoning that took me out of business for a few days—it has been a very fruitful trip. My purpose for the month and a half that I will spend doing research here is primarily to collect bibliography for my dissertation proposal. I have previous research experience in autobiography and in literature. This is the first time that I work on Colombia, my native country, and the first time that I work with a textual corpus that is not exclusively literary. I want to study autobiographical narratives related to the experience of violence in Colombia. I am planning to analyze some novels, but I also want to include some pieces of testimony. That is what I have been looking for here. I am consulting the catalog at the Biblioteca Luis Ángel Arango (BLAA) for written testimonies, critical bibliography about the literary pieces I will study, and general studies about the phenomenon of violence in Colombia. There, I found some very interesting texts that I expect to use during the elaboration of my proposal and later in the dissertation itself. I have also contacted some organizations aimed to provide aid to the victims of the armed conflict and to promote justice. So far, this has been the hardest part of my research. Either because they do not deal with the collection of testimonial materials or, I guess, because of fear, victims’ organizations have been rather reluctant to cooperate.

On the other hand, this work has entirely changed the way I relate to my own country. Living here has exposed me, as most people in Colombia, to direct and indirect violence. It is all over the news, every day, and we all have been touched by it to some extent. Being immersed in such an environment makes us live in a constant state of paranoia, but it also can make us less sensitive to the plight of those who are most vulnerable. I have spent the last few months reading personal narratives of violence, the stories of people whose life has been shattered by war and loss, and it has certainly made this return trip a different one. As the plane brought me to Bogotá, I watched through the window pane the amazing beauty of the landscape and recalled the stories of horror that took place in those very mountains. Although my project involves primarily the collection of bibliography in a library, a rather sedentary and safe exercise, I would like to venture out of the city to some of the rural areas that had some relevance in the history of the Colombian conflict. Last weekend, I visited a couple of towns in the province of Boyacá, a region struck by war in the period known as La Violencia in the late 40’s and the 50’s. I took this picture there.

Carlos Rojas is a PhD Candidate in Spanish and Portuguese at NYU

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