My final week in Chile, I walked into one of Pía Barros’s literary talleres (workshops) and to my surprise, an announcement had been posted on the white board calling for submissions for the 2011 libro objeto (book object). When I began this research trip, with the hopes of learning more about the libros objetos, I had no idea that I would get to see one in the steps of production!
One participant in the taller reads his work while Barros (in the far right corner) and the other participants listen, before offering their critiques.
Helping to polish other writers’ submissions, reading my own short stories in front of some of my favorite Chilean authors, and listening to their criticism of each other’s work has given my research an unexpected realness, for which I am incredibly grateful. Though several surprises, like this one, have taken my research in exciting directions, I realized this week that I still had not conducted a few of the interviews I had hoped to have done at this point. Two individuals I had hoped to meet are Rodrigo Cánovas, a literary scholar, and Jorge Scherman, a Chilean author of Jewish descent. They co-authored Voces judías en la literatura chilena (2010), the first book devoted to analyzing literature by Chilean Jewish authors. Continue reading
Tom, one of the leaders at Hashomer Hatzair, holding up the secret door (normally covered by a large rug)
This past week, I found myself lifting up a hidden door in the floor of Santiago, Chile’s Zionist youth organization Hashomer Hatzair. Peering through the doorway at a dark basement below, I listened as Carlos Vasquez, a former member of the group, described how the room once hid books and people that the military regime (1973-1990) considered dangerous.
A central component of my research has been trying to explore how the military regime affected Chile’s Jewish communities. My goal is to learn more about Chilean Jewish authors Andrea Jeftanovic, Cynthia Rimsky, Sonia Guralnik, and Susana Sánchez Bravo, and how they are representative (or not) of Chile’s Jewish communities from the 1970s to the present, especially in terms of how they discuss and construct Jewish identity in their writing. Continue reading
Memorial plaque at Urzante exhumation site
At the end of June, I attended a conference in Madrid that addressed many of the social, political, historical, and ethical debates emerging in response to the excavation of mass graves and the exhumation and identification of victims of political violence in Spain. Organized by anthropologist Francisco Ferrándiz (CSIC, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicos), “Bajo Tierra” brought together a wide range of experts from across disciplinary fields in order to discuss the impact that forensic investigations of Francoist political violence have had – and are continuing to have – on contemporary Spanish memory politics. For someone relatively new to the study of the Spanish historical memory movement, the three-day conference was an excellent opportunity to gain a more nuanced understanding of the social and political complexities that surround the application of forensic science to the study of the recent past.
For conference organizers, participants, and audience members, the symposium was also an opportunity to reflect on how different kinds of research protocols have evolved since the year 2000, when public support for exhumations first began to grow, thus breaking the long pact of silence put forth by an amnesty agreement made between political factions during the democratic transition. In this sense, the conference was also an opportunity for those active in the historical memory movement to take stock of the different kinds of achievements made both within and without the realm of academia and to critically discuss new challenges that currently are emerging under Spain’s new, ever-changing memory landscape. Although the exhumations occurring in Spain and the memory politics surrounding them were the main focus of the symposium, the conference also sought to situate the exhumation of “Franco’s graves” within a cross-national, comparative perspective. Due to my own interest in the similarities and differences between post-dictatorship memory politics in Latin America’s Southern Cone and that of Spain, it was interesting to see the ways in which different strategies for historically, socially, politically, and judicially addressing violent pasts in Argentina and Chile have been situated as successful models for addressing Spain’s history of political violence. Continue reading
Barros's libros objetos represented one of only means of publication during the dictatorship for many authors.
Greetings from Santiago de Chile! This afternoon, I had the opportunity to meet freelance journalist and human rights activist Maxine Lowy. Over a pot of green tea, Maxine discussed how Chile’s Jewish communities responded to General Augusto Pinochet’s military regime (1973-1990). Gracefully, she approached what I realize, now, is an unfair question, “Why did Chilean Jews overwhelmingly support the dictatorship, without making connections between the atrocities of the Holocaust and what was taking place in Chile?”
My question stems from trying to understand what it meant for Chilean Jewish writers to be writing about being Jewish during the dictatorship. For example, in a climate of extreme censorship, author Sonia Guralnik published a series of short stories, El Samovar (1984), in which she discusses pogroms in the Ukraine. Reading them, I wonder: was she implicitly critiquing the military regime in Chile? Why did censors allow this book to be published, without permitting any questioning of its own abuses? Continue reading
On Monday January 31st, the CLACS Teacher Residency Program hosted the conference “Teaching the Cold War and Latin America in a High School Classroom.” The conference, held during a New York City Board of Education Professional Development day, was attended by public school teachers from over 25 schools across the metropolitan area.
The day’s events were opened by Greg Grandin, a well-known Latin American historian and professor in the Department of History at NYU. Grandin is also the author of the recent prize-winning book Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City. Professor Grandin gave the keynote presentation of the conference, providing a sweeping overview of the importance of Latin America in the Cold War and setting the foundation for the days more specific presentations.
The conference was the culminating event of the CLACS K-12 Residency Program, an effort to connect recent scholarship on Latin America with materials development applicable for K-12 classrooms. The three Residents, who had been researching topics related to the Cold War for a period of 3 months, each presented the curricular materials they had produced while in the program.
Rachel McCormick , a Spanish teacher at the Bronx Leadership Academy High School, presented a workshop titled “Media Representations of the Civil War in El Salvador.” McCormick’s presentation outlined several classroom activities, including one in which students walk around and silently write reactions next to a series of black and white photos of El Salvador during the conflict.
Patricio Navia is a faculty member at New York University’s Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies. His research focuses on electoral systems, democratization and democratic institutions, with a particular focus on Chile. He is also professor of political science at the Instituto de Ciencias Sociales, director of the Magíster en Opinión Pública and founding director of the Observatorio Electoral.
Navia has published extensively in both English and Spanish language publications including: La Tercera, Revista Poder, INFOLATAM, Buenos Aires Herald (English), Observatorio Sudamerica XXI, Revista Época Intereconomia.
During the last two weeks of my time in Santiago, my research on Chile’s Memory and Human Rights Museum has covered some exciting, new ground. Interviews with key Museum players – specifically those who have participated in the collection of Museum objects and images – have uncovered a new layer of political complexity, while informal meetings with local researchers has introduced me to a still-emerging set of public debates regarding both the functioning of this institution and its political significance in post-dictatorship Chile.
The images and objects that make up the Museum’s collection – including those that are displayed and those that are kept stored in the Museum’s archive – have all been voluntarily donated to the Museum. From the Museum’s perspective, this process of donating personal objects that bear both individual and collective significance as relics of the past is an integral part of the Museum’s ongoing memory work. The act of donating is not only the process through which the Museum collects and stores the past; it is also a process through which individuals can participate in the construction of that past. The donation of objects, therefore, is as much about the immaterial, personal, and emotional processes that accompany the giving and leaving of things as it is about the historical significance of each material object that is placed there. In outlining an institutional objective that includes the collection and storage of material objects and immaterial personal responses, the Museum has opted to serve as a bridge between the past and present and to treat memory as an ongoing social process in the here and now. At the same time, however, it has also established a museological goal – the collection, catalogization, and the storage of intangible emotions – that requires close attention be paid not only to what the Museum exhibits but also the function that it bears as a memory space.
The photograph that appears in this snapshot is by Hector López. “Catedral de Santiago: Homenaje a los Detenidos Desaparecidos.”
I came to Chile this summer to complete ethnographic research on the role that the photographic image plays in present day Chilean memory debates. More specifically, I came to Santiago to observe and document the many way in which Chile’s newly opened Memory and Human Rights Museum
employs photographs – be it as a visual support, a didactic tool, or an archival document – to narrate and give voice to the country’s still recent and contentious violent past. The Museum itself aims to create a space, in which the human rights violations falling between the golpe de estado on September 11, 1973 and the return of democracy in 1989, can be carefully documented and displayed so that the national public can learn about a past that is often times forgotten as the country’s history moves forward. The opening of this institution is culturally, politically, and historically important as it marks the creation of the first national museum space dedicated to the dictatorship period. Of similar significance is the fact that the Museum’s initial inauguration happened only days before the right-leaning candidate, Sebastián Piñera
won the presidential election. With the left-leaning political alliance, the Concertación, having governed the country since the 1989 democratic transition, the election of Piñera marks the first democratic election of a right-leaning candidate in post-dictatorship Chile. As a result, the election of Piñera has pushed memory debates back into the limelight of national disputes over not only how the past should be remembered, but also regarding how human rights should be protected.